Sleeping Dogs -- A Review
I actually spent most of 2013 playin’ this game, but I didn’t think of reviewing it till now ‘cause I’m a dork. Actually, I hesitated ‘cause it wasn’t really part of ancient China, or anything wuxia related. But now I’m reviewing it ‘cause why the hell not? Besides, after thinkin’ ‘bout it for so long, I can now (hopefully present) my review in a less fangirl/boy-ey way, if that makes sense.
In 2012, United Front Games and Square Enix London made this game, which was like GTA except set in Hong Kong, and with a plot! Cool, right? You play as Wei Shen, a comeback kid to the city who infiltrates the mafia as a spy. Wei Shen is a police officer, so you get to switch between doing police missions and Hong Kong mafia missions. As you do these quests, the plot progresses, and you make your way to the top as one of the five leading bosses in the Hong Kong mafia.
Y’know what’s even cooler? The game makers did their research based on the gangs in Hong Kong, but obviously took creative liberties with the names, with Sun On Yee being a reference to the triad Sun Yee On.
I could talk about gameplay mechanics, but this is a blog about Chinese culture, so here’s why I think you should play the game:
- The game makers really make you feel like you’re in Hong Kong
You see this? The game developers made sure they got the look and feel of all the different parts of Hong Kong, from the more ghetto-y areas to the more chic ones. They even managed to put in Victoria Peak, where you get to go on a date with Amanda (voiced by Emma Stone). Also, mad respect for the accurate depiction of Chinese in a video game, which is wayyy better than say, Jade Empire, where the words on signs are all gibberish and don’t make sense.
In short, if you’ve been waiting like, forever to see Chinese people and culture represented in games, you’ve hit the jackpot.
Oh and uh, when you get into cars, lots of radio stations play Chinese and Cantonese songs, on top of hip hop and other genres. Did I mention that drivers will say “diu lei” in Cantonese when you crash into them? The effort the makers put into this universe is stellar.
- You get nods to different aspects of Chinese culture, here and there.
See this? in the game, you meet your childhood kungfu master (shifu), and he says that some asshole stole his jade Chinese zodiac statues form him. So every time you retrieve a statue from him, you get to learn and unlock new moves. Cool, huh? Jade and the zodiac is like, really important in Chinese culture, so props to them for doing their research!
Also, when you complete missions well, you get “face” points. This is a Chinese concept called “mianzi”, and it shows the amount of dignity and swag that you got. If you got more swag, yo’ peeps be respectin’ ya. More swag = more awesome clothes and cars, too.
- Chinese people actually voice the Chinese characters in the game.
Ok, so there are no pictures here, but this beats Hollywood’s bad representation of East Asians (or people of East Asian descent) hands down. Most of the time, when we get represented in Hollywood, we’re tokens, and the directors cast Koreans as Chinese people, and Japanese and Chinese people. In animation, many white people voice characters of colour, too. While we look similar, we’re not the same, and I think, for most part, the game does its best to cast Chinese people (even if they are Chinese American) as Chinese people. You have Edison Chen (the singer) as Wei Shen’s childhood friend, Jackie, Lucy Liu as Vivienne Lu, a singer that has a pivotal role in the plot, and James Hong as Uncle Po (one of the big five mafia bosses).
Mad respect to all these people who made the game awesome. You can watch a video here for the cast list.
There were, however, things that I wasn’t cool with:
And the depiction of women was one example of that. To be fair, I think most of the game tries to accurately show what life is like for the people who are in the triads, and we know that women are tossed around and don’t get treated equally, in that universe. The only exceptions are Broken Nose Jiang, the one and only female mafia boss, and the protagonist’s direct superior, Officer Teng. It’s kind of sad that of all the women in the game, only two are their own person and made their way to the top.
However, the creators did make many female characters likeable and even gave them bad-ass traits – Not Ping teaches you how to hack a camera, and Ilyana is better than you at parkour.
But the thing is, Ilyana and Not Ping are presented as conquests and objects at the end of the day – you have to beat them at their own “games” and win them as prizes to get their affection, and, well, that stinks. I’d like non-playable characters (NPCs) who are female with more agency, please. Also, you don’t get to be in a steady relationship with any girl – you just hook up with four of them in succession, reinforcing the idea that each of these female NPCs is a prize or an added bonus for you – you learn a new ability when you beat them (if I am not wrong).
And yes, it’d be nice if we could play as a female gangster. Just sayin’.
- The way some Chinese voice actors pronounce their characters’ names.
This is such a minor point but I feel like the Chinese voice actors could have pronounced Chinese names accurately. Wei Shen’s name is said as “We-ay Shi-an”– I am clearly exaggerating, but Americans tend to draw out certain sounds, and the some of the voice actors’ accents don’t fit with the character. It would also be improbable for some characters, like Jackie, to have a North American accent, as Jackie was born and bred in Hong Kong. But Edison Chen, the voice actor, was brought up in Canada, so the accent was incongruous, although Chen was amazing in that role. I’m not sayin’ that the voice actors’ natural accents are bad, but it would be cooler to have different and more accurate accents be reflected in the characters. I imagine that Winston Chu’s “accent” should have been more like that of a Hong Konger’s, although Wei Shen’s shifu’s accent was quite spot on since he’s a native of Hong Kong.
Despite these hiccups, Sleeping Dogs is a thoroughly enjoyable game that gets Hong Kong and Chinese culture right. The fact that I also get to steal a heck load of nice cars and beat a shit ton of gangsters is awesome. Based on these criterion, this gets four out of five stars from me.