Sleeping Dogs – E3 Preview
Trailers can be worth more than their weight in gold in this industry; cast your mind back to ‘that’ Dead Island trailer from last year, and ask yourself how likely it is that you’d have given the zombie basher another look if those three minutes hadn’t completely redefined how games could be advertised. It was so powerful that I can guarantee some of the critical backlash was due to how brainless the end product was in comparison to the tear-jerking video we were given. Still, that’s arguably their fault for getting so excited over a trailer that didn’t actually reveal anything about the product it was selling other than the fact it had zombies in it. Unfortunately, all those learned lessons were forgotten quicker than where I’d put my keys once the reveal trailer for Sleeping Dogs went live. My love for that trailer is so intense that any attempts to explain why would result in me just watching it over and over until we had to put someone else in charge of this preview.
The point I was trying to make before I got distracted and ended up watching the Sleeping Dogs trailer again (whoops!) is that teasers can lie, and what promises to be a balls to the wall action epic can end up being a limp-wristed slap fight. It was with this in mind that, when time came to get my hands-on with Sleeping Dogs, I felt hesitation creep in and fears that the game-play couldn’t match my expectations began to roar. After the expository cut-scene played, I was left to track down a target and explore some of the vibrant environment that would presumably form the backbone of most of the game, and I was left satisfied. It’s more difficult than you’d think to make a believably-populated city in a game, and it’s one of the few reasons I still love GTA4 to this day. As I made my way through the crowds, I could hear people trying to sell me products, others commenting on the dancers on-stage and some, like me, just lost in their own worlds as they made their way through the city.
That was, until I decided to experiment a little and fly-kicked a woman in the face. In my defence, it was totally hilarious. Okay, my controller slipped, alright? Then it may have ‘slipped’ several more times as I went a bit mental to see how crazy you could go before someone actually tried to stop you. It was around this point that I found out that you could interact with certain parts of the environment and perform context-sensitive beat-downs as people were thrown into speakers, drop-kicked into phone booths and manic giggling emanated from my mouth to the severe discomfort of Mark beside me.
Deciding to get back to the mission at hand, partly from a lack of retribution and partly from a lack of civilians left to punch, I hunted down the man I was looking for and set off a chase sequence, as he wasn’t willing to go down quietly. Admittedly, the pursuit didn’t stand out much more than any other game around, but the addition of a more crowded pathway did add more tension than it did in games such as LA Noire. Suddenly, the chase was delayed by an ambush from the fleeing man’s accomplices, and this allowed me to see the combat system in action against some fairer opponents. Amusingly, the battle ended when you were forced to throw one of your opponents into an open dumpster in order to climb up the building and continue your chase, where even more enemies waited.
Battling your foes is actually really satisfying, as each punch and kick feels like it has weight behind it, and it’s something which few games manage to effectively achieve. While many can make guns feel satisfying or powerful with their impact, most titles tend to use melée as a last resort or overpower it as a one-hit kill, and Sleeping Dogs doesn’t do that. If anything, the combat was more comparable to that of Rocksteady’s Batman games minus the combo counter and slightly more brutal; Arkham City didn’t give you an option to force a man’s face into a giant fan until he stopped twitching. Yet, what appealed to me about the violence in Sleeping Dogs was that, apart from the aforementioned civilian drop-kicking, it was more mature than childish.
Sure, you can slice a man’s face off with metal blades, but it’s not pleasant or comfortable to witness. There’s a sense of desperation as you face off against unlikely odds, and that makes a lot of the environmental interaction seem like improvisation. That’s not to say that it’s all heavy-handed and straight-faced; you can throw a guy into the building’s ventilation system and hear him cry out as his legs dangle hopelessly for the rest of the battle, but the vibe is much closer to the violence of an action movie than it is videogames of the past.
As my protagonist was held up and arrested by the police, the ‘action movie’ comparison was the one which stood out most clearly to me; the chase scene, the violence, combat and the eventual arrest wouldn’t have looked remotely out of place in a big budget movie. Then my mind returned to the reveal trailer, and I realised that it wasn’t misrepresenting the product as Dead Island’s did. Sleeping Dogs feels like they’ve put an open-world action film in your console, cast you as the main character, and pressed play. Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to go watch that trailer until I’m dreaming of high-octane action sequences all night.
Sleeping Dogs tears on to the UK streets on August 17th
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