Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition Review (Xbox One)
We've encountered plenty of GTA clones in the past, but none done as well as the 2012 hit, Sleeping Dogs. Similar to Tomb Raider Definitive Edition, Square Enix has decided to bring one of its best games from the last-gen over to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in order to retell Wei Shen's inner conflict of brotherhood versus justice in the best way possible. Proving to be an exceptional, open world action game at its core, in many ways, Sleeping Dogs excels beyond Rockstar Games' flagship series and establishes itself as a game offering much more than your traditional rags-to-riches mafioso story. We're glad Sleeping Dogs never went with its original True Crime: Streets of Hong Kong moniker, because this allowed United Front Games to make a quality title we could look at without any predispositions that completely immerses you in modern Chinese culture and is unparalleled in terms of its authenticity. Without ever missing a beat or feeling offensive/stereotypical (which tends to happen to many Asian characters depicted in the movies and games done in the West), Sleeping Dogs not only takes us into present day Hong Kong, it recreates all of the city's beautiful glamour and disgusting grime intertwined with a compelling story featuring some of the best voice acting we have ever heard in the video game medium. Without a doubt, Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition is the apotheosis of GTA clones and proves itself just as enjoyable and beautiful as all the video games and films that have inspired it.
For those who have played the game in its original release, most of Sleeping Dogs' changes in the Definitive Edition come in the form of its visual fidelity, overall presentation and the inclusion of its excellent DLC chapters. In terms of story, Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition is just as spot-on and well-executed as it was on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Its story revolves around Wei Shen, an undercover police officer infiltrating the Triads of Hong Kong. Wei Shen's older sister, Mimi, was associated with one of the Triad gangs and their mother moved the Shen children from Hong Kong to San Francisco to get Mimi away from her drug suppliers. Mimi eventually died of a drug overdose and Wei Shen's mother committed suicide in the months that followed. Years later, Wei has returned as an undercover police officer and intends to exploit his childhood friendships with the low level members of the Sun On Yee Triad from his old neighborhood to infiltrate Hong Kong's criminal underworld. Given the loss of Wei Shen's family, his friends are all that he has left. On one hand, Wei legitimately cares for the members of the Sun On Yee, who eventually embrace him as one of their own (inviting Wei to social events, weddings and other familial events). On the other hand, Wei swore to himself that he would take all of the drug-dealing Triads of Hong Kong down to get revenge for his sister.
The voice acting of Sleeping Dogs helps you stay engaged with the game's excellent story. Wei Shen is voiced by Will Yun Lee (the archer/ninja guy from 'The Wolverine'), who does a brilliant job at capturing Wei Shen's conflicted nature. The supporting cast includes Kelly Hu, Robin Shou (Liu Kang!), Elizabeth Sung, James Hong and Edison Chen, who are all well-known across Asian cinema. Sleeping Dogs could have easily gone the stereotypical route with its characters, but we're glad to see it didn't, due to its solid script and stellar cast. Many of Sleeping Dogs' characters have lines in Cantonese mixed in with their English ones, making Wei (and by extension, the player) feel even more like a foreigner when a character spits out offhand insults and curses that don't have a translated subtitle. While playing, my roommate stopped to listen to Sleeping Dogs' dialogue and told me he was surprised at how natural the dialogue was -- he claimed that's how his parents (who immigrated from China years ago) speak to him all the time.
The graphics and sounds of Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition are where the game was changed the most. Unfortunately, Sleeping Dogs still does not really look like a next-gen game despite being its Definitive Edition. Instead, this version of Sleeping Dogs looks like an optimized version of the original game running on a high-end PC. The Definitive Edition irons out a lot of the graphical hiccups and evens out the frame rate during instances where I remember the Xbox 360 version of the game had trouble keeping up. The original game had a few fade-in issues while driving fast (as most GTA clones do), but I have yet to see anything fade into existence while playing Sleeping Dogs. Even when you're in the middle of a gunfight in the freeway, moving at 100+ km/h with multiple cars on the screen and explosions in the foreground, the game's frame rate never dipped. Sleeping Dogs noticeably has more cars in its traffic than it used to, which helps replicate Hong Kong's congested streets.
The sounds of Sleeping Dogs have improved as well. I played the original game on Xbox 360 using the same TV and surround sound system I did for the Definitive Edition, and there's an audible difference in terms of how the speakers would keep track of where the voices and sound effects were originating from. Unfortunately, most of the dialogue has been unchanged, included the high frequency of repeated lines the NPCs say to Wei as he passes by. Walking in Hong Kong's crowded marketplaces results in hearing the same vendor lines about selling pork buns and cheap clothing over and over again, which was something I was really hoping United Front would have addressed in the Definitive Edition. Many of Sleeping Dogs' visual shortcomings were left unchanged as well, such as the flat, 2D textures used for food and the other types of background/environmental items that look fine from far away but horrible up close. Most noticeably, Sleeping Dogs' god awful camera system was left unchanged.
