Traditionally, the launch of a new generation of console has been marked with a succinct transitional period, with companies swiftly shifting their efforts from legacy hardware to shiny, new hardware. But the launch of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One revealed an atypical approach, with a large number of titles continuing to be simultaneously published across both hardware generations. Even more remarkable is the substantial number of high-definition ports crafted for the new consoles. While these enhanced remakes are worthwhile purchases for those who sat on the sidelines during the last generation, they’re often a tough recommendation for players contemplating a double-dip.
And that’s exactly the dilemma faced by prospective purchasers of Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition. The remake bundles all 27 pieces of the game downloadable content onto a Blu-ray disc while incorporating a multitude of visual upgrades, creating a near-requisite experience for newcomers. But for open-world junkies who’ve already explored the game’s interpretation of the seedy Hong Kong underworld, the dearth of any new material and the presence of a several residual failings means that returning players might be better of waiting to see how the upcoming Triad Wars turns out.
But Sleeping Dogs’ fresh recruits will quickly discover the game is built on an extremely solid foundation. In execution, protagonist Wei Shen’s straddling of principled police behavior and an attraction to the allegiance shown by the Sun On Yee Triads not only recalls the tension which fueled HK films like Infernal Affairs and Special ID, but also nurtures the game’s dialectical play styles. As with most narratives that explore the cognitive dissonance faced by undercover cops, Shen loyalties waver between the two opposing factions, creating a set-up where players can dispense violence and wanton destruction while still extending the structure and mission objectives of police work.
Much of the game’s success can be attributed to the writers’ familiarity with HK cinema. Undertakings draw directly from the oeuvre of renowned directors like Woo, Tong, and Lam, with gritty and terse (as well as habitually coarse) dialog punctuating each event. Likewise, melee combat can often feel like cinematic action sequences, sending opponents into environmental pieces which shatter and splinter with greater frequency. Battling draws upon Arkham and Yakuza’s mechanics, allowing players to strike, counter, and grapple with foes via well-timed presses of the face buttons. One drawback with the Definitive Edition, is that developer United Front Games squandered the opportunity to add more types of opponents and bolster the number of enemy models. Smartly, you won’t see all of Wei Shen’s destructive capability too quickly, with separate tech trees that grow depending on the character’s interaction with cops, triads, and the Hong Kong populace.
Both expansions, the horror-themed Nightmare in North Point and epilogue Year of the Snake, are available from the Definitive Edition’s main menu, offering a duo of supplemental adventures that don’t measure up to the quality of the core game. Certainly, each have their moments- with the former offering some affecting conversations with Vincent and the second adding a number of lively tools to Shen’s arsenal. But largely, both expansions feel far too linear, brief, and don’t demonstrate enough distinction from Sleeping Dogs’ main campaign.
Visually, the Definitive Edition flaunts a nice coat of high-def polish. Running in 1080p, the game’s draw distances have been expanded, while urban areas are more realistically populated with roaming NPCs with street vendors have an amplified number of goods. Texturing for these secondaries has been noticeably improved, making them appear less like automatons. Sadly, the advancement wasn’t bestowed on principals, and the sporadic stilted animation or awkward lip synching can divulge that the Definitive Edition wasn’t built from the ground up for next-gen systems. Although the game targets a thirty frame-per-second output and has eliminated instances of screen tearing, racing through heavily populated areas can induce a minor drop, which can make driving the difficult just as players need the more control precision. One disappointing holdover from the Xbox 360/PlayStation iteration is the game’s camera, which has a difficult time framing the action when players are reversing in or on a vehicle.
But despite these transgressions, Sleeping Dogs’ does flirt with the picturesque, especially when speeding over streets dotted with reflective puddles or when the specter of volumetric fog blankets sections of the city. Skulking Hong Kong at night looks especially attractive now thanks to animated signage, and improved lighting effects. Collectively, these improvements help to augment the impact of Dogs’ most essential character, the city of Hong Kong. As such, her skyline is fuller, while her congested streets and network of alleys feel richer and a bit more convincing.
The content, rather than the high-definition conversation is the reason to own Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition. While the game’s new-found gloss is indulging, it’s the amalgam of absorbing storyline and combination of proven mechanics that make the title an obligatory experience for aficionados of the open-world genre. For players who already own the original game, the Definitive Edition’s improvements are satisfying but not enough of an incentive to purchase a full-priced ticket back to Hong Kong’s underbelly.
Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition was played on the PlayStation 4 with review code provided by the publisher
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Developer: United Front Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Release date: October 14th, 2014
Price: $59.99 digital or physical
Languages: English/Cantonese voice, English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian subtitles