Sleeping Dogs Nightmare in North Point: Big trouble in little China
26th Oct 2012 | 15:00
Zombies have shuffled their way into most forms of modern pop culture. In movies the evil dead are frequently seen getting the jump on unsuspecting teens, and in comics hordes of the walking dead are somehow the least dangerous people in Georgia (but still liable to nibble on the careless).
Next to Nazis and power tripping businessmen they're the most enduring bad guys in fiction, but in the gaming world zombies have come to represent something far more dangerous: a quick and easy way to make a few extra bucks.
The practice of giving games a zombie-themed makeover post-launch was popularised by Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare, the success of which has resulted in umpteen copycats, but with every new release of zombie DLC audiences seem to become a little colder on the idea.
Sleeping Dogs developer United Front Games' take on the played-out genre draws inspiration from classic Hong Kong horror movies like Mr. Vampire. As the name of the Sammo Hung-produced movie suggests, technically the zombies aren't zombies at all. The Jiang Shi are commonly described in Chinese culture as 'hopping vampires'.
In comparison to the decaying ghouls of the west they're a much classier bunch; pale white of skin and dressed in colourful Chinese garb. Unable to shake rigor mortis, these reanimated corpses bounce around with their arms outstretched. Without the ability to bend limbs you'd think they'd be pushovers but they certainly put up a good fight.
This is partly because their lunging attacks require precise timing to counter, but also because they like to hang around in a posse and aren't beyond bum rushing returning protagonist Wei Shen. It's like getting your ass kicked by David Lo Pan from Big Trouble in Little China.
Nightmare in North Point picks up shortly after the events of the main game. As is par for the course during the Hungry Ghost Festival, the gates of hell are opened and the souls of the tormented spill into the living word (worst annual tradition ever).
Having spent years feeding on hatred and despair a fair few of them return to the land of the living with revenge on the brain. Big Scar Wu happens to be one of them, and his grand scheme to exact vengeance on the Sun On Yee crime organisation kicks off with the kidnapping of Wei Shen's kind-of-girlfriend Not Ping.
The story goes that Big Scar Wu was once a member of the Sun On Yee gang, but his loose cannon ways and callous violence wasn't appreciated by his superiors. After a series of unfortunate events the leader of the gang, Uncle Po, ordered that he be killed. His former colleagues stabbed him 42 times before cramming his corpse into the grinder at the Smiley Cat food factory. A week later one of the enforcers was also whacked and upon arriving in hell told the story of Wu's demise, earning him the nickname 'Smiley Cat'. Understandably, he's a little bit touchy about being called that.
In the crass but eloquent words of Old Salty Crab, who also makes a welcome return in the DLC, "magic crawls through the town like maggots on month old road kill", and the only way Wei Shen can do battle with the demons overrunning the city and save Not Ping is by cooking up a magical tea made from the egg of an albino hen, a ghost pepper and antifreeze. Apparently antifreeze is a common ingredient in Chinese magic.
Of course doing that is easier said than done as to get your hands on each ingredient you'll have to bounce around the city running errands and dealing with Jiang Shi and gang members. To top it off the citizens of Hong Kong are also possessed and some of them fancy a punch up now and then.
Imbued with the power of magic tea Wei Shen is able to lay a beat down on the formerly untouchable ghosts. Smacking around the Jiang Shi fills the face meter, and once topped up Wei's hands are enveloped in a blue aura and he's able to dispatch archdemons.
Our time with the game spanned a single mission that lasted about an hour. During the course of it we dabbled in a good variety of gameplay, from on foot pursuits to car chases, and of course the Batman inspired hand-to-hand combat. We're told that the DLC tweaks the core gameplay, particularly the combat, but the changes must have been subtle because we didn't notice them.
Zombie DLC is arguably becoming a tired trend that needs to be buried, but United Front Games at least appears to be delivering something a little different with Nightmare in North Point. Adding a bit of eastern spice to the formula has rekindled our interest in the genre somewhat, and based on what we've played this could be a fun addition to what's already a great game.