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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition Impressions: Second Chances

By on 10:16 AM

Sleeping Dogs was given an almost prophetic title, since it became the textbook definition of a sleeper hit. Just like Tomb Raider and Hitman, it suffered the brunt of blame for Square Enix's disappointing fiscal year. But unlike those games, Sleeping Dogs didn't have franchise recognition going for it. It was a true unknown, so we can only credit word-of-mouth for its new Definitive Edition. If you missed it the first time around, now is the time to catch up.
Both in its original release and more recent incarnation, this doesn't stray far from the open world drama formula tread by Grand Theft Auto. Except while GTA puts you in the shoes of criminals and scumbags, Sleeping Dogs has you on the right side of the law, albeit a gray one. It shares more than a few similarities with the Hong Kong drama Infernal Affairs, in which an undercover cop suffers conflicting loyalties as he dives deep into organized crime.
The city is the star in plenty of open world games, but that holds especially true for Sleeping Dogs. Hong Kong was already gorgeously rendered on the last generation, and the new Definitive Edition makes it look even better. The streets themselves feel alive and bustling with activity, and the neon-soaked alleyways are always a sight to behold.
The streets themselves feel alive and bustling with activity, and the neon-soaked alleyways are always a sight to behold.
Environments are further enhanced by a new dynamic weather system and the day-night cycle, which lent a little more variety to the world. My memories of Sleeping Dogs are of dark nights and gray days, but those two factors certainly helped the Definitive Edition acquire some much-needed ebb and flow to its darker moments. The most prominent enhancement is the nighttime fog, which moves dynamically with the fight sequences, and adds an extra thrill to throwing people to the ground.
Its character models are less impressive. While the environments are comparable to ones built explicitly for the new console generation's benchmarks, the faces are more clearly a holdover from the last one. Though they are expressive and well-animated enough to do their work, it can be jarring to see them here. The world looks so beautiful it's easy to forget this is a port, but then a cutscene starts and the faces remind you. They are a marked improvent over the original, though, and I couldn't exactly expect them to get a full makeover.
Similarly, the open-world roaming is firmly rooted in the last generation. Sleeping Dogs was always an inventive open-world game, but still owed part of its identity to following in GTA's footsteps. It works best when it's striking out on its own, with a well-designed combat system that holds up remarkably well. It's less impressive when it tries to imitate GTA-style car chases, since the driving is only so-so. Then again, what I wouldn't give for Rockstar to watch its imitators and implement a car-bash mechanic like the one in Sleeping Dogs.
When Square Enix calls this a "Definitive Edition," though, it certainly means it. This game got plenty of downloadable content in its day, but much of it slipped under my radar. Including all the DLC is old hat for rereleases by now, but I appreciated having it all in one place regardless--especially since the environments underwent the same loving care as the main game.
Sleeping Dogs is the quintessential example of a game that deserves attention and care. When it was first released, it was largely overlooked by audiences and unfairly blamed by its publisher. It was an underrated gem, and this new layer of polish should give it a chance to shine again.


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