United Front GamesSleeping Dogs has traveled a long road. Originally titled Black Lotus, then branded with Activision’s “True Crime” label, before ultimately being canceled, and then renamed once more when Square Enix acquired the IP, the game will finally make its debut late this summer.

Will the long development time be worth the wait? If the most recent build of the game is any indication, the fortunes of this Hong Kong action game are looking good.

So why the long and bumpy road to release? Game Producer Dan Sochan told us that Activision was looking for a competitor to the Grand Theft Auto series and the publisher ultimately felt that Sleeping Dogs would not meet this goal. United Front Games was never thrilled with being tagged as a “True Crime” title – as the game was not intended to be a part of that universe, so Activision’s dropping of the IP turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

In line with its recent strategy of purchasing the publishing rights to well-known franchises like Deus Ex, Hitman, and Tomb Raider, Square Enix saw potential in the tale of undercover detective, Wei Shen, and stepped into acquire the publishing rights. This new partnership allowed United Front Games to keep the original narrative and vision behind Sleeping Dogs, while gaining the benefit of Square Enix’s advice on some key gameplay tweaks.

For those who are unfamiliar with Sleeping Dogs, the story involves Wei Shan’s infiltration of the Triads in Hong Kong, a popular theme in Hong Kong cinema. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to experience much of the game’s narrative, but we were able to play a couple of the gameplay sections. The first was a linear level, which had been shown at E3, where we chased down a street thug in downtown Hong Kong and engaged in hand-to-hand combat against a group of his underlings. The running sequence had a bit of a parkour element to it and the hand-to-hand combat was reminiscent of Rocksteady’s Batman series: “X” to attack, “Y” to counter, and “B” to grapple, with slowed down moments right before an enemy attack. Gamers who mastered that mechanic would likely feel at home here. Unlike Batman, however, performing grappling moves in conjunction with the environment provided an extremely satisfying array of kills — from smashing an enemy’s head onto an open grill to grinding a foe’s face on an air-conditioning fan blade. Expect to see plenty of over-the-top kills in Sleeping Dogs.

True Crime Hong Kong Becomes Sleeping Dogs

Another sequence that we played involved a street race where Wei Shan makes a bet with a street thug. As some of the employees of United Front Games previously worked on the Need for Speed series, the race sequence offered a similar arcade-like experience. We didn’t find the racing element to be terribly difficult as we were able win the particular race – despite falling behind due to a crash. Nonetheless, fans of such forgiving racing mechanics will likely enjoy these side missions.

While not a traditional RPG, Wei Shen will be able to level his move set as he progresses throughout the story and gains experience. Sochan showed us multiple pages of all of the different moves that can be acquired by the player, which appeared to be quite numerous. Apparently, Georges St-Pierre’s assistance in creating the protagonist’s moveset has paid off. Additionally, Wei Shan can purchase different articles of clothing from vendors that will offer various bonuses and penalties to the player. For example, the “tourist” clothing set will cause vendors to mark up the cost of items, but will also make Wei Shen less noticeable to his enemies.

While we did not have an opportunity to fully explore the game world, Sleeping Dogs is a sandbox title that contains multiple side missions from the main storyline. The portion of Hong Kong that we did see was highly detailed and filled with numerous NPCs going about their daily business. Sochan told us we can expect to see a build very close to the final product at this upcoming E3, so we will have more to report on the game at that time. Keep an eye here for more updates on this promising thriller.

Sleeping Dogs is set for release on the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 on August 14, 2012.