Sleeping Dogs vs Real Hong Kong: a Quasi-Local’s comparison

Despite its rough edges and a cringey mix of English and Cantonese dialogue, Sleeping Dogs has earned a place in many gamers’ hearts for being one of the few games set in Hong Kong. So just how accurate is the game’s depiction of the Fragrant Harbour?

In honour of the recent closure of the game’s studio, United Front Games, I figured there’s no better excuse for me to slack off and do some gaming, to see how the game holds up against the real Hong Kong (yeah, yeah, I know I’m like 5 years late). I dug up a copy of Sleeping Dogs and drove around on the wrong side of the street for the better part of a day – snapping a whole bunch of screenshots for your comparing pleasure.

Some in-game assets pleasantly surprised me with their accuracy. Others… well, why don’t you see for yourself? Keep in mind that – even with revamped graphics – you’re looking at a 5-year-old game built for last generation consoles. In short, Sleeping Dogs looks like poop.

Warning: Major nitpicks below


THE GOOD

Time travel back to 2012 and read any review for Sleeping Dogs, and you’ll see praise for how the game nails the atmosphere of Hong Kong. You might agree with that if you’ve never set foot in Hong Kong or if you’re clinically insane.

Even if we chalk the game’s billion-lane-wide roads, vast open spaces, and lack of shoulder-checking pedestrians to technical limitations, there are still a lot Sleeping Dogs gets very wrong. But for now, let’s holster our pitchforks and look at the good – starting with the small things.

Small Things

Comparison between real life and Sleeping Dogs' version of an 'ice cream' traffic light in Hong Kong | Quasi-Local HK
Barring the missing blue arrow (I checked all four sides ingame – twice), that is a pretty darn good reproduction of the good ol’ ‘ice cream’ traffic lights found around Hong Kong. I especially like how the in-game version keeps the serial number to 5 digits. My only gripe is that these lights are used to mark traffic islands in real life, whereas this in-game one was found along a random sidewalk.

Also, if anyone knows the real term for these lights, PLEASE TELL ME cause it’s killing me.

Real life Hong Kong street sign vs Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK
flickr/danielygo

The street signs are also remarkably close. The colours, in particular, appear spot-on. But I have been accused of being colour-blind many times, so take that with a few grains of salt.

Real life Hong Kong phone booth vs Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK
flickr/mikecogh

Okay, this is what you call a robbery. The colours, charts, and even the logo placement are practically identical. It looks like United Front ran an old PCCW phone booth through a 3D scanner and said, ‘screw it, we’ll have enough money to fight the lawsuit’.

Real life Hong Kong garbage can vs Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK

This would sound completely nuts in any other context, but I was most impressed with garbage cans (or, if you’re British, rubbish bins). Notice how the government logo, decals, built-in ashtray, and even the tiny yellow fine print are faithfully recreated to near perfection.

Wait a minute. Aren’t Hong Kong garbage cans orange?

Yes and no. Trivia time: garbage cans in Hong Kong were actually purple up until 2008, when the current orange ones were introduced to commemorate the 2008 Beijing Olympics equestrian competitions. Nowadays, you’ll still see the occasional purple straggler around the city, along with green and yellow ones at parks and beaches. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle!


Public Transport

Real life Hong Kong taxi vs Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK
To be fair, it’s pretty difficult to get Hong Kong taxis wrong. | flickr/[email protected]

Alright. United Front did get taxis wrong – just not in the way you think.

While these vehicles look great in-game (thank you, for remembering the label on the back door), this screenshot was actually taken in Central. Anyone who’s spent more than 24 hours in Hong Kong will immediately experience a light bulb moment because, yes, green taxis are legally limited to operating only in New Territories. They will never cross over to Kowloon, let alone over to Central on Hong Kong Island, where all taxis are red.

Maybe the green taxis were a stylistic choice, since red taxis are indeed in other areas of the game, just not Central. Still. Shame on you, United Front!

Real life Hong Kong minibus vs Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK
Screenshot: SleepingDogsWikia/DemonDMC

Aaaaand same deal with minibuses, because why make a mistake once when you can make it twice?

On a positive note, I’d like to commend them for adding the stickers on the front and side, and the yellow price sign on the dashboard.

