There are usually a few weak links in any open-world game. If the shooting is strong, the melee might suffer. If there are some cool driving mechanics, the story may not be that strong. Things just don't usually fall into place completely, and though we're often able to overlook these issues, we wish we didn't have to brush the flaws under the rug in favor of focusing on the cool stuff.
Above: Check out our video preview of Sleeping Dogs
After an hour with Sleeping Dogs (formerly True Crime: Hong Kong), we're excited to see an open game try so feverishly to avoid this stigma. It doesn't want your excuses. It doesn't need you to overlook any glaring problems. Everything we saw, from the melee to the shooting to the driving, looks well-developed, pulling from some of the best in the genre to create a truly exciting experience.
In fact, you might recognize some of these mechanics. Have you...
Ever seen a Chinese cop drama (or The Departed)?
Above: Wei goes deep undercover at the beginning of the game
Wei Shen is the newest member of Hong Kong's criminal underground. He's a trained killer, ready to slit whatever throats he needs to slit in order to get the job done. He's also an undercover cop. True Cri... erm, Sleeping Dogs drops us into his shoes as he deals with living the incredibly dangerous life of an undercover cop infiltrating one of the most notorious gangs in the world.
The developers told us that the story is inspired by a number of films, including Infernal Affairs (which was remade as The Departed in the US), as well as other popular films in the genre. Crime films, old kung fu movies, action films – it's inspired by all of them. It doesn't go as far as movies like Kill Bill in flaunting its inspiration, but it definitely wears its love of the genres on its sleeve, with subtle (and some not so subtle) homages. At one point we noticed that Bruce Lee's signature yellow and black tracksuit from Game of Death was unlockable, which, when mixed with the game's melee, would make for an awesome fanboy experience.
Ever countered a melee attack (or played Arkham City)?
Above: Being able to change into different outfits is a nice feature
When it comes to fisticuffs in Sleeping Dogs (as it often will), the combat will be immediately recognizable to anyone who ever stepped into the cowl of Batman in the Arkham games. Tapping the attack button will unleash a barrage of strikes, but once you see an exclamation point above an enemy's head it's time to counter. Tapping the counter button will do just that, grabbing the enemy's fist or foot and punishing their body with blows. Even compared to Arkham's it was incredibly fluid, with animations that made sense depending on the attack.
Beyond beating the enemies senseless, we were also able to grapple them to either attack with a new set of moves, or execute them using the environment. Whenever we'd grab a foe we'd see orange indicators around the screen letting us know which objects we could interact with, shoving bad guys into vents, bashing their heads on hot ovens, or even pushing their faces into spinning fan blades. It was brutal, reminding us of Mad World for the Wii, or the Punisher game from last generation.
Ever slid in slo-mo while shooting (or played Max Payne)?
Above: The game's missions look very Grand Theft Auto
Slow-motion has always been a part of the True Crime series (in fact, when True Crime was first released we remember some people saying that it ripped the mechanic off from Max Payne), and though Sleeping Dogs drops that moniker it doesn't lose the focus on cinematic, slo-mo action. The difference, however, is that there's no "focus meeter" or anything like that – slow-motion happens organically, depending on the situation.
Sliding over a box and shooting? Slow motion. Jumping towards an enemy and shooting? Slow motion! We didn't get a chance to mess around with this aspect of the game ourselves, but if it's anything like the slow-motion of the past True Crime games we're sure it will deliver. We also think we prefer this take on slow-motion, as it makes for more cinematic action than randomly tapping a button to slow things down just because.
Ever jumped onto a car going 90 (or played Just Cause 2)?
Above: Vehicular combat looks absolutely awesome
Apparently Sleeping Dogs' Wei went to the same driving school as Just Cause 2's Rico Rodriguez and The Wheelman's Milo Burik. Once he's behind the wheel he's able to not only drive with reckless abandon, but take down enemy cars with only minor effort. A bullet into the wheel of an enemy vehicle will send the car flying through the air, exploding on impact. It, too, uses slow-motion to awesome effect, making the driving and shooting look like an absolute blast.
Literally. Because of the explosions. When you shoot the cars. In slow-motion.
Just Cause 2 was brought up on several occasions during our demo, and for good reason – Wei can jump between cars, just like Rico could in Square Enix's 2010 open-world game. We didn't get to mess around with it (sadly), but we saw it in action as Wei weaved between cars on a motoycycle, eventually leaping onto the top of a car and kicking his way in. It was a treat, and using it during chases should complicate the driving segments even more.