Last week news broke that, in the aftermath of the success of Rogue One and xXx: Return of Xander Cage, Donnie Yen has landed his first Hollywood star vehicle. While that’s exciting enough news, I was absolutely over the moon when I heard the movie would be an adaptation of the video game Sleeping Dogs.
Part of me is thrilled because, as I predicted, Donnie Yen may now have some long overdue pull in Hollywood. I’m just as thrilled though that a potential movie could draw attention to one of the decade’s most tragically overlooked video games, Sleeping Dogs.
Released in August of 2012, Sleeping Dogs puts players in the shoes of Chinese-American ex pat Wei Shen, an undercover cop with the Hong Kong police tasked with infiltrating the Sun On Yee triads. The story on the game focuses on Shen’s desperate struggle to maintain the balance as both a police officer and a gangster, not knowing who he can trust or get close to on either side, as well as Shen reconnecting with his roots in the city his parents once called home.
There is a reason that I almost instantly fell in love with Sleeping Dogs, and that’s because the game takes everything great about the last 40 years of Hong Kong police dramas and gangster movies and rolled it into one of the finest open-world games ever made. While this had occasionally been tapped into – perhaps most famously by John Woo’s Stranglehold – Sleeping Dogs is perhaps the first where anyone who has been raised on John Woo movies, or dreamt of themselves in a Jackie Chan or Donnie Yen movie can live out those dreams.
While on the surface, Sleeping Dogs is another Grand Theft Auto clone, and while many of the mechanics may feel familiar, but it has some very important deviations in terms of style and gameplay. One of the biggest is that, while guns are present, much of the combat in the game is hand-to-hand, and encourages the player to use the environment around them, resulting in a series of brutal, beautifully stylized fights that will have you hooked from first punch to the last. The story is much tighter than many of its contemporaries, and the side quests feel much more natural, without being intrusive or distracting. I’d even go as far as saying that the vehicle controls are much smoother.
The biggest thing Sleeping Dogs has going for it though, is the Hong Kong setting, which is pushes to the limits to deliver a unique open world game. One of the highest praise I can give Sleeping Dogs though is that, when it came to making the game’s vision of Hong Kong feel like a living, breathing city, they knocked the ball out of the park. This is where you can walk around Hong Kong’s night markets, with vendors hawking their wares, where you can hit up clubs to sing karaoke, buy steamed pork buns on the street, or just driving around, looking at local landmarks while your radio is tuned into some of the tunes that make up the game’s killer soundtrack. Part of the fun in gaming is exploring new worlds, and as someone who has seen more Hong Kong films than I can list, Sleeping Dogs is a few steps below buying a plane ticket.
There are a few annoying things that have kept me from getting 100% on this game, specifically reaching Triad Level 10 and beating the Enduro motorcycle race, in spite of having spent dozens of attempts to get them, but the only reason I found them at all is because Sleeping Dogs had me hooked enough to want to reach 100%, which is exceedingly rare for a video game these days. With the exceptions of Skyrim, Fire Emblem Awakening and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, there hasn’t been a modern video game that has hooked me this deep the way Sleeping Dogs has. I’ve dumped dozens of hours into Sleeping Dogs, and I still want more.
That’s probably the saddest part about Sleeping Dogs – that we’ll probably never get another one. Though there was an ambitious plan for Sleeping Dogs 2, like so many Hong Kong heroes, the Sleeping Dogs franchise came to an abrupt end.
Within a year of release, Square Enix had branded Sleeping Dogs a “failure” for failing to meet the desired sale numbers, having barely sold 1.75 million copies as of 2013. As much as it breaks my heart to agree with them, in an era when Mafia III sells 4.5 million copies in a week, and GTA V has now sold over 70 million copies, for all the things Sleeping Dogs did right, in terms of sales, it was an abysmal failure, and its publisher, United Front Games, closed last year.
Luckily, before that happened, they released Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition, an HD remastered edition of the game for Xbox One and PS4 that included all of the DLC and patched various glitches from the original. I own a copy of this version of the game as well, and have poured as many hours into it as I had the original. A copy of it goes for around $20, so if you’re curious, I hope you pick up a copy.