‘Sleeping Dogs’ best ‘Grand Theft Auto’ since ‘Saints Row 2’

By Colin McInerney

“Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition” brings the original game into the current generation with all its downloadable content, creating a fulfilling gameplay experience with a few social issues.

“Sleeping Dogs” began life as “True Crime: Hong Kong,” a sequel to “True Crime: Streets of L.A.” The game was eventually dropped and Square Enix picked up the publishing rights. The company lacked the “True Crime” license, so it rebranded the game and “Sleeping Dogs” was born.

Players control of Wei Shen, a police officer undercover in Hong Kong in the Sun On Yee triad. Throughout the game, Shen is seen struggling to maintain a balance between the double life he leads. He must act as a law-abiding police officer while doing illegal—and sometimes sadistic—things to appease the triad he is attempting to infiltrate.

This duality is represented incredibly well through the game’s mechanics. Each of the main story missions has both a triad and police experience meter, allowing Shen to unlock different abilities in each. Players start out with the maximum amount of police experience, the game assuming that a police officer will follow the law. For each law broken, such as property damage, injuring civilians or even killing them, Shen loses some of this police officer experience. Alternatively, triad experience must be gained through combat with enemies, taking them down through long combinations of attacks or environmental takedowns. While difficult, it is possible to end missions with both meters at maximum, which creates an awesome balancing dynamic through regular gameplay.

Combat is also exceptional, taking a hint from “Batman: Arkham Asylum” with a kung-fu paintjob. Despite being similar, the fighting system feels like its own beast. The difference between tapping and holding a button causes a different move to be executed, and spending triad or cop experience opens up new combat and gameplay options. Additionally, jade statues scattered throughout the game can be brought to a dojo to allow Shen to learn new moves.

From the characters to the plot, the game borrows from classic martial arts movies. The Hong Kong setting throws new American players for a loop, largely because of the left-side driving. Even remembering to enter cars on the right side feels Shenrd at first but not quite disruptive. The city, however, is beautifully rendered, and the updated graphics really help it shine for the most part. The few problems are visible when high-resolution textures are placed on otherwise bland objects, making them seem almost too sharp. Despite the graphic overhaul, players will also continue to only fight the same seven or so enemies, meaning that any prolonged encounter will result in Shen taking out three or four guys that look exactly the same, sometimes back-to-back.

The only real detriment to the game’s narrative is its regressive and frankly abysmal portrayal of women. There are no female main characters—the closest thing to one is a triad boss, a male boss’s wife. Any woman that Shen interacts with that he is not getting a mission from is entirely seen as a sex object to give Shen a chance to use his overly machismo dialog. The first girl Shen meets is a happy-go-lucky American girl who essentially exists as a masturbatory aid for the player, blatantly flirting with Shen as if he can do no wrong. Every date in the game is a one-shot affair in which every subsequent girl is quickly tossed away and forgotten after Shen gets a small bonus from going on the “date mission.” In an industry trying to move forward from a history of blatant sexism, “Sleeping Dogs” feels like a step back.

Barring that, the game is beautiful, fun and seamless. Every driving mission has some sort of purpose, and routine driving is made more enjoyable by a mechanic that allows players to sideswipe and ram other cars off the road. It is incredibly satisfying to do, and allows for some very stylish maneuvers when executed correctly. “Sleeping Dogs” continues to be one of the best games ever to use the “Grand Theft Auto” formula since “Saints Row 2,” and the downloadable content included in the definitive edition turns the late game into a cavalcade of enjoyment, from the goofy items that give special combo moves to the zombie apocalypse scenario. “Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition” is just that—the definitive edition of a largely spectacular game.