18 months ago the code behind Sleeping Dogs lay abandoned. A year and a half later, the game has been hailed as a triumph and sits proudly atop of the UK charts.
Sleeping Dogs began life in 2003 when Activision released the Luxoflux developed True Crime: Streets of LA. That game won a decent-ish reception from critics, but never successfully elevated itself above the sea of “Grand Theft Auto clones” that were flooding the market at the time.
Its 2005 follow-up True Crime: New York City improved on its predecessor in some respects, but was given a tough time for its technical imperfections which were blamed on the rush to get the game out in time for the Christmas market.
Crucially, TC: NYC fell short of Activision’s sales expectations. But in a market still bossed by Grand Theft Auto, Activision didn’t feel able to abandon its one viable GTA-like IP.
So in 2008 new studio United Front Games began work on a new instalment, True Crime: Hong Kong, which was announced in late 2009 for a 2010 release. However, in August 2010 a delay to 2011 was confirmed, but just weeks into 2011 Activision announced that the game had been abandoned.
Why the cold feet? Activision blamed quality concerns, but the truth was that the games market of 2011 was very different to the games market of 2003. Sales were on the slide, elongated console lifecycles were causing every publisher to alter their strategies.
Anything but the very biggest IP was suddenly considered too great a risk.
The market was now awash with GTA clones, and Activision simply lacked the appetite to compete with what were now bigger, more successful franchises. In the same way it abandoned Guitar Hero when the market got tough, Activision left True Crime for dead.
Square Enix, however, saw things differently.
Once the preserve of RPGs, the new West-facing publisher (buoyed by its merger with Eidos) was on the hunt for Western style IP. With titles like Just Cause 2, Kane & Lynch 2, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Batman: Arkham City and the upcoming Tomb Raider on the cards, the company was understandably on the hunt for its very own GTA-contender.
And it saw that in TC: HK. Of course, it also recognised the need to start afresh. With no claims to the Truce Crime IP, Square Enix forged a new identity for the title – Sleeping Dogs.
The game itself also underwent some fundamental changes. It backed out of the “bigger, better, badder” race and instead focused on delivering what rivals could not – an exciting sandbox world AS WELL as engaging combat, both melee and weapon.
It also focused on honing the atmosphere of the game. Its Hong Kong setting was always a distinguishing factor. The trick was to make the most of it.
The game was released last week and has been an undoubted success. Sleeping Dogs debuted at the top of the UK All Formats Charts yesterday, beating none other than Nintendo’s New Super Mario Bros 2 in the process.
And it’s no surprise that there was much to celebrate within the walls of the Square Enix offices yesterday.
"We are extremely pleased with the opening weekend of Sleeping Dogs and it's great to see that players are clearly enjoying the fantastic new features it brings to the genre,” UK sales manager Andrew Larcombe told MCV.
“The market has been quiet recently, but we're confident that Sleeping Dogs is a game that you will 'have to have' and the buzz it's generating across the forums is a strong sign that it can continue to stay near the top of the charts through the peak period. There's always at least one new IP every year that catches people off guard and can launch a new franchise and we think this is the one.
“Big thanks to the incredible talent at United Front Games for creating Sleeping Dogs and to all across Square Enix and the trade for helping it become such a deserved success.”
Its commercial success comes on the back of a strong critical reception, too.
The game has an 82 per cent average on Metacritic with OPM UK writing: “This is the game Saints Row has spent a decade desperate to be, a rollercoaster open-world adventure set in an environment that’s fun to explore and doss about in, packed to the brim with rousing missions and happy diversions and other amazing stuff. It’s unquestionably 2012’s most brilliantly brutal surprise, and you’re duty bound to check it out.”