The lights are on
Only a few games have immediately immersed me in the world, but that’s exactly what happened when I stepped into Sleeping Dogs’ Hong Kong. As someone who has never been to Hong Kong, it felt like I was instantly transported there and found myself focusing more on the backdrops than driving the flashy cars (apologies to all the virtual denizens for the property damage I did). That’s what I loved most about Sleeping Dogs’ portrayal of Hong Kong – it made me stop, look, and take everything in. The bright lights, billboards, awe-inspiring high-rises, and ambient sounds of traffic and citizens created a realistic atmosphere, and I felt right there with those people in that city.
Sleeping Dogs’ Hong Kong won me over with its sheer vastness and complexity. The towering buildings against the clear sky held a calming beauty, but seconds later I’d experience the dangers and ugliness of the city turning on to a littered alley. The highs and lows of city life never faded, and some of my favorite places to visit were the least glamorous. For instance, I loved the chaos of walking through the “Night Market,” because of its frenzied atmosphere. Having the endless rows of vendors shouting phrases at me like “I have a special deal for you!” or “Hey sexy man, let me dress you!” showed a desperation permeating the marketplace, further enforcing the daily financial struggles. And I remember feeling the chaos and helplessness intensely. I’d seen it depicted in movies, but it had never been so stark.
Still, certain destinations just held the promise of fun, like when I walked into places like Club Bam Bam. The pink lights, light-up dance floor, and serpentine bar complement a special VIP area for...what else? Karaoke. The clubs and urban sprawl eventually give way to the more underdeveloped areas, where cockfights and martial art clubs rule. Or if I wanted something more serene, the temple’s flowing streams beg you to stop and appreciate nature for just a moment.
Sleeping Dogs lets you experience the city’s culture in a subtle way; it never feels forced on you, it’s always just below the surface. Hong Kong is known for its food and the way that Sleeping Dogs had vendors selling delicacies such as pork buns, waffle eggs, roasted duck, or noodle bowls felt authentic. Clothes take a high emphasis in Sleeping Dogs also showing off the city’s fashion sense – both with expensive brand names and their cheap knock-offs. These little touches add Hong Kong’s personality to a game that could have just been about car chases and bloody kills.
Another strength of Sleeping Dogs is Hong Kong’s innate unpredictability. Simply turning a corner could create a new diversion, like throwing a drunk who’s harassing a convenience store owner in a dumpster or walking past a park could put you in a fight with angry thugs. And while some things were out of my control, others were put right into my hands like whether I wanted to engage in a drug bust. At many times it felt like corruption was lurking around every corner, but it was enhanced by Wei’s lack of boundaries... It was one thing that I had never been to Hong Kong, but it was another that I could basically do anything that I wanted to there.
Every so often, I’ll still load up Sleeping Dogs to see how my virtual Hong Kong world is living on, and what I appreciate is that I always find something I didn’t notice before. For instance, just today, I walked past a girl talking to a monk at the temple, sounding like a complete tourist. Sometimes, I’ll visit the market just to hear the vendors beg for my attention and see how far they’d go to get it. And every time I take another step in, I find myself marveling at how this game gave me a place I don’t ever want to let go of.
Want more about the world? Check out Reiner’s videos of all the crazy things he loves to do in Sleeping Dogs.
Email the author Kimberley Wallace, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.