When Sleeping Dogs arrived just under two years ago, it was a nice breath of fresh air for fans of games like Grand Theft Auto and Saint’s Row. With a new generation of consoles, a Definitive Edition product line for Square Enix to fill out, and a pseudo-successor called Triad Wars on the way, Sleeping Dogs now has its own polished up special edition, following in the footsteps of Tomb Raider and many others.
The original presented a colorful, vibrant Hong Kong filled with interesting people and an entertaining, if a bit cliched, story of alliances and betrayals. Is the extra layer of polish worth it? Does the game even hold up in the first place?
I enjoyed the original version of Sleeping Dogs when it came out in 2012, and what I liked about it hasn’t changed in the slightest.
You play as Wei Shen, an undercover cop recently relocated from America to Hong Kong. Officer Shen is tasked with infiltrating one of the triad organizations in Hong Kong, the Sun On Yee (Based on the real triad called Sun Yee On). As Shen gets deeper into the organization, he becomes more invested in it, and his alliances start to waver as he makes close friends within the group.
This sets the stage for the game and what might be my favorite story in an open-world game. While many games stories are in place to facilitate the action, Sleeping Dogs feels like just the opposite much of the time. The story and characters are the star of the show here.
Wei Shen, who is wonderfully acted by Will Yun Lee, is an interesting and complex character whose motivations aren’t always clear right away. The situation the game puts him in – a cop in a crime family – gives the game a way to let him do some pretty egregious things without making him look like a sociopath. And then, as the machinations of members of the Sun On Yee progress, we’re forced to start questioning those actions.
When I think about the motivations of most of the protagonists in these sorts of games, they’re often eye-rollingly selfish and simple – the bare minimum to support the actions they take in the game. I was able to get behind Wei, though, and I was invested in his story all the way through Sleeping Dogs.
It’s not just him, either. Other characters, voice almost universally by Chinese and Asian-American actors, like Winston Chu, Jackie and Uncle Po (voiced by James Hong, who you might remember from pretty much every movie in the 80s) are all both well-written and well acted. Characters that initially seem two-dimensional are often given opportunities to expand past that, even if just a little bit. Even most of the villains are given things to do beside twirl their moustaches.
Together with the gameplay, Sleeping Dogs ends up being the perfect interactive Hong Kong action film. Even without a second gun and a bunch of doves, John Woo would be proud.
No matter how much I enjoyed the story, if the game was a frustrating experience, it would be a moot point.
Sleeping Dogs ups the ante on what we should expect from the many games that have tried to emulate Grand Theft Auto over the years. Whether you’re fighting bare fisted or hiding behind cover with a gun in hand, combat is fun.
The martial arts are something like a lite version of the type of mechanics we see in Batman: Arkham Asylum, with just a few buttons – attack, counter and grapple – to keep things simple. The depth comes primarily from timing and managing groups of enemies. The gunplay is kept interesting by incorporating slow-motion moments that give it a cinematic feel. It’s still sandbox game gunplay, but it’s fun.
The world all this takes place in – the city of Hong Kong – is one of the more enjoyable of its kind as well. The city is colorful and vibrant, with plenty of interesting people and shops. There are plenty of side activities and collectibles, too, that directly impact the game, making them worth pursuing.
Sleeping Dogs is absolutely a game worth checking out, definitive or not.
A Better Tomorrow?
But what about the Definitive Edition?
There’s no question that Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition looks great. This edition brings the console versions of the game up to speed with the PC version – maybe a bit further, but not much. The game looked great on PC and looks just as good here. The cutscenes are especially good, and the atmospheric effects are much better than the previous console versions. It clearly wasn’t built for this generation of consoles, but it’s a solid overhaul visually.
I was a little disappointed, though, with the frequency of glitches I experienced. I expect some of that from any open world title – there’s simply too much space and freedom to effectively test – but this is a two year old game, and I had to restart more than one mission because a character wouldn’t perform their scripted action. I had a couple voiceless characters in cutscenes as well as a few other weird issues.
I also saw a few framerate drops. The game runs pretty steadily at 30 frames per second through the experience, but occasionally – never during action, weirdly – it would stutter for a 10 or 15 seconds before getting back up to speed. Neither the few glitches nor the framerate problems ruined the experience for me, but with this edition meant to be “definitive,” I would’ve expected more polish.
I rarely factor price into a game whether I’m reviewing it or playing it for fun, but with a remastered edition like this, it’s unavoidable. The console version is a full $60. This edition does include all the DLC, but while a few story missions – Nightmare in North Point, for example – are worth the $7 or so they cost to buy separately, the vast majority of the content is made up of costumes, vehicles, and weapons, and they do not add up to the sum of their parts.
On the PC, Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition costs only $30, a much more appealing price, and it’s only $15 if you already own the game, which is a pretty good deal if you didn’t pick up the story missions previously.
If you haven’t played Sleeping Dogs yet, the game is absolutely worth checking out, but wait for it to hit bargain bins unless you’re a big fan of Hong Kong action films. If you can grab it on PC, it’s definitely a worthy investment. And before you ask, yes – this is definitely the superior open-world Dogs game.
Disclaimer: We received final retail code from Square Enix to download and review Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition for Xbox One. We completed the single player campaign and DLC as well as participating in well over half of the optional events and finding over half the collectibles.