Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition Review | More Than Just Pork Buns

Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition Review

Whenever a new open-world sandbox game comes out it’s inevitably compared to Grand Theft Auto. This is at no fault to the chart-busting franchise and its developers and is simply a byproduct of its popularity. While games like Saints Row have evolved over a few iterations to carve out their own niche and differentiate themselves, a lot of sandbox games get swept up by the current of constant game releases, only bubbling up at the mention of some fan who remembers it fondly. Sleeping Dogs is one such game. Developed by Vancouver-based studio United Front Games and published by Square Enix, the game was originally conceived by Treyarch, home of the Call of Duty: Black Ops series, under the funding of Activision. UFG took over development pretty early on and they buckled down to make a unique open-world game set in Hong Kong and inspired by its culture. When it was first revealed the game was called True Crime: Hong Kong, a continuation of the True Crime game series that started with True Crime: Streets of LA in 2003. But soon afterward, Activision shut down the project and Square Enix, seeing the potential in what United Front Games was working on, bought the rights, and funded the game's completion. It was after this change of publishers that the game shed its old title, and Sleeping Dogs was born.

The story of Sleeping Dogs has just the right amount of street races and dialogue about family to make Dominic Toretto happy. You play as Wei Shen, an undercover cop who’s trying to infiltrate the Hong Kong triad to bring them down. Over the course of the 15-hour campaign Wei, and consequently the player, will be kicking butt, taking names, and having a crisis of identities. There isn’t much in the way of actual surprises in the game but I was thoroughly invested the entire time. I found myself anxious at certain important segments and I would often stop the car as I neared an objective marker so that I could hear the conversations between Wei and the passenger in its entirety. By the end of the game, I had a pretty good idea of who the villain was, but I was nonetheless excited to see them get what they deserved.

This is all thanks to both the decent writing that's often self-aware of its source material and the (mostly) solid voice acting. To start with writing, there is a lot of influence from other Hong Kong crime stories here, and though Sleeping Dogs never takes itself as seriously as Oldboy or The Man From Nowhere, the setup for the action and the style in which it is presented is intriguing. Sleeping Dogs starts with Wei returning to the place he grew up and seeing his interactions with characters both familiar and new is a treat. During the game's runtime, Wei gets to spend quality time with several other characters and as I said earlier, I was so invested in some of them and their stories that I would put my controller down just to hear them talk. This obviously puts a lot of pressure on the voice-over work and thankfully the core cast is great at delivery. There is one sequence in particular that happens in the back half of the game which is pretty predictable to start, but seeing the characters come together in this scene and witnessing the event that follows filled me with a mixture of emotions that few games ever stirred in me. However, there are exceptions to that. While lines like "a man who never eats pork buns is never a whole man" are iconic within the Sleeping Dogs community, some of the more extraneous dialogue can be underwhelming. Also, and this is not a critique or analysis of the game, but I just wanted to mention that Emma Stone is in this game and if that sounds random to throw in the middle of this review then it's pretty close to how it feels seeing her pop up in the game.

Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition Review

I referred to Fast and Furious in regards to the story, but the comparison carries through to the gameplay as well. The fighting, shooting, and driving all come together to make you feel like you're the badass lead in a high-octane action movie. I’ve seen the combat be compared to the Batman: Arkham series, and while they are similar, Sleeping Dogs is nowhere near as swooping and elegant. Fighting in Sleeping Dogs is visceral and going up against a group of thugs, some of whom are carrying tire irons and butcher knives, feels like you're in The Raid: Redemption. In combat, you can even grapple with some enemies and trigger environmental kills which can be bloody and brutal. And not all moves work on all bad guys. Some enemies can't be grappled while others can grapple you instead. This requires you to be alert about who you're taking on next. As you level up you can increase your move set, giving you more reasons to get into fistfights to try them out.

Then there’s the shooting. While the gunplay is nothing spectacular, when Wei mounts a low wall or crate, falls off a ledge, or jumps out of a moving vehicle, the game kicks into slow motion, and getting continuous kills during this time awards you even more slow-motion time. In some missions, you'll ride shotgun to another character and have to lean out the window with a gun and take out some hostiles. As soon as you land your first shot the slow-motion returns and stays that way as long as you keep hitting your shots. My only complaint with gunplay is that it's limited to very specific missions in the story. But thanks to the great hand-to-hand combat, you'll hardly ever miss the guns.

