As Sleeping Dogs turns ten, we ask: where the heck is the sequel?

Luke Albigés - August 14th 2022

Sleeping Dogs launched ten years ago today, and the open-world action game proved a hit with players and critics alike. So how come we've managed to go a decade without a sequel?

United Front's Sleeping Dogs launched in August 2012 as a spiritual successor to the True Crime series, with the game actually starting life as a new True Crime title before it was cancelled by Activision then picked up and rebranded by Square Enix. Despite selling several million copies in just a few months, a Square Enix report in 2013 called out Sleeping Dogs — along with the Tomb Raider reboot and Hitman: Absolution — as failures, stating that the three games "failed to reach their respective targets, and resulted in financially unsatisfactory consequences." The game did get an upgrade for the then-new Xbox One in 2014, with Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition delivering an even better version of an already excellent game, but criminally, that's where Wei Shen's story ends.

Will Sleeping Dogs 2 ever happen?

It wasn't supposed to be, though. United Front quickly started pre-production work on a sequel, but Sleeping Dogs 2 was cancelled in 2013 before it even went into full production. Patrick Klepek did an excellent deep dive into the sequel we never got over on Vice back in 2016, including insight from the original team and design documents — it's well worth a read and discusses lots of planned features, including co-op play, procedurally generated side missions a la Skyrim, a companion app that lets a second player run the police force (Watch Dogs later did something similar), and more. Shortly after, the team's attention turned to a free-to-play Sleeping Dogs spin-off called Triad Wars, but that too was axed before it even left beta. United Front spent the next few years effectively running odd jobs (like helping out with development of Halo: The Master Chief Collection) before it closed its doors for good in 2016. The question is, where does that leave any hopes for a sequel today?

That question, as it turns out, is actually quite difficult to answer, as it isn't even entirely clear where the rights to the Sleeping Dogs IP currently lie. It is believed that Square Enix retained the rights, so the developer's closure shouldn't cause any issues, although recent developments further muddy the water. Back in May, Square Enix sold off a bunch of its western studios and IPs to Embracer for just $300 million — a deal that apparently included "more than 50 back-catalogue games" on top of the big ones that were actually name-checked, such as Tomb Raider and Deus Ex (and Legacy of Kain, be still my beating heart). Embracer has been specifically asked about Sleeping Dogs, but has not confirmed whether it was among the Square IPs included in the bulk deal. If the IP remains with Square, it's safe to say it's as good as dead. But if it's with Embracer, there's a very real chance that a sequel could be on the cards one day, although you would have to imagine that those bigger IPs will be top of Embracer's priorities list right now, and the deal is still young.

Another question arises, though... with United Front long since closed, who would even develop a potential follow-up? Open world games with great melee combat are few and far between — one of the main reasons Sleeping Dogs stood out like it did at launch — so finding a team capable of doing it justice would be tricky. Insomniac would have been a great fit, but the Californian team became a PlayStation studio back in 2019 so is likely off the table. Rocksteady would probably smash it, but is owned by Warner Bros., introducing additional complications. Granted, it's not impossible for a brand new or unexpected developer to come out and nail it with a project so we can't rule that out, but this would definitely prove the most challenging part of bringing Sleeping Dogs back in a faithful manner. There is something of a gap in the market for it, though. The similar Yakuza series has pivoted away from its action combat roots and into turn-based RPG battles, only keeping action-based melee alive in spin-off series, Judgment, while the biggest games in the genre like GTA and Saints Row tend to focus on gunplay and typically don't do melee very well, giving something like Sleeping Dogs a USP to stand apart from the major players in the field.

Even attempts to break into other forms of media just make it feel like Sleeping Dogs is cursed. A movie adaptation was announced way back in 2017 with Donnie Yen in the leading role, although it appears as if it struggled to get off the ground. Yen was still talking about the project as recently as last year — he apparently holds the rights to the tie-in himself so likely just needs a studio to buy into the adaptation and splash some cash, but a movie based on a 2012 one-and-done video game is likely to be a hard sell today, even if I would absolutely watch the hell out of this. If a sequel to the game does one day emerge, maybe it will be the push the tie-in movie needs to get made, but we'll have to wait and see on both counts. Just thinking about how good a new Sleeping Dogs would look on current hardware makes me sad that it may never happen, so here's hoping Embracer will have some good news to share once it starts playing with its new toys.

Regardless, a happy tenth anniversary to one of the best games of its kind, Sleeping Dogs — we'll be grabbing a pork bun or two to celebrate. Would you like to see a sequel? What developers do you think would be up to the task? Hoping to one day see Donnie Yen kick some triad ass as Wei Shen? Sound off below!