I’ve been borderline obsessed with playing Square Enix’s Sleeping Dogs. Set in Hong Kong, the main character Wei Shen (which is similar to the word for “Danger” in Mandarin) is an undercover cop who’s deeply seeded in the underbelly world of Hong Kong triads.
Sleeping Dogs is a great game all on its own, but I want to share my thoughts of the game as someone who’s born in Hong Kong and have spent nearly half of his life living there. As full disclosure, I happen to work at IGN, but I do not work in the editorial team. My opinions of this game are solely my own, and do not represent IGN by any means. You can read IGN’s official review of Sleeping Dogs here.
I was initially both curious and skeptical about playing the game. On one hand, I would love more than anything to finally see a game that will show the authentic side of Hong Kong, but having seen how Hollywood have treated my fair city in the past (e.g.: Art of War, Rush Hour), I was aware of the chance of that happening is miniscule at best.
Well color me surprised. As if it hit a different part of my brain, my arm hair stood the first time I heard Cantonese in the game’s opening sequence. I’ve played a game in Chinese before, but never in Cantonese, a dialect that is only spoken in Hong Kong (and various pockets around the world), and certainly not in a game of this scale. The fact that I’m playing an AAA title from a major game publisher with a Chinese character as the lead role is a groundbreaking feat by itself.
It’s apparent that United Front, the Canadian game developer for Sleeping Dogs, did their best in hopes of giving gamers the best experience of Hong Kong as possible. From the orange bus stop signs and the purple garbage cans on the street to seeing the blue-and-white noise-blockers on the Hong Kong highways, the environment of Hong Kong is extremely detailed and is well represented through their eyes.
And then there’s the driving. Oh the driving. I almost teared up the first time I was driving around North Point, a neighborhood adjacent to where I lived in Hong Kong. Sure, the actual geography of the Hong Kong Island may have changed, but the fact that I could drive down the windy, narrow road in SoHo and be able to walk past the old Police Station on Hollywood Road provided a nostalgic, if not cerebral, feeling no other game has given me before.
But of course the game isn’t perfect. The biggest challenge and the toughest enemy in the game is by far the camera. It doesn’t allow you to take full control and tends to move around at the exact time you need it to stay put.
The Chinese dialogues featured in the game is “accurate enough.” It’s accurate in the sense that they got most of the Cantonese correctly, though the non-native accent (especially Winston Chu’s character) can be distracting, similar to how the dialogues from Heavy Rain was for English speakers.
Some of the slangs used by the game are also quite outdated, sometimes by decades. It was a challenge for me to believe this game takes place in modern day when the slangs in the game had been extinct since the 80s. Just imagine playing a modern-day Grand Theft Auto but every now and then you’d overhear a passerby saying “Wazzzzzzzssssup?” or “Totally Radical!”
None of these things are deal breakers since most gamers who will play this game are not native Cantonese speakers. But the non-native accents and outdated slangs do prevent me from fully immerse in a world that United Front’s hope to provide to all gamers, including gamers like me.
To be fair, Cantonese is not an easy language to master, and I’m sure the slangs are very much alive (and are kept alive) by the Chinese families who emigrated from Hong Kong years ago. It’s also a dialect that tends to evolve at breakneck speed (my cousins in Hong Kong once made fun of me because I used a phrase that was from two years ago. By two years!)
All things considered, this game makes me yearn for the option to play this game in Cantonese exclusively. From someone who speaks the language natively, there lies this disconnect every time I’d have to “switch channels” in order to follow the conversation in both Cantonese and English. My bilingual mind is also constantly wondering why they’re speaking English to begin with if they’re capable of speaking Chinese. Are all triad members in Hong Kong ABCs?
Of course, I’m fully aware that having the entire game be playable in Cantonese doesn’t make business sense, since Cantonese is the minority language in China and there’s not a huge market for it (at least compared to Mandarin — China’s official dialect). But having this sampling taste makes me realize how lucky Italian and French gamers have been, to be able to enjoy games like Heavy Rain and Assassin’s Creed II in their native language for years.
All in all, I wasn’t expected to love this game, but Sleeping Dogs has became something so much more. It may not have the perfect usage of the Cantonese language, but it is nonetheless a very special, personal experience for me. I don’t know when there’ll be another game quite like this, but until then I’ll be zooming onto the Hong Kong highway from North Point, tuned into the Cantopop radio station, and wondering where the next exit will take me.