Sleeping Dogs — This One’s for the Orientals Out There

As an Asian American man who enjoys video games, Sleeping Dogs was a title that I was absolutely required to play. There isn’t a lot of Asian content out there in general, whether we’re talking about games, movies, or T.V, so getting a big open world game set in Hong Kong from a big developer like Square Enix was a huge deal for me. Though the game was originally released on PS3 and Xbox 360, the definitive edition holds up fine on current generation consoles and also includes all the DLC, keeping you occupied for plenty of time.

Although I’ve never been to Hong Kong, I’ve been to China many times, so I have a pretty decent idea of what the culture is like and how the environment looks. While Hong Kong differs from the rest of China in a lot of respects, they share many similarities as well. I’m not sure what the city of Hong Kong is really like, but Sleeping Dogs does a great job of simulating a Chinese city. The streets are crowded with vendors selling food, clothes, and crappy souvenirs. Your gang’s headquarters is located in some small, rundown restaurant, which you see a lot of in Chinese cities. Square Enix does a great job of creating a believable environment that immerses the player. My only complaint is the use of English throughout the game. There’s a fair of Chinese being spoken, but the most of the major interactions that take place are in English, which doesn’t make a lot of sense from a realism standpoint. It seems like most of the voice actors in the game are bilingual (don’t quote me on this) so this is a missed opportunity at making the game even more immersive.

Sleeping dogs has a compelling, but cliched plot. You play as Wei Shen, an undercover cop who returns to Hong Kong to infiltrate a dangerous gang known as the Triads. Of course, the further the story progresses, the more familial Shen gets with his supposed targets, and the more conflicts of interests arise. It’s a pretty standard undercover cop story, but once again, the Chinese element is what sets it apart. We love crime dramas here in the west. There’s plenty of content on the Italian Mafia, the Bloods and Crips, the Columbian and Mexican drug cartels, even the Yakuza, but I haven’t seen much on organized crime in China. Perhaps my infatuation with the plot can be attributed to my identifying with my own culture, but I believe the freshness of the relatively unknown Triads would have anyone interested.

Although I love this game for it’s setting, I can’t help but feel that the gameplay is a bit lacking. Sleeping Dogs is essentially a GTA clone with some brawler elements reminiscent of the Batman games. I’m not the biggest fan of GTA to begin with, so it doesn’t help that Sleeping Dogs is basically just a lesser version of GTA. Driving doesn’t feel as smooth, the cars aren’t as cool, the city is less detailed, less customization, less weapons, less activities, etc. Hand to hand combat is quite fun; I loved brutal environmental attacks you can pull off. Unfortunately, without the variety of tools and options that the Batman games had, the brawling can quickly become mindless and repetitive.

As a Chinese American I loved Sleeping Dogs. Right now I can’t think of any other major games that take place somewhere in China. But as a gamer, Sleeping Dogs struggles to separate itself from other open world games. I’m really not sure if this game would have the same impact for someone who has nothing to do with Chinese culture.