Sleeping Dogs: The Zodiac Tournament DLC for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC
I admire United Front’s stated intent in their Sleeping Dogs DLC series to attempt to pay homage to different aspects of Hong Kong cinema, as the main game did with gangster movies. The first story based DLC, Nightmare in North Point, was successful in some areas but utterly lacking in others, and it’s pretty much the same story here. That said, The Zodiac Tournament in a stronger release than Nightmare in North Point, and cheaper too.
The Zodiac Tournament brings Wei Shen to an island just off the coast of Hong Kong which hosts an illegal fighting ring, where decadent millionaires pay exorbitant sums of money to watch men fight to the death. Wei is sent undercover to infiltrate the fighting ring, and to fight his way to the top.
The island on which The Zodiac Tournament takes place is extremely pleasant, and a nice change of pace from the urban Hong Kong. One of my main issues with Nightmare in North Point was the way that it failed to offer any new locations, and although the island certainly isn’t large or even particularly explorable, a clear effort has been made to create a visually distinctive environment. There’s some exploration to be had to find statues which offer Wei new abilities, but your journey through the island will be largely linear. It’s a shame that we can’t explore this island more, but given the price of this DLC it’s perhaps not surprising that we don’t.
This DLC opens promisingly, with a classic grainy filter bringing to mind low budget kung-fu movies of the 70s as well as bombastic and cheesy music. The promise is of an endearingly ridiculous romp, but this never really manifests, for the primary reason that this DLC is just too short to tell it’s fun tale properly. That’s not to say that there aren’t entertaining moments, but it all feels rushed and the kung-fu vibe feels underused.
The Zodiac Tournament focuses almost exclusively on one aspect of Sleeping Dogs’ gameplay, and thankfully that element is the games strongest; the hand to hand combat. Yeah sure, it’s a blatant rip off of the combat from Batman’s Arkham games, but if you’re going to rip something off you should do it with style, something Sleeping Dogs had caboodles of. Where the boss characters of the main game were almost always less fun to fight, here they’re much better designed, and genuinely require faster reactions and more thought than the regular grunts. There isn’t really anything else to this DLC; there’s little in the way of driving, no shooting, although there are a couple of fun chase scenes, an element which I liked in the main game. Where Nightmare in North Point actually undermined Sleeping Dogs’ gameplay strengths, The Zodiac Tournament plays to them them.
As mentioned above, I’m a fan of the grainy filter image used throughout this DLC, although it only pops up in cutscenes and during some fights. I can’t help but feel that United Front should have just gone the whole hog and put the entire DLC in this style; it feels oddly underused. The voice acting is fairly dire, but this actually benefits the B-movie feel this DLC is attempting to evoke. The ridiculous pidgin English which the inhabitants of Hong Kong speak in Sleeping Dogs, whilst irritating in the main game, only serves to heighten the feeling that you’re watching a terrible Western dub of a movie intended to be in Cantonese. The style of this DLC doesn’t quite live up to its promise, but it makes a fair shot.
The Zodiac Tournament was a lot of fun, yet felt lacking as so much DLC does. There just isn’t enough content here. As I often recommend, this is probably worth picking up when it pops up on sale, but before then I’d hold off. What is here is fun and cool, there’s just so little of it.