The whole “undercover cop gets in too deep” storyline has been done a million times in both games and movies, to the point where it’s hard to watch a hardboiled detective story unfold without rolling your eyes and facetiously predicting the plot. “He’s a bad guy,” you say, as the veteran actor with the “and…” billing is introduced as either the hero’s mentor, superior or weirdly older friend. “Here comes the ‘difficult moral choice'”, you remark glibly, as the hero is forced to choose between his brother cops and the criminal family he has come to respect. “I bet he’s gonna die next,” you sneer, as your other half silently weighs the pros and cons of your relationship in their head.
But part of the reason such stories are so successful and watchable is that we have become accustomed to them. There’s something comforting about a well worn plot, about knowing where a narrative is going before it gets there. United Front know this, which is why Sleeping Dogs takes almost no risks with its storytelling but still manages to deliver a thoroughly engrossing and enjoyable experience.
It’s no surprise that Sleeping Dogs proved so popular. It was released in a comfortable lull, and a combination of high production values and effortless playability outweighed the various graphical glitches and performance issues that threatened to hold it back. As with many good last-gen games, Sleeping Dogs is now receiving the Definitive Edition treatment as United Front port it over to PS4 and XBO along with all 27 (count them) pieces of DLC, from the zombie infested Nightmare in Northpoint, to various costume and weapon packs.
For those who missed the original release, Sleeping Dogs is essentially a rebuilt True Crime: Streets of Hong Kong. Rather than resurrect that under-performing franchise, United Front simply took the basic framework and setting and added as much cool as possible while completely reworking it. Sleeping Dogs tells the story of Wei Shen, a former low-level Triad player turned LA cop turned undercover mole, who has relocated to his hometown in an effort to infiltrate his old gang, the Sun On Yee.
Backed up by a handful of supporting characters voiced by, among others, Tom Wilkinson, Emma Stone, and Lucy Liu, Shen is a fairly textbook undercover hero, caught halfway between cop and criminal and unsure of which path suits him best. As the story gathers pace and it becomes harder for him to trust anyone or even keep his own secret quiet, Shen struggles to decide where his true loyalties lie. Which is all well and good and makes for a compelling, well acted plot, but what it ultimately amounts to (and this is not a criticism) is shooting people, beating up thugs and driving stolen cars ridiculously fast.
Sleeping Dogs uses the GTA template ably to allow you to commit questionable acts in a open environment, helping people out or beating them down as you work your way up the proverbial food chain. Combat is combo and counter-based, like a more arcadey Batman: Arkham Asylum, with retaliatory strikes and heavy-hitting combos interspersed with some truly mean environmental attacks (ram a guy’s head into a spinning fan for extra gore points). You can also partake of various side activities like street races or helping out random strangers with small favours.
As with many Definitive Editions, you’re getting a good deal here, especially with the DLC thrown in. The main game is a good size on its own, but now you’re also seeing it running at (an albeit inconsistent) 60fps, and the improved visuals bring the dark-lit streets to life like never before. People are more tightly packed and their interactions are noticeably smoother, and they don’t force the engine to grind to a halt when more than twenty are on-screen at once. That said, United Front haven’t ironed out all the bugs with this version which is a shame. The game still stutters during the high speed chases, and enemy AI still consists of standing around waiting to get kicked, shot or run over.
The driving hasn’t been tightened like we hoped it would be, and vehicles still feel a little tricky to control. Although the shooting is decent, the main draw among the three prime gameplay tenets is the fisticuffs. Hitting the counter button at the right time causes you to block and strike back, while holding X (on PS4) grapples an enemy and allows you to interact, often brutally, with your surroundings. It’s not always pretty as weird physics can damage the illusion as easily here as when you’re running through the streets and occasionally forget to hit the contextual free-run button, and Shen awkwardly climbs over a table with unnatural, out of place animation.
Despite such middling visual complaints, an incredibly playable game remains just that on current gen, maintaining its slightly broken charm and presenting a huge, sprawling adventure with DLC that extends the already impressive runtime by several hours. Definitive Edition is not quite an essential purchase – especially if you already played and finished the original release – but it’s definitely worth picking up if you’re hankering after the kind of open world criminal action that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.