2Game or Not 2Game - Sleeping Dogs
Words by Mick Fraser
Games in development get cancelled for all kinds of reasons. It might be that the studio runs out of budget, it might be a complicated dispute between developer and publisher, it might be a lack of consumer interest in the subject matter, hell, some terrible catastrophe could occur that suddenly renders the game in bad taste. As consumers and critics, even as journalists, we’re not always sure of the real reason behind cancellations; quite often the details are deliberately shrouded in ambiguity, never to be fully illuminated.
Usually, though, when a company like Activision dumps a game late into development because it’s “just not good enough”, the fog of ambiguity is dispersed pretty quickly. This is precisely what happened to United Front Games’ True Crime: Hong Kong, when it was unceremoniously jettisoned by Activision last year. As a result, it’s understandable that we’ve all been approaching it tentatively, sideways, crab-like, ever since it was rescued by some unseen deus ex machina when Square-Enix swooped in to pick up the pieces.
Unable to acquire the rights to the name True Crime, Square-Enix rebranded it Sleeping Dogs, released a kick-ass live action trailer full of brutal action and rather spectacular martial arts and started pumping out information, previews and trailers in traditional Square-Enix fashion. And in actual fact, it’s starting to look potentially very, very good.
But the, er, crimes of True Crime: Streets of New York have not been forgotten. The remaining shreds of doubt and mistrust still clinging to Sleeping Dogs’ shiny, reborn coat won’t fully wash away until we’ve got our hands on the finished product, hot off the shelf – but the fact that so much work has been done is encouraging. In true balanced, Made2Game style, we’ve dug around t’interweb and come up with five reasons we think Sleeping Dogs will rock and five reasons it’s not likely to set Rockstar trembling any time soon, and presented them below in handy list form. Read on to see what we’re loving and what we’re not-quite-hating about United Front Games’ Sleeping Dogs...
WHAT WE’RE LOVING
I’ll be your daddy
Square-Enix are in charge
It's fair to say we have a bit of a soft spot for Squeenix - it's hard not to. The driving force behind the last two Final Fantasies, which we liked despite the nay saying, the Deus Ex prequel Human Revolution (how you revisit a beloved franchise properly, Starbreeze) and Io Interactive's upcoming Hitman: Absolution - among countless other successes - it's fair to say that Square-Enix have experience enough to know when a property has the legs to stand on its own or, better yet, kick the crap out of the competition. We're quietly confident that developers United Front Games are in good hands.
I get knocked down…
It’s been mostly rebuilt
The original build was ditched by Activision for being under-par quality-wise, something Squeenix remedied when they stepped in by having a great deal of what was already in place torn down and rebuilt. As a result, the core mechanics are now far enough from True Crime that they're fresh and, well, competent, but close enough to it that the fans (we assume there are some) will feel comfortable. The story of undercover cop Wei Shen infiltrating the Triad and finding his loyalties tested on both sides while slapping the snot out of hoodlums has been mostly developed under Square-Enix, tightened considerably and bolstered by a decent voice cast including Tom Wilkinson, Emma Stone and Lucy Liu.
You lookin’ at me?
The combat looks excellent
One of the areas that benefitted most from the rebuild is the hand-to-hand combat – so much so that it's honestly looking like Sleeping Dogs' biggest boon. Similar in style to the action game fisticuff touchstone that is Rocksteady's Batman franchise, the combat will see Wei react to incoming attacks, evading and countering with deadly effect. We’re glad United Front Games are taking the combat element so seriously, as a lack of focus and commitment to the brawling would undo the whole experience. As a hard-boiled action game set in Triad-controlled Hong Kong, anything less than sublime ass-kickery would be hugely disappointing.
Not enough hours in the day
There’s loads to do
We’re all for a little distraction in games, especially when the narrative is as dark and action-packed as Sleeping Dogs’. Shooting and brawling and driving is all well and good (we particularly like the sound of leaping off of bikes to hijack passing vehicles, Just Cause 2 style), but if there’s no deviation it can get boring fast – so we’re happy to see that United Front have crammed Sleeping Dogs with pleasing ways to waste time. Underground fight clubs, cockfighting rings, karaoke bars and gambling all feature – as does the ability to woo a little lady and pursue a blossoming romance. Here’s hoping for some uncomfortably-acted carnal grunts and suggestive giggles played over a black screen – there’s nothing more mature and romantic than that.
