One of the most critically acclaimed sandbox titles of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, 2012’s ‘Sleeping Dogs’ seemed to take everyone by surprise with its compelling narrative and immensely enjoyable gameplay. In fact it earned itself enough of a reputation that developers United Front and Square Enix decided to port it to the new generation, as ‘Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition.’
You play as undercover police officer Wei Shen as he attempts to infiltrate the notorious Sun On Yee faction of the Chinese Triad. Beginning as an untrusted foot solider, the story follows Wei’s rise through the group’s hierarchy in a series of increasingly dangerous missions across a fictionalised version of Hong Kong.
With everything from shaking down street vendors at the local night-market to illegal street races, John Woo style shootouts, and parkour chases across the cityscape, Sleeping Dogs is everything you’d expect from an oriental Grand Theft Auto. It’s a huge world, and a brilliantly detailed one at that, cramming in enough content across the main story, side missions and collectables for a solid 40-60 hours of gameplay.
There are a number of areas in which the game really stands out, but perhaps where it shines most is in its combat. The fight system borrows heavily from the Arkham series, throwing hordes of thugs at you in lengthy brawls, prompting you to counter-attack with visual cues. Whist it’s initially hard to shake the feeling of Batman deja-vu, it still makes for some suitably cinematic fight scenes.
Brief moments of slow-mo accompany all of Wei’s special-moves as well as the finishing blow to the last thug standing of each group. There’s a strong emphasis on using environmental attacks too: brutally throwing bad guys through windows, pushing them into exposed electrical cables or viscerally forcing them into rooftop air con units.
As the game progresses, different enemy types are gradually introduced. Some wielding bladed weapons and others who can’t be thrown or grabbed, meaning you’ve no choice but to mix up the various techniques at your disposal to survive in combat. Further additions to Wei’s martial arts arsenal can be acquired at the local dojo, where training is offered in exchange for retrieving collectables scattered about the city.
It’s not all fists and feet however. Eventually Hong Kong’s weapons embargo is lifted and gunplay becomes increasingly important.
For the most part, this consists of some pretty run-of-the-mill cover and shoot mechanics, but there’s plenty of variety in your choice of firearms, and gameplay transitions smoothly between armed and unarmed combat. The slow-motion moments carry over too and feel especially gratifying when they kick in during cover vaults, disarms and sliding kills.
When you’re not slaughtering your way up the ranks of the Sun On Yee, you can help out the local PD in a variety of stings, raids, chases and tailing missions. Depending on your actions either side of the law, you’ll earn points towards your rank within the HKPD or the Triad and gain yourself some new abilities too.
The Definitive Edition of Sleeping Dogs is a great excuse for players who missed the original to experience one of the biggest, open-world sandboxes of last gen. But what about those of us who did catch it the first time around? What’s actually been changed in the new version and is it worth picking up again?
Well, the usual tweaks and tinkers we’ve come to expect from HD remasters have all been applied. Higher resolution textures have been added to environments and character models, draw distance has been noticeably increased, and new weather effects like mist and fog have been added to the city.
Some less conspicuous improvements have been made too, like secondary motion on bodies and clothing, animated neon signs, and a reworked lighting engine to help things look a little more dynamic.
As well as plenty of technical improvements, the Definitive Edition also includes every last piece of DLC from the game’s original release, a whopping twenty-four pieces in total. The majority of these are purely cosmetic: extra costumes like Agent 47’s suit from Hitman, or Jensen’s augments from Deus Ex. But the three pieces of story DLC that are included might well clinch the deal for some players.
The Chinese Vampire themed ‘Nightmare In Northpoint’ is the most entertaining of the three; shifting the game’s tone from ‘gritty cop drama’ to tongue-in cheek Kung Fu horror movie. Just as enjoyably insincere is the Zodiac Tournament DLC, which sees Wei traveling to a private island for a martial arts contest in homage to the work of Bruce Lee (complete with exaggerated combat sound effects and 1970’s movie filter.)
The question of value for money is still a difficult one however, and the answer very much depends on your previous experience with Sleeping Dogs. For those that missed the original entirely, or picked up vanilla game but not the DLC, the Definitive Edition is well worth a look. The £20 PC version is an absolute steal, but £42 on a console copy is incredibly steep for what’s really just an improved remake of a two year-old game.
Despite the port feeling a little unnecessary, it’s still impossible to deny just how much fun this Kung Fu fuelled, Triad-themed thriller really is. The story is hugely entertaining (albeit a little clichéd), and features a huge cast of unique and likeable characters. Hong Kong is great fun to explore and the game’s combat is fluid and satisfying with scope for variety and customisation. That said, the are still just as many bugs and glitches in the Definitive Edition as there were in the original, and frame rate issues on the consoles make the asking price all the more outrageous. Certain mission types can get a little repetitive, especially tracking down NPCs and hacking security cameras for drug busts.
Overall though, Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition has noticeably improved on what was an already excellent title. If you’re looking for an engaging, open-world, thriller with a Hollywood martial arts twist, then you need look no further.