The camera was my main gripe with the original version of Sleeping Dogs and it feels just as bad as it was in the Definitive Edition. We were still hoping for the ability to zoom in and zoom out, but United Front did not change the camera controls at all. Since many of the fights in Sleeping Dogs take place in alleyways, rooms and other closed off locations, you will find yourself constantly adjusting the camera because it'll unintentionally hit a wall and zoom in on the action by accident. United Front should have programmed the lock-on system to focus the camera on your target. I remain adamant that the camera should have had the option to zoom out, especially while driving. I always liked driving in GTA-esque games with the camera zoomed out to a max distance so I can take in my surroundings. Tapping down on the right analog stick while driving automatically looks behind your vehicle -- this should have been mapped to a different button so that tapping down on the right stick would raise the camera in order to see what's ahead of my car. While I was disappointed that the camera was unchanged in the Definitive Edition, the gameplay is just so well executed that I trained myself to regularly fix the cam without thinking about it, whether I was driving, fighting or shooting.
Driving, fighting and shooting are the three main types of gameplay you'll experience during Sleeping Dogs. Again, these systems have been left relatively untouched in the Definitive Edition, but they hardly needed any adjustments outside of their camera systems. Sleeping Dog's driving is fast-paced and action-oriented. The fighting is solid, karate-filled and varied due to your ability to grapple your enemies and throw them into environmental objects. Wei Shen's shooting skills were directly inspired by my favorite John Woo films. Wei jumps over counters during a shootout, he'll triggering a slow-motion sequence as he's exposed. If Wei pulls off a headshot on an enemy while leaping the table or counter (moving to the next cover spot), the slow-motion sequence extends even longer, encouraging you to take out the rival Triad gangs in a barrage of bullets, fists and awesome slow-mo effects. Throw in some over-the-top, vehicular combat, and things get even crazier.
Once you get far enough, Sleeping Dogs' missions utilize all three types of gameplay. It's rather impressive to have a fist fight, have armed goons storm the room, have an epic shootout and seamless switch to a vehicle sequence, only to find even more Triads trying to kill you on the highway. You can ram other cars, shoot at them or even commandeer them while driving at a high speed. Once you get close enough to another vehicle in motion while matching its speed, Wei can jump from his vehicle to the adjacent one, commandeering it in the process. Unlike the excellent martial arts animations and movements I expected going into this game, switching vehicles mid-drive left me awestruck. It was like watching a Jackie Chan stunt in the middle of an already action-packed sequence.
If you don't feel like doing the story missions (which consists of a multitude of Triad and police missions), there's still plenty for you to do, as Sleeping Dogs offers a lot of incentives for exploring atop its huge collection of side missions. You can collect statues to give to your martial arts instructor so he can teach you more moves to use in melee combat. You can take girls out on dates, which range from drinking, to photo shoots and even a karaoke bar that is done via a fun mini-game. There's all sorts of other secrets to find throughout Hong Kong. The Definitive Edition comes packaged with some of the best DLC we have ever seen in an action game. One is a Chinese ghost story come to life (reminiscent of Red Dead Revolver's Undead Nightmare, but more in-tune with a Chinese ghost story). Another DLC mission puts Wei Shen undercover in a fighting tournament on a remote island, just like 'Enter the Dragon'. The last one is our favorite, and I'm not going to spoil it, but it's just as fun and over-the-top as the other two.
Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition is a must-have for any fan of open world action games. While GTA is the tried-and-true champ, there are plenty of ways that Sleeping Dogs excels beyond the standards Rockstar has set in the genre. United Front Games has loaded this game with a multitude of content for you to enjoy and stayed true in paying tribute to every video game and movie that it was inspired by. In particular, Sleeping Dogs' 'Internal Affairs'-inspired plot (which was remade in Hollywood as 'The Departed') is absolutely captivating. Its presentation, despite a shaky camera, makes Hong Kong truly come to life in terms of sights and sounds -- there is no other game that comes close to capturing modern, Chinese culture than Sleeping Dogs. Much like Wei Shen's inner conflict between brotherhood and duty, gamers will no doubt be conflicted to get this game if they're waiting for the current-gen version of GTA V. If you already played Sleeping Dogs, then you know the quality experience you're in for, but if you never played it, and call yourself an action game fan (or even a fan of GTA), Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition is one dog you'll never want to put down.
This review was completed using a digital copy of Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition provided by the publisher for Xbox One.