Review: Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition

When Sleeping Dogs first came out in 2012, it really caught me by surprise. A Grand Theft Auto-esque open world, with a combat system reminiscent of the Batman Arkham series and Assassin’s Creed, and all of it set in a gorgeous representation of Hong Kong, with a story not unlike all those kung-fu movies you watched growing up? Not without it’s flaws, Sleeping Dogs definitely made a lasting impression on me, so I was pretty happy to see it’d be coming back with a few improvements. So let’s dive right in!

Now, the story in Sleeping Dogs isn’t the most original, but after playing at least a little bit, you’ll realise it’s about how it’s told, and the way you’re made to feel for the characters as you go along. You spend the game playing through the eyes of Wei Shen, an undercover cop trying to take down the Chinese Triads from the inside, specifically the Sun On Yee (based on the real life Sun Yee On… yeah). The main missions in the game have you running errands for and against the triads, like hijacking a mini-bus route, delivering traitors to grieving, cleaver wielding mothers, among other things.

My only real gripe with the story is Wei Shen comes across as a little wooden at times, or maybe a bit too angsty. Granted, any normal human being would crack under the pressure Wei was under, but sometimes it reaches Shia Le Bouf levels of irrational yelling. One thing I really enjoyed with the storytelling is that all the characters are pretty straight forward in terms of first impressions. Is Pendrew a bit of a dickish cop? Yeah, he pretty much is. Is Ricky the coolest dude you’ll ever be BFFs with? Damn straight! No twists or turns, it’s a straightforward story with believable characters and just a fun ride to be on.

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The Definitive Edition also comes with both DLC stories, with Nightmare in North Point being an interesting spin on the world already established, with undead taking over and stealing your girlfriend… which might not be the most original story, but it works enough to make for an enjoyable little side story. The Year of the Snake is interesting, if only for the fact you see Wei Shen doing much more on the cop side of things, even if it’s a little ‘play by my own rules’ at times.

Alright, so this is the part where I talk about the major reason this is an upgrade over the 2012 release. Graphics, mostly. The original game had a gorgeous rendition of Hong Kong, which looked even more amazing at night when it was raining, which may be oddly specific, but really… amazing. So in this updated version, Hong Kong looks as amazing as ever, with not just great art design carrying the whole feel, but higher resolution textures and, from what I can tell, better normal mapping and lighting.

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Even the characters look a lot better this time around. One thing a lot of video games are guilty of is making their characters look like they’ve been lightly jogging on a humid day, with an unnatural gloss that just makes me uncomfortable, and the original 2012 release was guilty of that. This time around, everyone has traded their waxy sheen for actual skin, and clothes made of fabric. It’s a small difference, but it does make a fair amount of difference. Not every character got a loving makeover though, with a lot of NPCs asking for favours just looking like they need to be put out of their misery. But hey, you don’t see them that often, so it doesn’t affect the overall cinematic experience.

And while it’s nothing updated, the sound work in this game is great. The voice acting, the music choice on the radio stations, and just the overall ambience you get while exploring Hong Kong. If you go to the night markets, it actually does feel like you’re in a busy place. I’ve never been to Hong Kong, but this game has made me really consider going.

While the game feels like a GTA clone at first glance, it really, really isn’t. The whole game has a heavy focus on hand-to-hand combat that, once you master it, is amazing. It can be a little imprecise at times, sometimes frustratingly so, but the satisfaction of a well earned beat down is well worth the trouble. You can upgrade your combos and learn new moves at the Kung Fu school you get introduced to early in the game, by finding jade statues throughout the city. Thankfully, that’s not too hard, as pretty much all the statues can be found just by doing the main missions in the game.

The part I’m not entirely sold on is the gunplay. Now, it works, it’s solid and it’s fun, in terms of mechanics, at least. But the enemy encounters are sometimes just not thought out. One part of the game has you hiding around a corner, shooting into a hideout. Thugs will keep spawning until you hit a limit, and when you empty the room, any newly spawned baddies come from the corner you’ve spent hiding behind, and before you can figure out what happened, you’re gunned down, and sent to a hospital that’s way too far away for you to care about going back and trying again. That’s the worst example, but little things like that add up to an ultimately unenjoyable experience.

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The last part to talk about is the driving in the game. If you’re in a car, it’s smooth and fun. They handle as you’d expect, and the only real adjustment is driving on the other side of the road… well, the proper side of the road for us Aussies. There are even street races that are very, very reminiscent of Midnight Club 2. However, bikes? Oh boy. Again, driving the bikes on the road is alright, as long as you stick with the first bike you get in the game. When you go into the street races that use bikes? Utterly frustrating. You’ll find every single bit of wall to clip and crash on, and overly aggressive AI will screw up your jumps and… well, racing. They just nudge you way too much and don’t give you space to steer sometimes. So I’d really only recommend doing the bike races if you’re going for 100%.