Sleeping Dogs is an open-world crime game for busy people. It's not an experience padded with multiple cities or the obligatory "slow living" town at the outskirts of the world map. Compared to recent game versions of Los Angeles in Grand Theft Auto V and Chicago in Watch Dogs, the dense depiction of Sleeping Dogs' Hong Kong lends itself well to all-business efficiency, where it doesn't take long to get anything done, whether it's a story mission or a stress-relieving brawl that you pursue. As one of the better open world games of the last two years, this rerelease is not unexpected. Yet, as the second of Square Enix's "Definitive Editions," this enhanced version of Sleeping Dogs does not exhibit the same level of care as this year's Tomb Raider re-release.
United Front Games' vision of Hong Kong isn't the largest urban game world, but like the real city itself, it makes the most of its limited space. It's a city of countless, well-placed distractions, from street races to gang hideout infiltrations. You might be on your way to start a story mission, only to see an exotic car a client wants drive by. Distractions in Sleeping Dogs work because the game mixes passive diversions with dynamic ones, and just because activities are close to each other doesn't mean that Hong Kong is a city bereft of challenges. Even if you're just yards away from a hidden collectable, it might take you 10 minutes to find the one route to reach that treasure. Thanks to the city's tight design, it's not unheard of to reach 100 percent completion--and 100 percent satisfaction--in less than 25 hours. With all the post-release content added to the Definitive Edition, you're looking at an additional five hours. The two downloadable side stories--one involving Chinese horror myths, the other recasting protagonist Wei Shen as a traffic cop--excel by being lighthearted in tone, a fitting contrast to the tension-heavy story of the main game.
For as much as Sleeping Dogs excels in its conciseness, much of the narrative pacing feels rushed. The "rise through the ranks" story conceits in urban open world games have run their course, and Sleeping Dogs would have been a great example of the latter had it not been for the hurried nature of Wei Shen’s promotions as a member of the Hong Kong Triad. Where the filler-free narrative approach works is by not centering the game on Wei's quest for vengeance. His motivations are never hamfisted: you don't need to lose a sister to gangs and drugs to sympathize with Wei’s emotional baggage. This material is ripe for a prequel, but Sleeping Dogs aptly focuses your attention on the present, immersing you in Hong Kong’s underworld through Wei's perspective. The story is a clear homage to decades of crime films featuring undercover protagonists, and explores the common theme of losing oneself to the well-curated undercover persona. You begin to believe Wei's loyalty to his fellow gangsters and his genuine rage when his "brothers" have been wronged. Yet as convincing as he is, the story never portrays Wei as being truly conflicted, or in danger of losing himself, although a few cutscenes try to convince you otherwise.
For over a decade, I've longed for a group of games to carry on the brawling legacy of Streets of Rage and Final Fight. We got it from the Batman: Arkham series, Yakuza, and to some extent, Assassin's Creed. Sleeping Dogs belongs in this camp as well, and strikes a happy balance between the fundamental differences of combat between Batman and Yakuza. In other words, Sleeping Dogs succeeds for having an absorbing counter-intensive battle system while still offering incentives to go on the offense whenever you so choose. Wei Shen's superhuman ability to fight like he has eyes in the back of his head elevates the game to the level of a martial arts movie. Sleeping Dogs' responsive controls make it easy to depend on counterattacks, thus making the the game's melee combat a perfect example of how great defense can be the best offense. You do not want to forget about the Yakuza-inspired, context-sensitive finishing moves, however, which act as impactful rewards for the more assertive player. Whether you want to electrocute a thug on a neon sign or grind a gangster's face in an outdoor generator, most every combat environment has objects to violently interact with. Contextual possibilities, combined with Wei Shen's Hong Kong cinema-level martial arts, complement--rather than conflict with--the more realistic elements of Sleeping Dogs.
Both the story and United Front Games' interpretation of Hong Kong are cultural canvases to showcase and even educate players who know little to nothing about specific aspects about Chinese culture. Sleeping Dogs is abundant in expository scenes of classic Asian themes of brotherhood, the importance of family, and one's reputation. These moments are highly informative without being too heavy handed. It's wholly amusing to engage in a mission in which you disrupt someone's harmonious feng shui décor, and fun to hear a merchant speak ill of mainlanders. If you live with a significant other who is fluent in Chinese, you won't even need to call them over to pique their curiosity for Sleeping Dogs; the game's Cantonese dialogue will do that for you.
If Square Enix is looking to turn "Definitive Edition" into a brand, it's doing so with varying results. The visual improvements to the two year old version of Sleeping Dogs are not as discernable as they were in the convincingly overhauled Tomb Raider, a game that had a much shorter release gap between its original and Definitive versions. The improvements in lighting and textures in Sleeping Dogs are only noticeable through side-by-side comparisons, which is disappointing. Conversely, Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition serves as a testament to the quality and high standards originally set by the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions from 2012. And let's not forget the PC version, which boasted an exquisitely high frame rate, whereas the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions are locked at 30 frames per second.
For better or worse, Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition is not that much different from your standard issue Game of the Year Edition. That is to say, you'll be treated one of the best open world crime adventures in recent years, and the game still looks great, if not dramatically different on its new hardware. If you have already achieved full completion and have beaten the two additional stories, there's nothing new for you here, aside from a new set of achievements and trophies. If you're coming into this game fresh in 2014, I am jealous that you will, in fact, get the complete, "definitive" experience. In a platform library of open-world games that includes Watch Dogs and Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Sleeping Dogs commands an equally important role.
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