The appeal and danger of an open world game comes from how well the various game systems are integrated so as to be seamless. The more the game responds to our creativity --whether it’s in driving, shooting, fighting, solving puzzles or advancing the story-- the more likely we are to step back and look at the game as a whole and say “I got a lot done in that one.”
In the case of Sleeping Dogs and its hand-to-hand combat system the team at United Front Games seems to be pushing this as the backbone of the whole game. The idea being if it’s something you’re compelled to do all the time, then it’s something that should start off great and get better from there.
In my brief time with Dogs at E3, the potential for a strong combat system was there from the beginning. Clearly button-mashing will be a good way to get Wei Shen kicked in the face often by even low level bad guys. Neither the rapid-fire “speed finger” approach nor the rhythm button-masher approaches will work. It’s timing, timing and more timing on the initial and follow up attacks. Excellent timing will allow you string together very cool looking combos that really will make Sleeping Dogs look like a Hong Kong action flick. This similar to how the Batman: Arkham games look like an animated Batman movie when you’ve got Bruce Wayne’s fists, feet and cape flying all over the place.
The interactive environments and how they’re used in hand to hand combat could be groundbreaking if we get enough variety. And by variety I mean different objects and then within those objects we get different attacks. Taking a guy to a garbage dumpster should allow you to smash him with the lid, throw him in and then at the maximum “level” maybe throw him in AND smash him with the lid like a whack-a-mole. Whether a character is leveling up and earning new moves on objects or it’s a random or even positional thing, you’re going to want some variety out of grappling with guys. More than 12 good years of wrestling games has conditioned us to stuff like that.
Dragging an enemy once you get them in a grappling hold, at this point, doesn’t carry any risk with it. You can tango with a bad guy anywhere in the immediate environment in order to get him to an interactive object for some head-smashing fun. This is the type of thing that could very well be specially tuned for E3 so folks can quickly understand a major part of the game. When Sleeping Dogs arrives I expect having an enemy in a headlock will come with some sort of danger if you take too long to execute an attack.
The animation on all of the attack moves so far is top notch. And in this case, we’re referring to the enemies as well as our hero Wei Shen. Stepping into a punch or setting up for a spinning kick of any kind looks like what it is and the counter moves are just as accurate. The fluidity of combo attacks is well done both because they look good and this is the means by which the game is going to educate you about timing. You’ll see Wei and enemies telegraph their moves a bit so you’ll know early on whether you’re too late or too early on your block, counter or attack. Subtle things like this add up as the fighting gets more advanced.
The decision to emphasize the fighting --or at least build it to stand on its own-- is a good move. We’re way past the point of open world games being able to get over on the driving or gunplay. A solid fighting mechanic will make crucial elements of the story (which are usually up close, personal and indoors) flow that much better since you can break into and out of them with fisticuffs.
Keep it here for more Sleeping Dogs as it’s the open world crime-simulator of choice for 2012.