I skipped Sleeping Dogs' original 2012 release. Turns out that was a huge mistake.
Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition follows Square Enix's Tomb Raider formula, giving a last-gen title a current-gen upgrade with the previous release's DLC bundled in. The game itself has something of a GTA-meets-Jackie Chan movie vibe to it. It's not only a great game, but it's my new favorite open-world title to date.
Sleeping Dogs was a good looking last-gen game, but on new hardware it looks absolutely incredible. Characters look solid, even if their animations seem a bit dated and strange at times. Hong Kong impressed me far more than I thought possible for a game ported from last-gen hardware. Cars are more reflective and smooth than those found in Watch Dogs, and the city–though not as large, mind you—was more detailed and alive than that of GTA V.
As I played through Sleeping Dogs, I was consistently impressed by just how great the game looked; from sunsets to rain-slick roads to the crowded skyline, I couldn't stop marveling at just how impressive everything was.
Focus on What Matters
This is going to be divisive. One major problem I've had with most open-world games is their needless complexity. Too many things are just too involved, to the detriment of the actual game. Fortunately, Sleeping Dogs dispenses with some of this.
Cops, for instance, are fairly easy to lose in Sleeping Dogs. Games like GTA or Watch Dogs have law enforcement that seem almost psychic, especially the latter. Get in a fender bender? Prepare for a high-speed chase that could eat 10 minutes of your time. Accidentally take out a street light? Same deal. In Sleeping Dogs this isn't a worry, and it results in far fewer distractions when you just want to drive to your next objective.
Gone as well are stats. You can earn upgrades, sure, but you don't need to level up, say, your ability to drive a car. It's nice to feel like you start the game as someone who's actually capable, as opposed to a goon who can barely drive a getaway car.
Kung Fu Fighting
Sleeping Dogs wouldn't be part Jackie Chan without a healthy dose of kung fu. From the very beginning, the game sets you off in hand-to-hand combat against groups of opponents, with the fighting only getting more intense as the game progresses.
Opponents are armed with all manner of weapons, wielding tire irons, knives, cleavers and the like. The combat is somewhat reminiscent of the Arkham series. Enemies are outlined in red as they're preparing an attack, and a timed press of the dedicated counter attack button will see a number of cool kung fu style counterattacks employed.
Laying the smackdown on your enemies gradually builds your face meter (yeah, that's what they call it). Once it's full you'll gain some special effects based on your face level (that's a thing too). Your enemies will become intimidated by you and you'll have an easier time knocking them out. It's another way the combat in Sleeping Dogs is reminiscent of Arkham, which I think we're all okay with.
You also have a number of non-kung fu-related abilities. There are numerous ways in which you can use the environment to your advantage, from throwing enemies in dumpsters to slamming their heads into functioning table saws. The combat is varied enough to feel fresh and exciting every time you throw down. Just like the Arkham series it borrows from, Sleeping Dogs delivers excellent, addictive combat.
I've described Sleeping Dogs as being something of an action movie a few times already, and this is truer for car chases than any other aspect of the game. During car chase segments, you'll be advised to shoot out the tires of enemy vehicles, a crazy simple task.
What makes this so over-the-top is the reaction involved. Time slows to a crawl as you see the car flip end-over-end, often exploding on impact with the asphalt. There's no end to how many enemies will appear, either. Each mission will see you dispatch 30-40 cars in the span of just a couple of minutes. Enemies will drive past the corpses of their comrades and through the flaming wreckage of their vehicles—often as they're exploding—in their quest to kill you.
It's insane, absurd and ridiculous and I just can't get enough of it. Every time I send a car sailing through the air I can't help but smile. It just never gets old.
Sleeping Dogs took a page out of Rockstar's book and invested in some top-notch voice talent. Though the story itself is boilerplate stuff for a Hong Kong action flick, the delivery is superb. Will Yun Lee does a fantastic job as Wei Shen. His lines are delivered with feeling and never come off the slightest bit wooden or hollow. He could teach Peter Dinklage a lesson or two.
Lee is joined by a few major celebrities. Lucy Liu delivers an excellent performance as troubled pop star Vivienne Lu, Tom Wilkinson does a great job as Wei's boss, Superintendent Pendrew and Emma Stone plays an adventurous American tourist named Amanda Cartwright. The supporting cast all deliver performances on par with those of their Hollywood counterparts. I haven't heard voice acting this good since the early days of 3D GTA titles.
At the beginning of the game, Sleeping Dogs has you shaking down merchants in Hong Kong's Night Market. Of these vendors, one stands out. He's a clothing vendor with a gold icon. Available at his booth, and only at his booth, are a selection of outfits that give you various boosts. Some are as cheap as $25,000 with others coming close to $500,000.
The cool thing about these outfits? Well, some grant you additional buffs to damage or defense, while some will grant you new unique weapons and others will give you decorations for your apartments.
The outfits themselves are pretty snazzy too, running the gamut from Chinese kung fu movie gimmicks like an iron shaolin monk, to mythological figures like Sun Wukong. There are even shoutouts to other Square Enix games like Deus EX and Hitman. All of them are worth the money, even if using them feels like you break the narrative a bit.
