Quick poll: Who here remembers a project in development by the name of True Crime: Hong Kong?
After the title was unceremoniously cancelled by Activision, gamers had to pretty much abandon all hope of the True Crime series reboot ever seeing the light of day. That is of course until Square Enix, clad in its shiniest armor and riding a white horse, came along to save what would have been an ill-fated shooter – hooray. Now known as Sleeping Dogs and under the supervision of Square Enix London (the same office that oversaw Batman: Arkham Asylum and Just Cause 2), the shooter has been given a new lease on life.
With its revival, the gritty crime world game comes with the promise of a heavy emphasis on action. Whether it be street racing, shoot-outs, or hand-to-hand martial arts fighting, Sleeping Dogs is all about gang culture and violence. I can’t help but reminisce about my days spent playing Jet-Li’s Rise to Honor or John Woo’s Stranglehold – love letters to Hong Kong cinema which brought unique combat engines to the forefront of the gaming experience. Such games sought to highlight the tension of the solitude cop on mission to bring down a criminal organization and I'm glad to see it return with Sleeping Dogs.
Early demos of then True Crimes: Hong Kong shown during E3 2010 (before Activision scrapped the project) detailed an open world setting similar to the Yakuza series (the series that current Staff Writer Justin Belin gets a big ol' chub over). The combat system is a brutal one to say the least, and involves a lot of bone-breaking finishing moves to end combos and even the usage of the environment to make things interesting – again, just like Yakuza. And let's face it, it really is hard to beat slamming an opponent's head in with a refrigerator door.
On the downside of all this crime game nostalgia, the previous True Crime games have sort of wavered in the quality department, with reception being somewhere in the lukewarm territory. While offering a generous amount of tasks to do and areas to explore on massive city maps, neither True Crimes: L.A. or N.Y. were able to be anything but mediocre. The action wasn't terribly unique or exciting, and the storylines were the very definition of derivative, with no real finesse or style in presentation. Not that one can expect an enormous change with Sleeping Dogs considering how done to death the genre is by now, but it has always proven true that an exceptional telling of a tried and true story can be just as enjoyable if not more so than a ground-breaking risk. And there is still time for that to be the case with Sleeping Dogs, just as long as United Front Games learns the right lessons from not only the culture and cinema these games draw inspiration from, but from the genre's best, you know, like Yakuza.
Sleeping Dogs is expected to release in the second half of 2012. Curious minds can check out the live-action trailer which has already been released to the masses. Undercover cop Wai Shen is shown in action (to the backdrop of a pretty catchy tune) and dispensing members of the Triad with more violence than you can shake a meat cleaver at. Somehow, 'there will be blood' just doesn't seem to cut it. See for yourselves and judge whether or not Square Enix should have let this sleeping dog lie.