Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC and Microsoft Xbox One
It seems like every other game these days is an open-world affair, and if you’re looking to explore an urban environment – cars, guns, and crime included – you might first think of such titles as Grand Theft Auto V or Watch Dogs. For the more adventurous, however, comes the rerelease of a 2012 hit; Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition sees the game jump to new consoles with a whole host of tweaks and updates, plus the inclusion of DLC content. It’s a worthy contender in a strong genre, but unfortunately remains a long way from being graphically spectacular or particularly innovative. PlayStation 4 and Xbox One owners be warned: despite its many plus points, this isn’t a game you’ll use to justify buying a new console.
Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition will see you stepping into the shoes of Wei Shen, a police officer going undercover with Sun On Yee triad. The story is an engrossing affair, a tale of loyalty, betrayal and duty set against the vibrant background of Hong Kong. Shen’s emotional turmoil is the real driving force behind the game, as he is promoted within the triad from foot soldier to “Red Pole”, or lieutenant, and struggles to walk the narrow line between crime and the law, committing terrible acts in order to maintain his cover, and all in the name of the greater good.
It’s a story full of emotional highs and lows, with twists and turns aplenty to keep you interested. Perhaps the biggest character in the piece is not Shen, however, but Hong Kong itself. The city is visually fascinating, a warren of shady alleyways and broad highways, of clubs and skyscrapers and cluttered neon signs all battling for your attention. It’s a welcome change from the usual American cities where open-world games are set, and by game’s end you’ll be sad to be leaving it behind.
There are plenty of vehicles you can use to traverse Hong Kong, including cars, motorbikes, vans and boats; you can even catch a taxi if you’re feeling particularly lazy. The missions are varied and largely good fun, and put Shen’s various abilities to good use. There’s a good amount of free-running and martial arts to be done, along with car chases, street racing and a fair bit of gunplay. Some missions are slower paced and show a playful side to the game; taking girls on dates, for example, can involve such silliness as taking photos at the park, singing karaoke, or even just driving a fast car really, really fast.
A nice touch is how the gameplay mirrors the story. As the stakes become bigger, so too do the missions. The first few hours are largely given over to hand-to-hand combat and simple challenges, and it’s several hours in before Shen even picks up a gun. The bigger set pieces – gun battles in the streets, car chases which see Shen leaping from vehicle to ve hicle – are saved for the important moments. This means the game never stays static, always building and growing and offering something new with each hour that goes by.
The gameplay itself is remarkably intuitive. Inevitable comparisons to the Batman: Arkham games must be made when it comes to the combat, which is simple but has a great deal of depth. There’s a button for attacking, a button for grappling, and a button for countering enemy strikes; using the three in combination showcases Shen’s martial arts skills with some serious aplomb. You can also perform environmental attacks, such as slamming people into phone booths or impaling them (yes, this one’s true) on a pile of swordfish heads. It’s a system which works well but never becomes so convoluted that you’ll press the wrong button at a crucial moment.
The rest of the gameplay follows suit. Free-running involves simply holding the run button down and then tapping it when you come to an obstacle. Using guns is much the same as any third-person shooter, with a simple cover system and an array of weapons including machine guns and grenade launchers. Driving vehicles is well balanced; each one has a distinct feel, but they are largely easy to control and you won’t find yourself careering off course for no apparent reason.
You can also develop Shen’s abilities over time. You earn two types of experience for each mission based on your performance; one is “Cop” experience and the other is “Triad”. These can be put towards unlocking new skills in their respective trees, and you can also add new moves to Shen’s repertoire at a martial arts school if you find the requisite items. There is also something called “Face” experience, which is gained by helping people around the city and lets you obtain new clothes and cars. Some of the missions to improve this can seem trivial – delivering someone’s lunch, for example, seems a strange task for a triad lieutenant – but do help to add yet more variety to the game.
Largely speaking, Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition is an excellent effort. It weaves a fascinating narrative and it’s fun to play, with a good amount of content to sink your teeth into. The main story takes a good fifteen to twenty hours to complete, and there are side missions galore on top of it. What problems there are tend to be exceedingly minor. Some of the character animations are stiff and unrealistic, but with a voice cast including talents such as Tom Wilkinson, Emma Stone and Lucy Liu, you won’t much notice. Occasionally a car will appear from nowhere, necessitating evasive action (or else a spectacular high-speed crash) but this only happened twice in our entire playthrough.
The biggest problem with Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition is that it simply doesn’t feel like a game for the new generation of consoles. Despite all its many tweaks and improvements over the original, it doesn’t feel like they’ve made a great deal of difference. When The Last of Us was ported to PlayStation 4 it looked like it belonged there, but Sleeping Dogs doesn’t achieve the same feat. Graphically, it looks like a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 game. The gameplay may be better balanced but unless you’ve played the original this simply won’t make an impact on you.
Furthermore, for those who did play the original there doesn’t seem much point in upgrading. The major DLCs which come packaged with the Definitive Edition aren’t particularly long and aren’t as engrossing as the main game. The best is probably Nightmare at North Point, which breaks canon to pit Shen against ghostly gangster Smiley Cat and his army of the undead. Hong Kong takes on a dark, supernatural feel and the plot displays a wicked sense of humour, but there isn’t a great deal of variety to it and it only takes a couple of hours to complete. The other major DLC, Year of the Snake, is similar in length but extremely short on story; it offers only a threadbare reason to carry out a few new missions and extend your time in Hong Kong. Much of the other DLC is additional content – extra outfits, weapons and vehicles – which you won’t even notice in the main game.
If you missed it the first time around, Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition is well worth picking up. It plays beautifully, has a great story, and will introduce you to a world you never knew you wanted to explore. There’s also no doubting that it’s better than the original release. It has been improved in many ways; the graphics, presentation and gameplay have been tweaked and there is some additional content, even if not a great deal. It’s just a shame that it hasn’t been improved enough to make it feel at home on the new generation of consoles. It’s a superb game, but not one worth upgrading your hardware for.