Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition Review
2016s Game Club selection may as well be renamed “Jam’s gaming bucket list” as the vast majority of the games we have played this year are titles I’ve been wanting to play for sometime but just haven’t got around to. I could use the easy excuse where I say I’m too lazy or too busy but I choose to go with the excuse that I was on a long and arduous quest to find twelve jade statues in order to prevent the end of the world by new year. Fortunately for myself and humanity I completed that quest, surprisingly in Sleeping Dogs as well and I’m able to finish off 2016 with my review of the game. All in a days work I guess.
Sleeping Dogs is an open world game set in Hong Kong where you play as Wei Shen an undercover cop who is attempting to take down the Triads from the inside. Of course its not that easy for Wei. He soon becomes close with the gangs leading you as the player to question who Wei is truly loyal to. While the story is certainly serviceable and well acted by the voice cast I never felt completely invested. There are some emotional moments in the plot with key characters but the ultimate pay off seemed somewhat lackluster. With the game ending open ended and setting up for a sequel, is disappointing since United Front Games has now closed and the chances of seeing this sequel are very slim.
As with most sandbox games there is a mix of various gameplay styles. Sleeping Dogs main stand out feature is the hand to hand fighting system. Wei Shen is well versed in martial arts as is every bad guy in this game who you’ll usually take on in large groups. You can attack and counter in a system very similar to the infamous Batman Arkham games, although Sleeping Dogs appears to have its own rhythm to its fighting system. I found that you had to be very careful with your button presses to begin with. Once you got the games own rhythm down, I was quite capable even with the odds stacked largely against me, once I got to this stage I felt like Bruce Lee (insert broken table). You can also grapple enemies and maneuver them to create devastating environmental kills such as impaling guys on sword fish or smashing someone’s head into a urinal which reminds me of a fond scene from the film True Lies with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
I was rather happy with the fighting system of this game, chasing down gang members then throwing there head into an air conditioner unit. Then the game goes for the obligatory gun inclusion and this just appears to go a little down hill. While not terrible, the gun combat just lacks the finesse and satisfaction of using your fists and feet. Mission sections just turn into cover based shooter segments which feel forced because this is a sandbox game and that’s what the developers felt had to be done. I do however, like the games justification for the gun play. A mission not too far into the campaign has a character explain “you may notice there are not a lot of guns in Hong Kong,” so its interesting that the developers took this into account. If the gun play had been excluded from the game I would have been fine with it.
Then we have the driving gameplay. Driving controls are fine although I found you had to rely more on the hand break to take corners efficiently as opposed to the stand break. As a long time fan of motorcycles it was very refreshing to see Wei Shen put on a helmet when riding one especially since the vast majority of video game motorcycle riders appear to miss this essential safety feature. Extra features added to the driving include a ram mechanic, where a press of the X button (on Xbox controller, Square on Playstation) will force your current vehicle to ram the one next to you, a very important feature if your attempting to drive away from the police. You can also shoot from the car in any direction. The game usually slows down enabling you to focus your shots as opposed to driving the car. The problem with this is I found it did not always slow down when I needed, leading to irritating mission failures. Fortunately, the game included regular checkpoints in its missions so you won’t have far to go to retry.
Sleeping Dogs‘ mission structure is quite interesting to examine. The majority of missions will cycle through a pattern which becomes quite familiar. One moment your driving to a location, then you will probably have to chase someone followed by a fighting section and possibly even a shootout and car chase. The game more or less takes all these styles and mixes them together. When you look at it, it appears quite dull and repetitive. However, Sleeping Dogs does an excellent job of making the familiar still entertaining throughout the entire campaign by gradually giving you ability unlocks such as new martial arts moves or passive abilities like the ability to grab a melee weapon from the boot of a car. This simple design had me glued to the game until the end. I also found myself compelled to look into the games side missions because I knew it would lead to useful rewards that would aid in the main missions. These side missions felt unique in there own right as opposed to repetitive slogs. They are short, don’t outstay their welcome, and are quite memorable.
United Front Games makes the city of Hong Kong come alive featuring a mix of the poor and the rich districts of the city. What I love about the maps design is its not too large. Too many game developers create open world games which are massive open worlds with absolutely nothing of interest in them. I would list off some games but the list may be longer than this review. Sleeping Dogs, however, has a decent size with impressive detail.
Sleeping Dogs also contains a surprising amount of licensed music. The only problem is I really didn’t listen to a lot of it. This is really more of an observation from my playthrough. When I went back to look into the playlist more deeply for the benefit of this review there was a wide variety of radio stations including Rock, Indie, and even Classical music. The latter surprised me as this is a style of music I don’t think I’ve ever experienced in a sandbox game. Clearly a lot of effort and money was spent to get all the licensed music but I just found I was never in a vehicle long enough to appreciate it.
The Definitive Edition of the game also features three additional pieces of story DLC that were previously available for purchase. One, The Zodiac Tournament, was the biggest highlight and finds itself in the main campaign map as an icon. It’s a small series of trials on a island off from the main game area which focuses on the games fighting system only and also acts as a cool nod to old Bruce Lee movies. The other two DLCs can be accessed via the main menu and are standalone and add no benefits to your main campaign. This is part of the reason why these pieces of content are less inspiring. Nightmare in North Point and Year of the Dragon are small quick diversions from the main game but they offer very little but repetitive missions and no upgrades. Since these come with the Definitive Edition anyway I would suggest trying them after you have completed the main game, however if I’d owned Sleeping Dogs in its vanilla form and purchased these pieces separately I would not recommend them.
Sleeping Dogs was a solid experience. I haven’t enjoyed a sandbox game like this for quite some time. It has its own personality and style compared to most open world games that I really can’t recommend it enough. While the game suffers a few absurd mainstream design choices and even suffers a fair few bugs like random NPCs appearing in water, I still found myself keen to jump back into the streets of Honk Kong and hunt down every damn secret this game had to offer. A great way to polish off 2016 for me and best of all the world did not end.
Final Score: 4 out of 5 (review policy)
Sleeping Dogs is available on the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC, which is the vanilla game that requires you to purchase DLC and lacks some of the Definitive Edition tweaks. Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition updates the graphics, doubles the framerate to 60 frames per second on PC only (console versions are still 30fps and struggle to even hit that), adds all forms of DLC including pre-order bonuses with several retailers and paid packs mentioned in the review, and tweaks certain missions and gameplay. The Definitive Edition is available on Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC (as a separate product from the original release). All versions of this game are also available digitally at this time. For a more thorough analysis of the upgrades in the Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition and the difference between each version of that update, Digital Foundry has done one of its famous face-offs here.