If you think that Sleeping Dogs is just another Grand Theft Auto clone: you’d be wrong. After playing Definitive Edition the second time round in an attempt to 100% the game, I found myself still enjoying the story and the world—more so than I did with any of the games in the GTA series. It is a bit daring to compare the game to (and favour it over) a behemoth like GTA V, but the game does well for itself—even if it is on a smaller, less grandiose scale. Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition introduces the player to an intriguing set of characters facing an intriguing set of circumstances, and that’s a key factor in what kept me returning to the experience.
You begin your story by infiltrating the Sun On Yee (a triad organisation) as Wei Shen, an undercover police officer. Navigating the streets of contemporary Hong Kong, Wei must balance his time between his policing duties and proving himself to the triads—travelling between four key districts to complete missions for both, earning experience and progressing the story. Here is where the game shines most. Working for both factions, you grow to appreciate characters such as Wei’s childhood friend, Jackie Chen, who provides him an entrance into being trusted amongst the higher-ups of the triad. As the story progresses, you get the sense that possible negative consequences have a bearing on Wei’s emotions—as he grows ever fearful that Jackie will be caught in the crossfire of his actions. The game does an excellent job at slowly revealing the intentions of many characters, causing the player’s distaste (and on the other spectrum, fondness) of characters to grow with time.
The game is a brawler—think of it in the same vein as Yakuza 0. The combat is a solid experience, and is more towards the simplistic side. You start with a small move set, with the ability to unlock more complex moves if you collect Jade statues spread throughout the map.
The brawling is certainly fun, and requires you to time to counter enemy moves. The game allows you to get into a rhythm with the brawling; the moves are purposeful, and it certainly feels like there is no need to randomly button mash to get through encounters. Throughout most of the narrative, you’ll find yourself using fists and (sometimes) melee weapons; although, there are pockets within the game where ranged weapons, like shotguns and rifles, come into the mix. These parts are few and far between, making it feel like the developers wanted to keep the emphasis on the player being a master of martial arts. One of the best aspects of the brawling combat are the environmental takedowns, which involve objects in the world that Wei can interact with while grappling an enemy. Once an enemy is in a grapple, objects around Wei light up and can be used to disable the enemy once and for all. They’re all a one-hit-kill, and a lot of fun to watch.
The map is full of content, and—besides completing the main missions—you do have a lot of side activities to do. With the intention of completing the game in its entirety to get all achievements, I found myself completing favours for strangers, competing in street races, and taking down drug dens (by beating up all of the triads at each location, then hacking their security camera in order to take them down at a later stage). These definitely feel like a “side” to the main game: these smaller missions don’t really add much to the story, and I would consider them mostly filler—but fun to do regardless. Well, most of them anyway; to finish all the races was about as enjoyable as pulling teeth, especially the motorbike events. Within these, clipping anything (even a really small curb or bump in the road) is enough to send you flying or disorientate you long enough to be overtaken, which most of the time compromises your standing in the race. In this game: you come first, or you lose and have to retry.
While games like GTA V will provide possibly 100+ hours of entertainment, this game is certainly on the shorter end of the scale. If you beeline it through the main story, you can finish the game in fifteen hours, and going for all achievements will likely stretch that to around thirty-five hours. But it’s about quality here, more so than quantity. I felt the game was long enough to enjoy, but not so long as to where I was burning out on the repetitiveness of the side missions and collectables.
Having been on the market for many years, the game has been listed on Steam sales numerous times: at a price of about A$5. Regardless of sales, its typical purchase price of A$20–30 is still not a large ask for the value it provides. These ballpark figures are for Definitive Edition, which provide you more than the standard version—namely high-resolution textures and all DLCs. The look and feel of the are certainly not outdated, but perhaps that would not be the case for the standard version. So, if you are looking at purchasing the game, make sure to get Definitive Edition: as the major DLC (“Nightmare in North Point” and “The Year of the Snake”) will provide you with a couple extra hours of ass-kicking fun.