Originally intended as a sequel to Activision's short-lived True Crime franchise, Sleeping Dogs had one of those tortured development cycles that usually results in utter disappointment. Despite being canceled and later shuttled off to a new publisher, this crime thriller managed to not only live up to expectations, but exceed them. Sleeping Dogs defied the odds and became one of 2012's most talked about games.
Fast forward two years and Sleeping Dogs is back with what Square Enix is calling the "Definitive Edition." Out for the first time on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, this is a slightly better looking version that includes all of the previously released downloadable content and a bump in resolution. We can argue about whether or not this is enough to warrant the $60 asking price, but there's no debate over the quality of Sleeping Dogs as an open-world action experience.
You play Wei Shen, an undercover cop who is working to infiltrate and destroy a Hong Kong criminal organization known as Sun On Yee. Our hero finds himself torn, drowning in a world where he simultaneously needs to prove his loyalty while secretly conducting a police investigation. If you've ever watched a movie or read a book, then you know that it's only a matter of time before this undercover cop gets in way over his head.
This is a compelling conceit for an open-world action game. For whatever reason, most sandbox titles see players take the role of an anti-hero who terrorizes the city streets with reckless driving and wanton violence. Wei is being pulled from both sides, and his internal conflict is genuinely interesting. It also leads to a tense situation where his secret could be exposed at any moment, and you definitely don't want to see what the Sun On Yee does to rats.
What sets Sleeping Dogs apart from the typical Grand Theft Auto clone is its emphasis on hand-to-hand combat. While there are a few shootouts, this game forces players to throw down in a bunch of fun street fights. The mechanics feels like they were ripped right out of Batman's recent Arkham series, which fits this game perfectly. Our hero is full of combos and powerful counter attacks. Best of all, Wei can use the environment against his enemies. He can grab gang members and shove them into garbage cans, throw them through windows, shove their face in a fan and more. There are a lot of fun ways to maim and kill Hong Kong's nastiest street thugs.
Like most open-world sandbox games, Sleeping Dogs offers a fully realized city overflowing with side missions, mini-games and hidden collectables. Players can race through Hong Kong's cluttered streets to come in first, or work the beat and help the local police fight crime. You'll also need to hack local street cameras to bust area drug dealers. There's a lot here to keep players busy when they're not fighting through the thirty story missions.
It helps that Hong Kong is absolutely gorgeous. The dense urban environment has a unique look, featuring the types of architecture you rarely see in this type of game. There's an interesting clash of new and old world aesthetics, which makes each part of the city a visual treat. What's more, the map is large enough to allow players to see some of the surrounding area, including traditional temples and the rural outskirts. It may not have the personality of Vice City or San Andreas, but this fictionalized version of Hong Kong is a breath of fresh air.
The city looks even better on the Xbox One. While it certainly looked good on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, it absolutely shines on the next generation hardware. That said, this port is not without a few technical hiccups. The game runs at an inconsistent frame rate, especially when a lot of bad guys clutter the screen. But even then, Sleeping Dogs never runs and as smooth as you would hope. Perhaps it's the open-world nature, but there's a certain jerkiness to the animation that left me disappointed.
I also had the game freeze on me several different times. While the main game didn't give me any headaches, I found the bonus DLC packs to be especially buggy. Even with generous checkpointing, I was forced to replay large chunks of the game because of the technical difficulties.
Outside of occasionally freezing, there's a lot to like about the downloadable content packaged with Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition. The different packs are not only wildly diverse, but offer changes to the map that go a long way to make the single-player experience even better. Nightmare in North Point is a horror-themed expansion where Wei fights an army of ghost thugs. It's silly, but I like the tone and atmosphere. Year of the Snake and Zodiac Tournament are a bit more grounded, adding new story missions to the already lengthy game. There's also a new island to island to explore and tons of outfits to try on.
For those who have never experienced Sleeping Dogs, this Definitive Edition is a great way to experience what is a fun crime thriller. However, the $60 asking price seems a bit steep for what you're getting. Even with improved graphics and additional DLC, this is still a port of a two year old game. What's more, both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions have been given away for "free" (with memberships) over the last twelve months.
Even more puzzling is the PC version, which lists for the much lower price of $30. I can understand charging more on systems getting the game for the first time, but doubling the price seems unreasonable. There simply aren't enough changes to the game to warrant buying the entire package a second time.
Despite my concerns over the pricing, Sleeping Dogs remains a compelling action game with a likeable hero, colorful supporting cast and city that feels like it's a world away from the usual Grand Theft Auto clone. It has a storyline that is constantly evolving and full of twists, not to mention a star-studded cast that brings it all to life. Regardless of whether it's this Definitive Edition or the 2012 original, Sleeping Dogs is a great game that deserves to be experienced.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
It's questionable how accurate this is, but this is all that's known about Cyril Lachel: A struggling writer by trade, Cyril has been living off a diet of bad games, and a highly suspect amount of propaganda. Highly cynical, Cyril has taken to question what companies say and do, falling ever further into a form of delusional madness. With the help of quality games, and some greener pastures on the horizon, this back-to-basics newsman has returned to provide news so early in the morning that only insomniacs are awake.