Real life Hong Kong bus vs Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK
Screenshot: SleepingDogsWikia/DemonDMC

There is only one type of bus in Sleeping Dogs, and for reasons unknown to possibly even the development team, it’s not modeled after Kowloon Motor Bus Company (#1 biggest bus service in Hong Kong), or CityBus (#2 biggest), but New World First Bus(#3). What’s even more baffling is that they didn’t even bother creating New World’s single-deck buses, just the double-decker.

The result, as you can see, is likely as close as United Front can get without infringing copyrights. Heck, even the name remains basically the same (新巴 vs 新速巴士).


Some Landmarks

Again, the key word here is ‘some‘.

Real life Hong Kong circular footbridge of Causeway Bay vs Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK

Out of all the Sleeping Dogs landmarks (surprisingly, there’s not many), the Causeway Bay Circular Footbridge has to be my favorite.

You can’t help but wonder why it’s even included when Causeway Bay is not (the bridge is found in Sleeping Dogs’ Central). I feel like the Footbridge is so mundane that – unless you’ve personally been to Causeway Bay – you probably wouldn’t notice if you crashed into it in-game. There’s no mission or interactive NPC that makes use of the Footbridge either – it just kind of sits there.

Yet, the Circular Footbridge is recreated with such surprising authenticity, from the little pots of plants on the railings to the staircases leading up, that it definitely earns my seal of approval.

Real life Hong Kong Central Elevated Walkway vs Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK
Screenshot: SleepingDogsWikia/Marijus Pikelis

Okay, maybe I just have a thing for bridges, but I also liked Sleeping Dogs‘ inclusion of the Central Elevated Walkway. Obviously the digital recreation isn’t photo-realistic, but you can tell the effort is there.

It’s a real shame that the in-game bridges are not interconnected like in real-life. Whereas the real Central Elevated Walkway can take you from IFC all the way to the Central escalators, the ones in Sleeping Dogs will sadly only take you across the street.

Real life Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal Building vs Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK
Panoramio/John Muzi | Screenshot: SleepingDogsWikia/Marijus Pikelis

In a stroke of genius, Sleeping Dogs actually removed those pesky trees in front of the Court of Final Appeal Building, which in real-life prevents anyone from getting a decent shot of the damn place.

Real life Hong Kong SoHo vs Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK
flickr/synapticism

Strangely enough, Lan Kwai Fong is not in the game, but SoHo is. I took this screenshot at 2am in-game time. Anyone who’s been out drinking in Hong Kong will know this is absolutely not what 2am looks like. The road is also far too wide, and the neon signs feature too much Chinese, but you can still tell it’s SoHo.

Real life Hong Kong Central escalators vs Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK
flickr/travelourplanet

If you can overlook the lack of drunk people and dried vomit, the Centrals escalators leading up to SoHo kind of works too. Appearance-wise, anyway, since the in-game escalators don’t really move.


THE BAD

Now that we’ve gone through the good stuff, it’s time to rip Sleeping Dogs a new butt hole.

The Rest of the Landmarks

Real life Hong Kong Bank of China vs Sleeping Dogs' Mortensen Electric Building | Quasi-Local HK
flickr/shepard4711 | Screenshot: SleepingDogsWikia/Marijus Pikelis

Let’s start with one of Hong Kong’s most memorable landmarks – the Bank of China Tower. Granted, it’s not a very good comparison shot because Sleeping Dogs makes it very difficult to look at big objects, but you can still get a feel of the replica.

Call me crazy, but something about the tower is just… off. Maybe it’s the lack of weird angles and ultra reflective panels. Maybe it’s because the lights don’t all turn on at once.

Seeing the tower in real-life, especially lit up at night, will stop you cold in your tracks. It demands you to marvel at its beauty. When I saw it in-game, I just kind of went, ‘Huh, that’s it?’

Real life Hong Kong HSBC Building vs Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK
Screenshot: SleepingDogsWikia/Ozcc

The next landmark the Sleeping Dogs messes up – and I swear this one is less nitpicky – is the HSBC Building. The real-life version is rectangular in structure, whereas the in-game one is… oval? Rather than looking like the feat of engineering prowess that it rightfully is, the digital building just comes off as a lifeless imitation.

