The premise of the tournament is simple; Wei Shen has been summoned to an isolated island off the coast of Hong Kong to compete against some of the best fighters around. Some of the world’s wealthiest businessmen have decided to pay for the tournament in order to bet on the outcome, whilst being entertained by the fairly diffuse fighting styles on offer. It’s this last point that acts as your incentive to compete; as well as there being a range of new collectibles on offer, Wei Shen can also learn the fighting styles of those he defeats, offering him new moves to take back to the mainland.
The first of these new styles you’ll encounter is Muy Thai. In the interest of keeping this spoiler free, it’s sufficient to say that after numerous battles against lesser foes you come face to face with one of the DLC’s first bosses. Several of these guys appear in the DLC, each boasting a new fighting style and some serious stamina. Beating them is no mean feat, but offers access to some jaw-droppingly destructive new moves.
It’s worth noting that there’s more than just fighting styles on offer here too; alongside new costumes to boost your skills and give you access to some diverse looks, the dreaded environmental finishing moves also make a return. While I thought I’d seen the worst of it with the meat hooks that appeared in the Final Kill mission, it turns out I was wrong. I’d prefer to avoid going into too many specifics so you guys get the full dose of horror for yourselves, but suffice to say that the cream of the terrifying crop can be summed up in two words: Face. Grill.
On the surface, much of what takes place during the Zodiac Tournament is just more of the same for Sleeping Dogs. Yes, there are new moves and collectibles, but for the most part it doesn’t mess too much with the gameplay that we’ve grown accustomed to, minus the driving and shooting. The exception to this is towards the end of the tournament, where a drug-addled Wei Shen is ambushed by another boss character. Due to the hallucinogenic effects he’s experiencing, it’s impossible to see the familiar red glow that indicates you should counter an attack. As a result, you have to look for telegraphed punches and input buttons in a far smaller reaction window, creating a markedly different combat flow.
What’s most enjoyable about The Zodiac Tournament DLC though isn’t just that there’s new story content; it’s the way it's presented. Sleeping Dogs in its entirety clearly pays homage to old Kung Fu movies, but the aesthetic for this bundle really drills that home. From the moment you head to the island for the tournament, the screen starts to fade and flickers like an old movie. It may only be for the cut scenes, but it feels fresh and really makes this episodic event feel suitably distinct from the events on the mainland.
Ultimately, it may not be the most thrilling premise for DLC you’ll ever encounter, and it certainly won’t take you too long to blitz through it, but you’d be hard pressed to argue that The Zodiac Tournament isn’t a fun addition to Sleeping Dogs following some lacklustre costume packs. For a game that many had written off long before it launched in August, Sleeping Dogs has continually managed to prove its critics wrong. This DLC may not be about to set the world on fire, but all signs are pointing to this being a welcome addition to one of 2012’s best new IPs.
The Zodiac Tournament DLC for Sleeping Dogs will be available on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC from December 18.