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PAX East 2012: Sleeping Dogs preview
by Andrew Testerman

After nearly four years and two name-changes, United Front's gritty open-world action game, Sleeping Dogs, is finally nearing release.

Inspired and influenced by works of Hong Kong cinema, Sleeping Dogs offers a stylish, story-focussed take on the open-world genre already populated with heavy-hitters. I got a chance to go hands-on with Sleeping Dogs during PAX East, and came away impressed at the game's polish and ambition.

Sleeping Dogs's main narrative follows Wei Shen, a San Francisco cop tasked with infiltrating the Triad gangs of Hong Kong. As Wei Shen further penetrates the Triad ranks, he begins to encounter more and more emotional friction and toil over the decisions that he's forced to make to keep his cover, making the story unusually character-driven for an open world action game. Where many sandbox games - Saints Row, or Just Cause, for instance - keep the proceedings light and humorous, Sleeping Dogs features a plot which is straight-forward and hard-boiled, heavily drawing cues from Infernal Affairs, the film that informed the 2006 Best Picture-winner, The Departed.

Sleeping Dogs harbours several different gaming styles in its collective port: shooting, hand-to-hand fisticuffs and driving. During shooting segments, players fire their guns from a third-person perspective whilst using cover to fire blindly at enemies, or quickly pop out for one or two shots. Gunplay is still in development, but even the early build I played felt pretty good, with satisfying headshots and weighty firearms, despite some slightly clunky movements on the part of Wei Shen.

Expect to perform all sorts of stylish vaults when in command of firearms.

Hand-to-hand combat plays as a meld of Batman: Arkham Asylum and Jet Li: Rise to Honor. Like the former, players take on multiple enemies at once, attacking in the direction that the analogue stick is pointed, and countering with a quick button press. Like the latter, Wei Shen can perform context-specific attacks using objects littered around the environment, encouraging players to be aware of their surroundings if they want to best their opponents. Unlike the T-rated Rise to Honor, though, Sleeping Dogs's object-specific attacks are one-hit kills that can become quite messy; impaling a thug on an outcropping piece of wood, or giving someone a shave they'll never forget by means of a table saw, for instance. I hate when that happens.

More than just third-person action, United Front has also crafted a series of well-designed driving sequences. In addition to providing transportation throughout the world, certain missions revolve primarily around vehicle-use. One level I played was a straight-up street race, driving from point-to-point in hope of leaving the opposition eating dust. Cars can accrue damage, both in races and in free-world driving, but it is unknown at this time if it will impact vehicle performance or whether it's merely cosmetic.

Sleeping Dogs's Hong Kong setting feels distinctly Eastern. From the densely-packed, tight streets, to congested buildings, neon signs and small stands dotting every street corner, Sleeping Dogs shines with polish and attention to detail. For instance, one early mission takes place during a festival, with lanterns strewn above every alley and a stage where several residents performed a traditional dance.

It's been a long nap, but Sleeping Dogs is almost ready to stretch out its legs and raise hell for the neighbourhood cats. Look for Sleeping Dogs on shop shelves 14 August in North America and 17 August in Europe.

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- Andrew Testerman

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