The way I look at Sleeping Dogs and this Definitive Edition release is thus: If you were an adolescent man in the early 2000’s you undoubtedly have them in the back of your DVD collection. Or might have recently sent them off to a trade-in site. I’m referring to the Hong Kong Legends DVD releases that showed some of the early careers of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, before Chris Rock and Mel Gibson made them action names in Rush Hour and Lethal Weapon respectively. The thing is that these movies look cheap and, frankly, they are done on an extremely low budget with the stars risk taking, death defying (quite literally) stunts gripping us to the screen. That’s how I think of Sleeping Dogs; on the face of it, just another low budget action movie looking at the big guns and trying to emulate their limelight. But secretly, and in both cases it maybe one of the best kept secrets, they are actually incredibly good, enjoyable and have a great deal of passion in them.
Arguably the first non-Western set open world game on the market at the time in 2012, Sleeping Dogs quietly took up a respected position on the last gen consoles who were waiting for a delicious treat to fill their growing Grand Theft Auto holes, which it did. But to pigeon hole it as just that would be disingenuous to the game. That is certainly something that the Definitive Edition of the game has given light to. I never fully got in to Sleeping Dogs the first time around due to other concerns coming my way like education and that thing you do between getting educated and sleeping. So now was a great time for me to delve in to Hong Kong, without any real prior knowledge of the way the game worked except for maybe a couple of hours play.
For those of you who don’t know much about the background of the game you play as Wei Shen, a vagabond undercover police detective looking for a place to belong after the death of his sister due to drug addiction. You take part in an operation to infiltrate the Triads in your native Hong Kong under the supervision of another Hong Kong officer and a British superior. The game switches its dialect as freely as Hong Kong probably does from English to Cantonese and the island of Hong Kong with its high rises, its ports and unique autonomy from most places in design (get prepared to drive on the left) creates an environment that is second to none and full of character with places to explore and items to go and find. Even mini games galore and Karaoke! Put simply, in the first place, even before this new revamped edition of the game, Square Enix and United Front Games did a marvellous job.
The first things I instantly noticed jumping in to the former British colony were the things that have been lauded by everyone. The increase in draw distance helps just as much as the increased texture levels and lighting dynamics. The depiction of Hong Kong in the game is wonderfully claustrophobic and it creates a heightened sense of panic and unease with its density. The way the early part of the game gives you the busyness of the market and the reflection of neon helps the pace of the game no end. That’s not to say that the resolution upgrade isn’t completely without its flaws at times though. A few things haven’t had the same care and attention as others, which isn’t really that apparent or grating until you notice them. The cars don’t have the same kind of realistic curvature as those of a Rockstar game or Watch_Dogs. For the most part, the game has been upgraded in enough to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
But therein lies the problem. You can argue that, even with the graphical upgrade and even with the addition of the bonus content (which is actually a lot of fun and a welcome addition to the game), that there are some flaws in the game that could have been cured but haven’t. This of course means that there are flaws in the game and occasional glitches and issues. For example the radio stations are slow to change and the music doesn’t really play like a radio station but a temperamental old MP3 player. There are also a few sound glitches with the speech where the lines of dialogue seem to overlap other lines of dialogue. I had a sound bug at the final mission where a machine gun noise was constantly happening and I occasionally came across a few crashes. These kinds of glitches make the game a tiny bit frustrating when you actually realise this game could have been better than what it was before with a tiny bit more work. Although in the same vein, given that the game hasn’t changed, this is a positive. Much like the Anniversary editions of Halo, the core of the game has remained unchanged and that includes some of its much-celebrated gaming mechanics.
There are also a few things that could have improved in this regard too. Driving in this game very rarely holds much of a challenge other than learning how to perfectly control the hyperactive handbrake and I would have gladly taken a bit of a challenge in the types of cars and their handling. The camera can be annoying at times when in combat and occasionally countering the attacks isn’t as responsive as you’d like it to be. That is where my complaints end. There are many things that Sleeping Dogs DE does well and the combat system is one of them. The free flowing, combo-based melee martial arts combat is 99% of the time, fluid and exciting. It doesn’t have the quick to target striking of an Arkham game or Mordor but it doesn’t need it because it’s great as it is. The enjoyable variation of moves that are under your control give you the satisfaction of nailing exactly what you want to nail. The missions are fun and the parkour/free running element gives you that feel like you’re Jackie Chan, hanging on the back of a bus and flying through a gap that no human should possibly fit through or vaulting a fence they shouldn’t be able to leap over. Then you get the slightly hard to handle, never perfect, gun system. Guns are rare in Hong Kong supposedly and using them is even rarer in the game. Which is incredibly refreshing and when you do use them, the reward for getting the shot perfect is a lot better than just simply hitting a headshot every time. There’s recoil and occasionally wild shots, and it compliments the rest of the combat system well.
There’s not much you can say about the design of the world that hasn’t already been said. Nor the story, which has been much celebrated for ignoring stereotypical tropes, Orientalism if you will allow a literary term. It’s a play detailing the lower end of the triad hierarchy and the rise to power of a man playing several ends of law-enforcing fiddle for his own ends and questioning his beliefs. It is enjoyable without being too over the top or over-egging the cliché’s that the genre is inevitably tied to. When you compare the story and the characterisations in the game to those of others in the genre, like Watch_Dogs, it gives itself a good outing even after two years. In fact, except that Watch_Dogs is graphically superior, Sleeping Dogs is in my opinion a better game. It has a more engaging story, vastly better voice acting and much more interesting environments to explore. Its clothing options are distinctly more varied and the characters, even though they aren’t perfectly synced and have occasional hangovers of the lesser textured versions, are far more enjoyable, believable and allowing of empathy.
The problem is when reviewing a game that has essentially already been reviewed is that you have to take the positives and the changes and critically assess them. So in that regard Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition is good. It isn’t great though, but it is definitely very good. If you’ve never played the game then now is the time to start. If you have then I’d certainly recommend it for the nostalgia kick and for the fact that it is an overall much better game than Watch_Dogs, the only other next gen open world option for each console at the time of writing. But where its improvements highlight its understated and underrated quality, it also sadly highlights where it fell a little and where it has aged. It means that once again, and maybe this couldn’t be helped due to release dates, that it appears in the shadows as a stopgap for those waiting for the next Grand Theft Auto. But as shadows go, this one is a silhouette above the rest.
This is a welcome return for Sleeping Dogs and its a release that will make you enjoy revisiting the world or dipping in for the first time, especially with everything thrown in. The graphical upgrades are great despite a few gameplay bugs not being ironed out which could have made it better. Worth the investment and maybe shows potential for a sequel.
– Great work on texture and lighting upgrades
– Excellent game and story to begin with
– Combat system is pretty awesome
– Driving isn’t really that challenging
– Occasional bugs and glitches remain
– The game feels a bit old at times
Why an 8?
When you have a great game to begin with, and get the option to port it across to better technology, why not? Sleeping Dogs DE is still fun, enjoyable, and an excellently created world and story. It’s a welcome addition to the next gen shelves and heres hoping this breeds more from Wei Shen’s adventures.
This review is based on the PS4 version of the game.