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Face-Off: Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition

PC, Xbox One and PS4 versions compared with the 2012 original.

United Front's virtual Hong Kong arrives on Xbox One and PS4, with a revised PC release in tow.

United Front Games returns to its surprise 2012 hit, Sleeping Dogs, bringing a spruced-up Definitive Edition to both PS4 and Xbox One with all DLC included. In addition to the content bonanza, the studio also takes this chance to improve the game's visual standard, with new atmospheric effects and lighting, among other tweaks, added to the mix. But are such changes impactful enough to bring the game up to current gen standards? And with a cheeky £10 Steam upgrade fee required for owners of the PC original, does it really justify a revisit?

The promise of visual tweaks hangs overhead for all three versions. Geometric detail is particularly broadened, with the opening shot of Hong Kong's skyline filled out with extra buildings. We also get more Havok physics-impacted boxes lying around cafes, while the city's docks are packed with extra cars and flag-lines. No platform misses out here - right down to the extra inventory around the market stalls.

Other tweaks show up in gameplay more directly. World density on consoles comes very close indeed to the PC on its extreme setting, with distant buildings now only flickering with occasional pop-in. The Definitive Edition vastly improves on this point over the original; even when maxed out, visible world streaming issues are apparent. The level-of-detail (LOD) switchover can still be caught on all three platforms, but Sleeping Dogs is hugely improved in this area overall.

Traffic and NPC density is tangibly boosted for these updated releases too, with Xbox One and PS4 delivering a more bustling facsimile of Hong Kong than the PC original. Deftly weaving around traffic proves a little harder as a result, noticeably during pursuits in the Mini Bus Racket mission. In this respect, there's no discernible difference between any of the three Definitive Editions.

A comparison between the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition. Below are variant comparisons with the PC release on maximum settings.

Alternative comparisons:

Equally, new atmospheric effects such as volumetric fog successfully add a brooding, mysterious air to the city - present and correct on all three platforms. The reworked character models are a mixed bag, meanwhile; regular NPC enemies now avoid the gormless look of those in the original game, bringing more nuanced expressions as they charge forward. But sadly main characters are only touched on in the subtlest of ways; gang leader Winston Chu curiously getting new teeth and eyebrows that flare ever-so-slightly more upwards. You'd be hard pressed to notice it without a comparison shot - but it's there.

Environments are also radically re-lit in spots, with characters illuminated in a more neutral fashion during darker cut-scenes. In a direct showdown with the original release, skin tones appear duller and less vivid, but in effect it likely comes down to an artistic choice by the developer. Elsewhere, we see draw distances for lamplights are broadened in the new edition - for PC, PS4 and Xbox One alike - with bloom halos added around each source.

The issue of lighting is an odd one though, especially once we enter the city at night. In direct comparison, using the PC version's benchmark tool, the Definitive Edition upheaves the designs of every neon signpost in the city - removing the bloom effect too in most cases. And curiously, adverts formerly mapped to the sides of skyscrapers are cut from the opening section. It makes a stark contrast with the original, with the Xbox One and PS4 versions a direct match for the remixed PC edition.

PlayStation 4Xbox OnePCXbox 360

Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition implements the high resolution texture pack by default on Xbox One, PS4 and PC, with little to separate the three in mapping quality. Screen-space ambient occlusion (SSAO) is superior on PC however, with the console effect adding a less accurate silhouette around characters - faintly more so on Xbox One.

PlayStation 4Xbox OnePCXbox 360

Accuracy of specular mapping isn't a strong point for the original Xbox 360 version, and the Definitive Edition creates a more natural look for the current-gen releases.

PlayStation 4Xbox OnePCXbox 360

A volumetric fog effect sweeps across Hong Kong in the new edition, adding a 'lived-in', polluted look to the urban sprawl. We also get a revised approach to lighting, with lamps streaming light downwards with added bloom.

PlayStation 4Xbox OnePCPC Original

Comparing the three versions to the original PC release, laughably subtle changes are made to character facial animations. Gang leader Winston Chu, for example, gets a new set of teeth and a little extra flare to his eyebrows. Other main characters show almost zero change.

PlayStation 4Xbox OnePCPC Original

Excusing a slight difference in time of day here, there's no difference in world detail between the Xbox One, PS4 and PC releases in its Definitive Edition. Extra objects such as crates, flag-lines, and even abandoned cars are added to enrich the world over the original PC release.

PlayStation 4Xbox OnePCPC Original

Once again, we see a change to the lighting, and tweaks to the texture map details between the original Definitive Edition - though the final product on the two current-gen platforms matches the updated PC release.

PlayStation 4Xbox OnePCPC Original

Alpha effect quality is equivalent between all versions, though the PC gets an option to reduce the resolution of these effects to save on GPU processing. LODs are also slightly limited on consoles, with the confetti on the floor here rendered at a distance on PC, but not as far afield on PS4 or Xbox One.