It features RPG-lite progression
You might know how to handle a right trigger and an X button, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Wei Shen will be a dab hand at roundhouse kicks and busting caps in the asses of fools from the outset. A trained cop he may be, but he’ll develop his skills and abilities even further during the events of the game – and wearing certain clothes will offer bonuses to Wei’s experience in three key areas: Face, which is his standing with the ladies and other NPCs and how the world views him; Triad, which focuses on the gangs he must infiltrate; and Police, which affects his dealings with his fellow boys in blue. There’s certainly a lot of potential depth to Sleeping Dogs, and we’re looking forward to seeing how much our choices influence the various factions and the overall plot.
WHAT WE’RE NOT-QUITE-HATING
I know you, right?
It’s still True Crime
True Crime: Streets of LA (2003) and Streets of New York (2005) were both developed by Luxoflux and released to lacklustre scores (the first did better than the second), and as a result, the third game in the series was ditched by Luxoflux shortly after. Although offering GPS-accurate representations of their respective cities and attempting to keep the gameplay fresh with the inclusion of randomly-occurring street crimes (hence the title, see?), neither game was particularly well-crafted and both failed to stand up to their nearest rival series, Grand Theft Auto. Although it’s now seven years later, and there’s a new developer and a different name, we can’t forget that Sleeping Dogs is, at heart, part of the True Crime series. And that’s a bit of a worry.
Sick and triad
The premise isn’t particularly original
Cop infiltrates gang, cop finds himself fighting both sides of the law, cop’s loyalties get tested. We’ve seen the set up a few times before, so we’re hoping against hope that underneath the tried and tested premise, there’s a vein of originality. From what we’ve seen of the various trailers (and Square-Enix have released a lot of those), the script looks above average, so we’re hoping for a few twists and turns along the way.
A case of the ex
It was dumped once
No one wants to bring it up – least of all Square-Enix or United Front – but we can’t forget that this game was once dumped by Activision for not being good enough. Activision, who will churn out ten superhero-movie tie-ins a year because they’re guaranteed to sell regardless of quality. They didn’t see enough merit or bankability in what was there before Squeenix stepped in and, even after Sleeping Dogs’ re-branding and gameplay makeover, there remains a chance that Activision were right. Obviously we hope not – and Square-Enix know their stuff – but the chance, as slim as it may be, remains nonetheless.
It’s not their first rodeo
But it is their first action game
Developers United Front Games aren’t a hugely experienced outfit, particularly with this genre. Previously known only for ModNation Racers, they seem a strange choice for an action game or crime sim – especially when early reports and gameplay previews suggest that the driving appears to be the weakest aspect. Far be it from us to frown upon a relatively unknown house working on a big release (Rocksteady slapped us all in the face with Batman: Arkham Asylum a few years ago, after all), but we won’t be entirely convinced until we’ve got the finished product whirring in our disc tray.
Cover your bases
So much to get right, so much can go wrong
Following on from our last point, this is the negative that causes us the most concern. United Front Games aren’t a studio known for complex games, and Sleeping Dogs has a lot of elements that need to be of consistently high quality in order to deliver a product that rises above the True Crime stigma. Fighting, shooting, driving, exploration, script, characterisation, the city itself (an open-plan city presented with any less scope and realism than Liberty City or Steelport just won’t wash these days) – United Front Games will need to work hard to impress in all areas. There are so many elements that could potentially let Sleeping Dogs down - and we all know that with a game like this, if 9 things are great it’s only the tenth thing that gamers will remember. We have faith – but then we’re a hopelessly optimistic bunch at the best of times.
So there you go. Five reasons to rejoice, five reasons to worry – we’re nothing if not balanced and fair. Though, if we’re completely honest, we’re starting to get just a little bit excited for Sleeping Dogs regardless of the things that could possibly go wrong, purely because you can’t argue with the level of cool on display in the trailers (two of which you’ll find below). In this instance, we’re more than willing to give Sleeping Dogs the benefit of the doubt, and reserve all judgement until it arrives mid-August.
Sleeping Dogs is being developed by United Front Games and published by Square-Enix, and is currently scheduled for release in the EU on August 17th. Check out the official site for further information.
That’s our two cents, but what do you think about Sleeping Dogs? Are we looking at a sure-fire winner or another also-ran? Let us know in the comments below, or head over to our Facebook page and lay bare your thoughts.
Words by Mick Fraser (Twitter: @Jedi_Beats_Tank)
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