Nightmare in North Point
Nightmare in North Point is easily one of the best DLC packs I've played. It combines equal parts Thriller and Undead Nightmare to make a supernatural kung fu thriller out of Sleeping Dogs' open-world. After Wei sees a movie with his main squeeze, Hong Kong is overrun by jiang shi—a type of Chinese zombie-like creature—and demons.
As with any cheesy B-movie plot, you must rescue your girlfriend from a poltergeist with a grudge. The great part comes in the differences added to the game's standard formula. In Nightmare in North Point, just beating enemies down isn't enough, in order to defeat demons, you have to fill your face meter, which activates your ability to use magic. Once you're powered up you can deliver a magic-powered beatdown.
If I had to make one complaint about Nightmare in North Point, it would be that it's just too short. Getting through the story will only take about an hour, with roughly 15 to 20 minutes extra if you want to fully complete it.
Sleeping Dogs casts you in the role of Wei Shen, an undercover cop infiltrating the Sun On Yee triad organization. Wei spent some time in the US, trying to help his sister work through the addiciton the Sun On Yee had helped her develop. After her death Wei returns to Hong Kong and joins the police force with revenge on his mind.
Wait, you've heard this before? Yeah, so has everybody else who's ever watched a cop drama. The story really serves as a vehicle for the game's excellent action sequences, and that's good enough. Story sequences serve as good filler between beatdowns, gunshots and car chases.
The story isn't bad, but it isn't great. It's enjoyable enough to keep you going through the missions, but it's pretty cliche.
Sleeping Dogs shines when you're fighting off groups of thugs in hand-to-hand combat. The game's gunplay only serves to further underline that notion. Gun fights seem sloppy, like Wei doesn't know how to handle a firearm. While the over-the-shoulder view and targeting feels well done, shots often feel imprecise. It's hard to place bullets where you want them, unless you overuse the game's slow-motion vaulting system, which allows you to take your time targeting enemies slowly. The more enemies you kill, the longer the slow motion effect lasts. This seems to be the core of how to get through the game's thankfully sparse shooting sections without getting too frustrated.
It'd be nice for the game's shooting sections to be a bit smoother, but that may have resulted in a reduction in hand-to-hand combat sections, which would have been a disservice to a stellar mechanic.
Sleeping Dogs boasts an impressive number of tracks, both original and classic from Chinese and US pop culture. Above is my favorite track, fictional pop star Vivienne Lu's Yellow Fever. Vivienne is joined by the likes of Duran Duran, Queen, Tears for Fears, Bach, Beethoven and others. The game's built-in radio stations cover a wide range of genres, and while there's likely something for everyone to listen to, you're not going to drive around that extra bit of time just to finish a song.
They're good, but not great. But hey, it's a lot better than what Watch Dogs offered.
Like GTA, you can use taxis to for fast travel. It's a pretty straightforward mechanic, and one that doesn't need much explaining. It's nice to have the option to save you the time to travel when you don't want to ride all the way across town. The only problem is you can't seem to select any objective you want to travel to. Only main story missions and a few side missions will allow this. Otherwise you'll be looking for a parking lot or other landmark to be delivered to near your mission, which just doesn't make sense.
Year of the Snake
Sleeping Dogs' other DLC add-on, Year of the Snake, is also included in Definitive Edition. The pack sees Wei reduced to walking a patrol (think Will Ferrell in The Other Guys) when, during a New Year's festival, a bomb goes off. A crazy cult is threatening to destroy Hong Kong, and in true action hero fashion, Wei runs off to stop the threat to his city with punching.
The pack is fun, but extremely short and doesn't stray very much at all from the standard Sleeping Dogs formula. It's an extra hour or so of gameplay, and while it's enjoyable, it just doesn't differ enough from the core game.
No Online Play
Sleeping Dogs' version of Hong Kong is so fun, it's a shame you can't share it with a friend. Having two badasses running roughshod on the streets would be amazing. I have a feeling had the 2012 release of Sleeping Dogs included an online feature, GTAV might not have been the juggernaut it turned out to be.
The Xbox One version of Sleeping Dogs I played ran smoothly about 99% of the time. That other 1%, however, was plagued with frame rate dips. The dips seemed inconsistent as well. At times the cause seemed fairly obvious, driving a fast car quickly through city streets which caused frequent loading. Other times, it would happen during seemingly foolproof moments, like when the camera is focused tightly on a single character. The frame rate issues definitely don't hamper the game, but they're weird. It would be ideal if they weren't there, of course.
Sleeping Dogs is a game I shouldn't have overlooked two years ago. If Square Enix hadn't re-released the game as it did with Tomb Raider, I would have missed it. Luckily they decided to bring this excellent title to a new generation of consoles. If you skipped Sleeping Dogs like I did, now's the time to get it. It's an excellent game that deserves a place in your library.
If you've already played the game on PS3 or Xbox 360, there isn't anything new here to enjoy aside from the improved visuals. But if you haven't, Definitive Edition is definitely the way to go. You'll get all the best version of one of the best open-world games ever made.
You're reading TAY, Kotaku's community-run blog. TAY is written by and for Kotaku readers like you. We write about games, art, culture and everything in between. Want to write with us? Check out our tutorial here and join in.