PlayStation 4Xbox OnePCPC Original

There are curious detracting points for the Definitive Edition - otherwise an improvement overall - such as the dialing back of bloom across neon signs. Here we also see the lowering of reflection map quality in one instance, in this rare case absent on Xbox One. [Update 16/10/14 4:42pm: after re-testing this scene once again on both Xbox One and PS4, we can confirm reflection quality is a match between Xbox One and PS4 too - though scenes such as this vary in appearance, based on the game's weather systems.]

Running via a new 64-bit executable, Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition on PC is very closely mimicked by the PS4 and Xbox One versions. Ranging from the quality of normal mapping, motion blur, and shadow resolution, you get precisely the same top-end experience as the PC on its highest settings.

However, up close with characters there are two drawbacks. Firstly, consoles adopt a more intrusive screen-space ambient occlusion (SSAO) effect than the maxed PC playthrough. The less accurate console releases employ thicker silhouettes around objects, character hands and the divots and creases to each face. While the extra shading on console is largely improved over the vanilla PC experience, it's over-baked when compared to the PC's Definitive Edition.

Secondly, a heavier depth of field filter separates the PS4 and Xbox One versions from PC. Neither stand out as better or worse for it though - and the consoles carry an impressive standard of image quality to back the whole presentation. In large part, this is due to both PS4 and Xbox One achieving a full 1920x1080 native resolution to match our PC's selected output - with FXAA to suit. Counting in at just over 17GB in file size for all three versions, we're looking at a state of near-parity between each release.

Performance is the Achilles Heel of the PS4 and Xbox One versions of Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition, each preferring to adopt the PC's top-end visual standard at the price of 20-30fps performance in built-up areas.

It's a near-maxed visual experience on console, then - but it's clear where United Front Games has its priorities set. Unfortunately, performance is not high in the running order for Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition. Where there's any cluttering of vehicles around the city's downtown area, we see the performance ranging between 20-30fps on both platforms. From our frame-rate analysis, the game hits 22fps at its lowest point on Xbox One, while PS4 shows 25fps at its worst in comparable scenes.

Added to these frame-rate woes is the tearing; an adaptive v-sync that cuts frames in the top 40 per cent, whenever the engine struggles to hit its 30fps target. Unfortunately, this is frequent enough to make driving at speed a bigger challenge than it already is - stutters confusing the sense of momentum on motorbikes and cars in high-speed pursuits. It's far from ideal.

The PC edition shows a change in 1080p performance too. On our Core i7 3770k PC, equipped with a GTX 780 Ti and 16GB of RAM, we're left with lower metrics after the upgrade. Surprisingly, the vanilla version gets us an average of 75.1fps during its benchmark, with all settings set to maximum, and v-sync disengaged to unlock the engine frame-rate. The Definitive Edition, meanwhile, running with its added fog effect and improved draw distances, gets us an average of 50.1fps in the very same maxed out tour of the city.

How does the original 2012 PC version of Sleeping Dogs compare with the Definitive Edition? We compare the two side-by-side, with its rendering of Hong Kong's streets marking the most vivid changes.

Alternative comparison:

This rate of performance holds for actual play - our PC struggling to uphold a perfect 60fps on this top preset. To combat this, reducing the ambient occlusion quality by a notch helps, while dropping anti-aliasing to a lower-grade super-sampling mode gets us to our preferred 60Hz lock.

Fortunately, for lower-spec PCs, an additional low setting is added for world density, likely pushing former presets for medium through extreme down a label. High-res textures can't be disabled here, but as a handy option for GPUs limited in memory bandwidth, a checkbox for low resolution alpha is also at the tail-end of the graphics option menu.

Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition - the Digital Foundry verdict

On balance, United Front Games succeeds in creating the ultimate edition of its open-world crime drama, giving PS4 and Xbox One owners the most eye-catching console release so far. The only snag is that, in aspiring to the PC's top-end visual standard, the struggling 20-30fps performance is a high price to pay for this luxury. And with visible tearing creeping in too, the current-gen console experience doesn't feel quite as definitive as we'd hoped.

Compared to PC, the only visible console-side sacrifices are the lower-grade ambient occlusion - appearing faintly more intrusive on Xbox One - and a more prominent depth of field effect. But between the Sony and Microsoft releases, PS4's main advantage is undeniably on the performance front; Xbox One hitting the bottom end of the 20-30fps band during our tests, while segments of play unfold at 25fps at its worst on PS4.

The end result is that only the new PC version lives up to its Definitive Edition moniker. But are its extra touches worth the extra money for owners of the original PC release? While the broadened draw distances are a major plus, we'd argue many other tweaks are simply too subtle to justify another expense. Edits to character model designs, upped object density and new city atmospherics are welcome. But it's fair to say, for most developers, much of this falls into the territory of a courtesy, free post-release patch.

Be that as it may, for those arriving from the heavily stunted Xbox 360 and PS3 versions to this new release, it's a whole new world. On top of the ramp up in city detail, the Definitive Edition's inclusion of DLC missions, such as Nightmare in North Point, bolster the package's overall value. Neither PS4 nor Xbox One deliver the perfect playthrough - but if you can turn a blind eye to its performance lurches, there's still plenty to enjoy here.

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