In a gaming sphere that currently adores sandbox and open world games, too few gamers would recognise the name Wei Shen. Sleeping Dogs' lead is a troubled character who makes the likes of Aiden Pearce seem annoyingly lacking in the personality department, and the aforementioned title that our chaotic cop comes from is often similarly overlooked.
Needless to say, if you enjoyed Sleeping Dogs on the PlayStation 3, you'll know exactly what we're talking about here: brutal melee combat, slick driving, and cinematic gunplay all combined to make a memorable Hong Kong romp – and all of that oriental madness is now available on the PlayStation 4, courtesy of the predictably named Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition.
So, what's new on Sony's latest system? Unfortunately, not much. Developer United Front Games mentioned in the lead up to launch that the fighting system in this re-release has been tweaked, but we struggled to note any differences from the original. Likewise, speeding through city streets feels just as arcadey here as it did on the PS3, still sporting its hilariously fun 'ram' mechanic that sees you smash into enemy vehicles with reckless abandon.
If there's any difference to be spotted, it's on the visual side of things. Unsurprisingly, the release looks reasonably better on the PS4, and is largely in line with what you'd expect from the PC version on high settings. An increased draw distance means that you can see past the city's haze and stare at the clusters of skyscrapers on the horizon, while better lighting provides a greater sense of atmosphere, especially at night when the streets are lit up with neon signs.
Textures have also seen a noticeable improvement, with characters and cars looking a little more lifelike across the board. Sadly, the game's sometimes wonky animations haven't been touched, although during fights, where they matter most, everything's satisfyingly smooth and responsive. Despite its graphical overhaul, though, there are no eye-poppingly obvious improvements. If you played plenty of the original, you'll appreciate the alterations, but nothing about the Definitive Edition screams next-gen, and newcomers may even end up disappointed by the visual side of things.
Still, this remaster is a decent reminder that Sleeping Dogs is an incredibly enjoyable sandbox adventure. As previously mentioned, protagonist Wei Shen is a genuinely likeable and interesting character, who's surrounded by a cast of hardline cops and ruthless triads as he goes undercover to investigate Hong Kong's grim criminal underbelly. It's a story that's told with fantastic pacing, particularly for a sandbox title, and it's a tale that'll have you zipping from one story map marker to the next in order to find out what twists and turns await.
Having said that, it's easy to dismiss the release as another gritty, tired Grand Theft Auto wannabe when countless f-bombs are dropped within the first ten minutes, but you shouldn't let the somewhat overbearing dialogue put you off what is otherwise one of the best sandbox stories that we've come across.
The multifaceted gameplay helps to keep the storyline fresh, too. One minute you'll be smashing opposing triads into oncoming trucks on a motorway, and the next you'll be diving across tables in a restaurant as you pull off slow motion headshots; meanwhile, at the core of all this is the melee combat. With a counter system akin to something like the Batman: Arkham games, and button-holding combos reminiscent of the Yakuza franchise – complete with absolutely brutal environmental takedowns – beating the snot out of gangsters is always a pleasure.
When you're finished causing chaos in the main story, there's plenty of optional content to tackle, too. From street races to karaoke, there's quite a bit on offer, and seeing everything takes quite a bit of time – especially if you're eager to grab all of the collectibles scattered throughout the city's main districts. Meanwhile, alongside all of this is the upgrade system, which eventually transforms an already deadly Wei Shen into a whirlwind of total destruction. Spread across multiple skill trees – each dependant on separate reputations as a police officer, a triad, and a citizen of Hong Kong – forging the protagonist into a leg breaking, gravity-defying kung-fu master and expert marksman is a rewarding process.
And if you're hungry for yet more content, the Definitive Edition comes packaged with all of the original's DLC, which includes the creepy Nightmare in North Point and Year of the Snake mission packs. Together, the side scenarios offer roughly eight more hours of gameplay, and even though they don't bring any real variation to the table, they complement the core release rather nicely.
There's no doubt that this is indeed the definitive edition of Sleeping Dogs, then, but sadly, it's hard to recommend at full price if you've already taken a blood soaked Hong Kong holiday in the PS3 version. Sure, you'll probably enjoy the story all over again, and the city feels more alive than ever, but this is essentially the same game that released back in 2012, complete with a frustratingly uneven frame rate when travelling through crowded areas.
Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition provides a good excuse to get involved with Hong Kong's shady dealings if you haven't already, but a lack of new features makes it difficult to recommend a return trip – at least at full price. It's still a fantastic sandbox title, however, sporting cohesive, engaging mission design, satisfying gameplay, and a great story – a formula which makes Wei Shen's tale a fantastic alternative to the likes of Watch Dogs and even Grand Theft Auto V if you're looking for an open world time sink.