Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Remnants: Sleeping Dogs

Sleeping Dogs

Production can be a troubling time. Lots of moving hands and parts, pressure from publishers and audiences, as well as hard decisions to make sure everything runs smoothly. There will  invariably be loss. Such cost is not always paid in full. From time to time I notice things, be they intentional or my imagination, in media. I'll call them Remnants, as they appear to be a fully formed idea that has been shattered. A certain remnant that catches my attention is the character of Amanda Cartwright in Sleeping Dogs.

At the time of this writing, Sleeping Dogs is available as a free download to Playstation Plus members. Besides being free, the digital version include a few other extras alongside it. Allow me a small amount of shilling, anyone with a Playstation 3 should pick up a subscription to Playstation Plus, immediately. I'm not a fan of subscription services very much, but PS+ makes me a believer. This is just the most recent time I have been able to play a complete game I missed because of other activities.  Go out and enjoy it, and enjoy Sleeping Dogs.

Back to the remnant. Sleeping Dogs is an open world sandbox game, like the Grand Theft Auto series, or better yet, the True Crime series; which this game once was. An original IP bought by Activision to reboot the failing True Crime franchise, known as True Crime: Hong Kong. After a few development delays Activision dropped the game, and a few months later Square-Enix picked it up and christened it with a new name. We can tell from the story that Sleeping Dogs had a rough production.

Starting up the game I go through the introduction cutscene and opening credits. Sleeping Dogs boasts a strong lineup of actors and even manages some great performances out of them. One name caught my eye, Emma Stone. She is a more mainstream Hollywood actress appearing in Zombieland, Amazing Spider-Man, and other films that give a sizeable payday. Voice acting for a video game is a little off putting, but only a little. Here she plays Amanda Cartwright, the first girlfriend the main character Wei Shen can date.

Cool, a dating simulator. I always enjoy the chance to hook my characters up with other characters; the more options, the better. Well it appears Ms. Cartwright is in for two missions and vanishes entirely. It makes me think Emma Stone showed up for a single few hour recording session, given how little dialogue she delivers. This is what's funny, her billing is fairly high in the opening credits. Sure, the developers may have wanted to show off a big name, not a rare tactic in the industry, but there is a weird air that is missing from existence. Let me explain.

Amanda Cartwright is the very first girlfriend that Wei Shen meets. The first mission involves driving her around the local areas and essentially be a tour guide. In the dialogue Wei and Amanda perfectly compliment each other's personalities. Going to the dojo has the martial arts master congratulate Wei on having a beautiful fiancee. Aside from the awkward blushing, Amanda is given more emphasis through interaction of other important characters than any other potential girlfriend. Her missions ends up more like a playable cutscene, which is how most of the important plot points unfold; simply driving around, no combat. The other girlfriends play more like minigames, or NPCs in sidequests.

After her two missions a file pops up on Wei Shen's phone. It puts that Amanda Cartwright is hanging around Hong Kong scoring with Chinese dudes and lying on her resume. That's it, case closed. A rather anti-climactic end to some rather interesting missions. My suspicion is the developer, United Front, had to cut the relationship aspect of the game to meet their deadline. The game is chock full of stuff, so something had to give. The reason I feel this way is because in a later mission when Wei Shen is driving around Peggy Li, a bride to be, he mentions he likes blondes. Wei likes blondes, Amanda is a blonde; in a mission far removed from the beginning. These look like easy dots to connect.

The dust looks settled, Amanda was to be a main, or even the main, love interest of Sleeping Dogs. Again, it make sense. An innocent college graduate unaware she is in love with an undercover cop deep in the triads is quality stuff. Reminds me of the original True Crime where the game branches in several different ways if you choose to save your brother, your girlfriend, or somehow manage both. A mechanism that if employed would have turned a good story great. Things like that is bread to my butter, I can't get enough. Wei's stakes would really be raised having to deal with unknowable dangers to those he holds dear.

Of course Amanda Cartwright's development may all be on display. United Front gives the same amount of time to the other girlfriends, and they all disappear as well. I like to think with her added emphasis and Wei's line of dialogue, that all this was cut during development. Most people probably don't care much either way, Sleeping Dogs is filled to the brim with content that a small plot thread that went no where is not on their watch list.