Whilst Sleeping Dogs originally released in August 2012, today we are looking at the 5-year anniversary of the Definitive Edition of the game, which launched on current gen systems two years later. If nothing more, it is a great excuse to look back at one of the finest examples of an open-world game. But first, we need to go back even further… to 2003.
True Crime: Streets of LA was a November 2003 open-world action game released on the original Xbox, very much in the style of Grand Theft Auto. Players played as Nick Kang, an LAPD cop investigating a series of bombings in Chinatown. It featured a big list of Hollywood stars including Christopher Walken, Gary Oldman, Michelle Rodriguez and Michael Madsen, none of who were strangers to video games. Selling over three million copies it was considered a success, so work obviously then started on a sequel, thus starting the True Crime franchise.
Two years later, True Crime: New York City released. Not a direct sequel, this one centred around Marcus Reed; a former gangster gone good who now works as an NYPD officer. This game featured the vocal talents of Laurence Fishburne, Mickey Rourke and Christopher Walken again, though this time playing a different character.
Sadly, the follow-up did nowhere near as good as the first game, and the franchise was shelved – including a planned direct follow-up to New York City.
Then, in 2007, Activision got wind of a team in Vancouver, Canada developing an open-world action game set in Hong Kong. Activision saw this as an opportunity to breathe new life into the True Crime series and approached United Front Games about adopting their game into the True Crime family. In November 2009, True Crime: Hong Kong was officially unveiled and given a release date of Autumn 2010.
As with most games, a delay was incoming and in August 2010, this was pushed back until 2011.
Worse was to come however, as in February 2011, True Crime: Hong Kong was cancelled by Activision completely. They stated that the resources already put into the game would mean it needed to be an incredible success to be profitable, so they decided to cut their losses.
More importantly, the future of United Front Games was highly in doubt until August 2011 when Square Enix bought the publishing rights for the game. There was an issue though, they didn’t have access to the True Crime name, but saw the potential.
They renamed the game to Sleeping Dogs and it was officially released on 14th August 2012.
Sleeping Dogs still shares a lot of similarities to the True Crime series: a member of the police with a shady past, a highly detailed open-world, a stellar voice cast (Sleeping Dogs had the likes of Emma Stone, Tom Wilkinson and Lucy Liu provide voice work), mini-games and lots of violence.
In Sleeping Dogs, players play as Wei Shen, a member of the Hong Kong Police Force who transfers back to Hong Kong after previously being a member of the San Francisco PD. Upon his return to Hong Kong, he is tasked with infiltrating a Triad gang known as the Sun On Yee, using his contacts that he previously had when he was younger.
Shen quickly starts his rise up the ranks in the Sun On Yee, which is where the conflict between him and his Superintendent in charge of the case becomes more a problem. Shen’s loyalty is questioned on both sides of his life – that as a cop as well as posing as a member and future leader of Sun On Yee – and most of the third act of the game is a bloodbath with many parties vying for control of the organisation, and vying for Shen’s blood.
The Definitive Edition of the game featured this amazing story, along with several expansion packs that showed the developers flexing their creative muscles. First up was Nightmare in North Point which was originally released as a Halloween themed DLC pack. It does contain major plot points from the main story – so spoilers incoming – but basically this DLC had you face off against undead versions of Dogeyes, Johnny Ratface and Ponytail who has been summoned from the dead by Smiley Cat. It felt a little bit like Red Dead Redemption’s Undead Nightmare, but more condensed.
Other DLC including in the Definitive Edition had The Zodiac Tournament Pack, which was presented as a 70’s kung-fu movie on a new island separate from the main game area – and this was my personal favourite add-on. There was also The Wheels of Fury Pack which granted players a brand-new car, the DZS-90. But this also added missions and completing each one upgraded the car that – by the end of the five missions – essentially became a tank housed in a supercar.
Alongside all this were the obligatory costume packs, EXP boosts, new combat styles and extra collectibles offering big bonuses to your bank balance.
The city of Hong Kong was beautifully represented in Sleeping Dogs, so much so that when I had the opportunity to visit with work a few years ago, places weren’t fully recognisable, but definitely familiar. There were the markets of Mong Kok where many of the early missions take place, and then the area of Aberdeen also features in the game. It wasn’t necessarily the biggest open world, but it felt far from barren.
Even the soundtrack was heavily inspired by the region, with licensed radio stations such as Roadrunner Records and Ninja Tune Radio that featured artists from their respective record labels as well as plenty of other licensed music. However, there was also an extensive original soundtrack. Some of these tracks could also be found on in-game radio stations should you choose to listen to them.
One annoying issue with the radio though was that songs usually started when you entered the car, rather than have the station play on a loop. It meant a lot of the time you only ever heard the same first half of the songs when driving round.
Of course, it wasn’t just mission after mission. There were plenty of additional activities to do: races, girlfriends to take out, controversial betting on cock fighting and lots and lots of karaoke. At least in my game. Particularly Hit Me with Your Best Shot by Pat Benatar, I just love that song.
Karaoke wasn’t simply confined to pressing the correct button at the right moment and you needed to move your analog stick to match the pitch of the song. It was a bit more tactical than normal Karaoke offerings, but when you’d done each song as many times as I had, it didn’t offer much challenge.
But what’s next for the series? After all, this is five years since even the Definitive Edition of the game came out. Well, unfortunately, it isn’t looking good. Any chance to release a sequel or spin-off has ended without it seeing the light of day. Sleeping Dogs 2 would have featured a branching narrative between Wei Shen and a second character, and a spin-off called Triad Wars went into beta in 2015 but was sadly cancelled before ever being released. Then, a year later, United Front Games closed its’ doors for good.
There is hope of a feature film, starring Donnie Yen (Rogue One, xXx: The Return of Xander Cage) as Wei Shen. This was announced in March 2017 but since then there hasn’t been any concrete information.
But what are your memories of Sleeping Dogs? Having been made available for free via Games with Gold for both the Xbox 360 and Xbox One version, a lot of people will have tried it. Did you enjoy it? Were you someone that always made time for a visit to the pork bun guy? Were you a good cop or a bad cop? Let us know in the comments!