Lastly, we have driving. Wei has a wide selection of vehicles to purchase and commandeer from civilians. The bikes and cars all feel different and hopping into a new whip and taking it out for a test drive to see how it handles is a lot of fun. Speaking of fun, there is an action hijack mechanic in the game which lets you jump from the vehicle you're controlling onto another car and take over. Perhaps it was just because it reminded me of Pursuit Force on the PSP but, when this mechanic works, it's pretty darn cool.

Sleeping Dogs is at its best when all its core mechanics come together. The best example of this was when I was doing my duty as a cop, cleaning up the streets, and I was engaged in a small confrontation with a gang. I landed a flying kick on the first guy, the second one came at me with a cleaver. I countered his attack and disarmed him. I grabbed his weapon and finished him off. The first guy gets up and I throw the cleaver at him. He's down. One more left. The big guy. I run at him to go for a tackle but he just side-steps and pushes me aside. Then he grabs me and starts to pick me up but I counter back and stun him. I keep hitting until he too drops to the floor. At some point, the real cops, who don't know that I'm an undercover officer, get involved. I hop into my yellow sports car and zoom off as two cop cars follow me. I speed onto the highway and they're still hot on my tail so I pull the handbrake and go into a 180 as I take out my pistol and shoot the tires of the first cop car. The tire bursts and the car goes flying past me as I head in the opposite direction. The second cop car is still behind me. I drift down an exit road and smash through the construction signs off the ramp. My car smashes onto the pavement. I get out, bloody but alive. The cop didn't follow me down. If I told you that was a scene from Fast Nine who would honestly doubt me?

Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition Review

From Los Santos to Steelport, no open-world sandbox game is finished without a good setting, and thankfully the setting of Sleeping Dogs is fun to explore and packed with things to do and collect. The Hong Kong in Sleeping Dogs is broken into 4 segments that, while designed to replicate their real-life counterparts, are fictionally stitched together for the purpose of the game. There is fast travel in the form of taxis that frequently roam around the map but in my entire playthrough of the game, I never once used the service. Rain, shine, race, or chase. I loved driving around Hong Kong with the radio blasting absurd commercials and head-banging bops. On the note of sound, sound design in Sleeping Dogs is serviceable, with cars and guns packing enough punch for you to be able to feel it. But the real star of the audio show is the soundtrack. There are some tracks in this game that I can only describe as a combination of groovy and badass. Theme A, Theme B, and Theme D are some of my favorites if you want a sample of what to expect.

The Definitive Edition also comes bundled with two DLCs, Nightmare in North Point and Year of the Snake. Demons and the undead flood Hong Kong in Nightmare in North Point and Wei has to suit up as a cop to take down cultists as they plan an explosive New Year celebration in Year of the Snake. The two DLCs are short, taking around 3 hours to complete the main questline for both, and there are items scattered around the map to collect that aren't too difficult to track down with a guide for anyone wanting to 100% the game. Unfortunately, the additional content in these two packs is easily the weakest link in Sleeping Dogs. I ran into more bugs and glitches in my short time with these DLCs than I did in my entire main campaign playthrough. And then there's Hong Kong. Gone is the hustle and bustle of the city and replaced with often desolate streets that lack any of the charm found in the main game. I do appreciate the fun twist to the story that the DLCs added, but at the end of the day, the few hours I spent with them are the most mundane I've had in the game.

Let me make it clear, Sleeping Dogs is not a perfect game and its rough edges certainly start to show. Visually, most of the main story cut scenes are polished, but side missions and NPC interactions like buying a Pork Bun have some jank to them. Objects like phones and ice cream cones that should be in the hands of a character often float just outside their grasp and every time an item is exchanged there are a few frames where it disappears as it travels from one hand into the other. The thing with Sleeping Dogs is that despite all of this, I loved every second of it.

I've had the pleasure of playing and reviewing several great games on Respawn Station. But Sleeping Dogs is undeniably my favorite so far. As much as I enjoyed playing games like Resident Evil: Revelations and Titanfall 2, those games had moments of frustration, be it a tough boss or a challenging gauntlet. However, not once in my time playing Sleeping Dogs did I get frustrated. Even when I occasionally failed a mission once or twice and had to respawn, I never got mad at it. Sadly, United Front Games, the Vancouver-based studio behind Sleeping Dogs, closed down in 2016. The team was apparently working on a sequel to Sleeping Dogs that was more ambitious in size and scope than the first, but I doubt we will ever see that game. As far as I know, the rights for Sleeping Dogs sits with Square Enix and while I would love to return to China and go on another adventure with Wei, for now, that remains a pipe dream.

Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition | 9 | Excellent

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