Sleeping Dogs PS3 preview: GTA meets Arkham City. With power tools

Sleeping Dogs True Crime Hong Kong

If my flight to Hong Kong to see Sleeping Dogs was anything like as turbulent as the game’s development, I’d have come back with such a fear of anything airborne that even a stray Frisbee would result in tear-soaked hyperventilation. Because while many big games may suffer staff reshuffles or release date delays, this is a game that was dead. Done. Kaput. Sleeping with the poisson. (Click here for Sleeping Dogs PS3 screens.)

For those who don’t know, this is the game formerly known as True Crime: Hong Kong; the game that, back in August when it was nearing completion, then-publisher Activision put a bullet in and declared “not good enough” to see the light of day. Ouch. But, like so many action hero villains, it’s somehow returned from its grisly fate – with a mysterious new title to boot – hoping to make its former owner rue the day.

On an enormous floating restaurant in the city of Bruce Lee I got a three-mission hands-on with the game and grilled the developers (gently mind, they’ve been through a lot) to find out if it’s likely to succeed.

One thing the game is not is massively innovative: a bottom-corner minimap, cars to steal, civilians milling about, and a familiar control system bringing to mind countless open-world games from the past. But what it has aimed to do is take mechanics successfully used in other titles and integrate them into that structure – most notably melee combat and freerunning.

The first mission I played involved chasing a fleeing enemy through a bustling market, culminating in a rooftop fistfight. But instead of a clunky ‘tap to sprint’ system that has you bumping into every stall, building, and curiously stationary citizen in sight, there’s a smoothness to the navigation.

As you approach obstacles a well-timed press of X allows you to slide under or vault over them, keeping your momentum in the chase. It’s not massively interactive but it’s a neat addition, and fits well with the game’s athletic, martial arts stylings.

Upon reaching that rooftop standoff with a bunch of goons you’d be forgiven for thinking you were back in Arkham City. If you squinted a bit. And Batman had taken off his suit to reveal a tattooed Chinese man. And it was a whole lot lighter… Ok, so maybe you wouldn’t actually think that, but the Dark Knight’s fighting style has clearly been an influence.

Light and heavy attacks can be chained into combos as you move from one foe to the next, you can disarm those wielding weapons and – most familiarly – icons pop-up above enemies’ heads telling you when to tap triangle to counter.

It’s not as smooth as Rocksteady’s system, and the occasional stutter can disrupt your flow. Plus as you’re a cop rather than a tooled-up superhero you can’t leap 15 foot across the screen from one attack to the next, which may be realistic but does feeling limiting within a similar system.

However it’s a far cry from the useless hand-to-hand fighting of most sandbox games and, as senior producer Jeff O’Connell tells us, fits with the tone: “We think the incredibly deep action mechanics support being an undercover cop in Hong Kong – especially in an age when the fastest growing sport in the world is MMA.”