In a world where games with a troubled development often turn out to bear the scars of their ordeal, Sleeping Dogs is an exception to the rule. Originally started in 2008, the game was intended to be part of Activision’s ‘True Crime’ franchise before its eventual cancellation three years later. It subsequently found its way to Square Enix, took on a new identity and turned out to be one of the best open world games of the last generation.
Having had success with the definitive edition of Tomb Raider, Square Enix obviously saw the opportunity to remaster the Hong Kong set title, firstly as a relatively risk-free source of revenue, but also as a way to reignite interest in the series in preparation for next year’s planned sequel ‘Triad Wars’. So the question is, what do you get from this version of the game, and is it worth returning to Wei Shen’s criminal underworld?
For the uninitiated, Sleeping Dogs is a third-person open-world title set in Hong Kong, with an emphasis on hard-hitting martial arts combat. It follows Chinese-American police officer Wei Shen as he goes undercover with the Sun On Yee Triads and attempts to take down the organisation. From a gameplay point of view, the hand-to-hand combat in the game bears strong comparisons with the Batman: Arkham series, balancing strikes with well-timed counters and environmental attacks. Moving about the city can be done either on foot, with your character capable of a certain level of free-running, or by car, motorbike or van. It’s also worth noting that the vehicular handling is arguably amongst the best you’ll find in the genre.
The immediate, and if we’re being honest, the single major change, is the visual upgrade. As with Tomb Raider, the main character has received a substantial visual upgrade, whilst the main story characters have also had a definite graphical bump. Textures and details are more distinct, with facial appearances much improved. As with the original game, the ‘extras’ are a clear step down from the main protagonists, though those in the definitive edition are still better realised than they once were. Sadly the level of difference between the key characters and the other NPC’s can be a little jarring at times, which is a shame given how well Hong Kong itself is brought to life.
The animation of the characters has remained exactly the same, but was already of quite a high standard, particularly during combat. Overall, returning to the Xbox 360 version of the game actually emphasised how well it has held up, with character models still appearing distinctive and well drawn. In many ways it’s the locations that have seen a bigger improvement in the remaster, with enhanced draw distances and lighting effects making everywhere much brighter and more distinct.
On a technical level, the more powerful hardware has brought significant improvements to the game’s performance with the game now rendering at a native 1080p. The screen tearing which was present in the original looks to have been despatched too, as the frame-rate is more consistent both in general motion as well as in cut-scenes. However, the engine still struggles a little when racing about the city at top speed, with the frame rate dropping noticeably at times, though in fairness the original really chugs when travelling fast in vehicles so there has still been a distinct improvement.
The definitive edition does still has a number of technical hang-ups, all of which were present in the original release. These include a somewhat temperamental camera, events taking longer than they should to load in, or oddities such as your character continuing to walk whilst talking at a counter. They’re only small niggles, but it’s interesting that they hadn’t been dealt with for this version as they really do cheapen the experience when they occur. It does show that United Front Games haven’t actually done any major tinkering with the game itself, focussing instead on it being a comprehensive port, warts and all.
This also means that the story, which was the high-point of the original release and delivered by a cast which features actors such as Emma Stone and Lucy Lui, remains untouched here. Taking on the role of undercover cop Wei Shen is as compelling as before, and here, in a more refined package, it’s absolutely worth experiencing. The definitive edition also includes both of the game’s expansion packs; Nightmare in North-Point and Year of the Snake, which add a few hours of gameplay and broaden Wei Shen’s world, as well as all of the original’s additional content which includes various vehicles and special outfits that have different effects.
Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition is amongst the finest open-world games of recent years, with gratifying and brutal combat, a genuinely gripping story and excellent car handling for this type of game. Despite some technical issues, which perhaps should have been addressed for a ‘definitive edition’, the game remains as playable as it was two years ago. Given the wealth of content and its relatively low entry price it would make a sound addition to anyone’s collection, though there’s ultimately nothing new here for players that have exhausted the original the first time round.
Version tested: PlayStation 4