Zynga has been in the news a lot lately for its supposed tendency to clone existing games in a stunningly brazen way, throwing up the difficult question of how similar one game can be to another while also remaining original. Is it enough to just change the colour palette or do you need to replace the graphics wholly? What about if you keep the graphics but change the gameplay? Where, precisely, is the line?
All of which is to say that Sleeping Dogs is very - very - much like Grand Theft Auto IV... while also being nothing like it at the same time.
The similarities are what leap out first, with developer United Front apparently unashamed in showing Rockstar's influence on the game. It's not just the macro-level urban sandbox stuff that speaks to it, but the details too - how Wei Shen's mobile phone pops up out of the lower right corner, how you escape police by leaving the search radius on the mini-map. There's a whole load of stuff tying Sleeping Dogs to GTA IV; Square's Social Hub even sounds like Rockstar's Social Club.
Hong Kong is a sweaty place
Give Sleeping Dogs time though and the differences start to shine through too - again on both macro- and micro- levels. There's parkour and formalised RPG systems, not to mention so much Kung Fu fighting that it takes six hours before you even get your first pistol. There's a whole load of stuff distancing Sleeping Dogs from GTA IV; Square's social features may be prominently positioned, but the multiplayer component is nowhere in sight.
It's the downplaying of guns, along with the replacing emphasis on physicality which makes the biggest difference, however. Flying kicks aren't just more fun than hails of bullets thanks to the robust combo system, but combined with the Just Cause 2-like ability to leap from one vehicle to another shift the tone closer to a Hong Kong epic.
Guns may take a backseat to start with, but they show up eventually
Put simply: if GTA IV was styled as a Michael Mann thriller, Sleeping Dogs is fashioned as a John Woo blitzer - right down to the story full of divided allegiances and honourable villains.
The story in this case focuses around an undercover cop called Wei Shen, who returns to Hong Kong after time spent in America and who quickly uses his old connections to immerse himself in the Triads. It's a tough spot to be in, with gang wars constantly flaring and suspicious eyes all around, but Wei Shen has a grudge to score which is unveiled as the story unfolds.
In the meantime, even when Wei's past isn't being alluded to with an overdone sense of mystery, he's in the unusual position of both having to handle drug deals and bust drug dealers - a split that's reflected in some of the RPG systems, among others.