It also fails to light up at night, which in my opinion, is the biggest crime of them all.

Real life Hong Kong Jumbo Floating Restaurant vs Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK
Screenshot: SleepingDogsWikia/Marijus Pikelis

Speaking of lifeless, what on earth happened to the Jumbo Floating Restaurant?! It almost looks incomplete!

We can blame the unimpressive lighting on the game engine, but what excuse do they have for turning the place into an Edo castle?

Real life Hong Kong Convention Centre vs Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK
Screenshot: SleepingDogsWikia/Marijus Pikelis

I don’t even know where to start with the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. The tacky colour change? The replacing of the Golden Bauhinia sculpture with a generic fountain?

Or the rather blatant ‘Convention Center’ sign? Psssst, it’s even spelled wrong.

The Sleeping Dogs Covnention Centre sign
Screenshot: SleepingDogsWikia/Marijus Pikelis

Oh, I got it! How about the fact that the convention centre faces THE WRONG WAY?!

The Sleeping Dogs Covnention Centre facing the wrong way
Screenshot: SleepingDogsWikia/Marijus Pikelis

IFC (Specifically, Lack Thereof)

Real life Hong Kong Central vs Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK

Apart from the previously mentioned lack of interconnected bridges in Central, another thing that really, really irks me most is the disappearance of the International Finance Centre.

Ever since it’s opening in 2003, IFC has since solidified its status as an icon of Hong Kong Island, even appearing in 2008’s The Dark Knight. You would think that such an important building would definitely be included in Sleeping Dogs. Nope. Instead, we’re left with more or less of an empty space.


Kennedy Town

The view of Kennedy Town beside the water, in Hong Kong | Quasi-Local HK

Of the four neighborhoods in Sleeping Dogs, including Central, Aberdeen, and North Point, Kennedy Town is by far the lamest. Sure, it’s not like real Kennedy Town is particularly exciting, but at least it has a tangible sense of identity, with its old school Kowloon-esque feel and the way it integrates the adjacent ocean.

In Sleeping Dogs, the water is physically blocked off by a massive highway. Without other distinguishing features, its Kennedy Town looks like a re-skinned Aberdeen/North Point:

The view of Kennedy Town inside the game Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK
Screenshot: SleepingDogsWikia/Marijus Pikelis

THE WTF

Believe it or not, there are some truly questionable things in Sleeping Dogs, which I’ve saved for this aptly named section.

Victoria Harbour

Real life Hong Kong Shun Tak Centre vs Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK
flickr/chrisjunker | Screenshot: SleepingDogsWikia/Marijus Pikelis

If there’s one thing that truly represents Hong Kong, it is without a doubt Victoria Harbour. After all, how many metropolitan cities can you name with a giant river/ocean/whatever-scientific-water-noun snaking through it? There’s no way Sleeping Dogs will get that wrong, right?

Rather than recreating the historical Star Ferries and its Central piers, United Front takes the road less traveled by instead opting for… Sheung Wan’s Shun Tak Centre?

The real-life Shun Tak Centre is a mall, office towers, and the Hong Kong-Macau ferry terminal rolled into one. In Sleeping Dogs, it’s just ‘Central Ferry Terminal’. I don’t think anyone has ever found Shun Tak architecturally interesting, certainly not when compared to the Star Ferry piers. But okay, I can roll with it. Look what I found parked in the back:

An ugly star ferry in the game Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK
Screenshot: SleepingDogsWikia/DemonDMC

A freakin’ Star Ferry. An ugly, poorly designed one at that too. WTF, Sleeping Dogs? In case you’ve never taken the ferries, to Macau, these are the boats you’ll find at Shun Tak:

A Macau ferry in Hong Kong | Quasi-Local HK

These super turbo jets. Not Star Ferries, because they can’t park at Shun Tak!

Argh, alright. I’m just going to take a nice walk along the digital waterfront to calm myself. Surely that cannot disappoint me.

The Central Victoria Harbour boardwalk in Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK
Screenshot: SleepingDogsWikia/Marijus Pikelis

Raise your hand if you’ve ever seen that view in real life before. Nope, didn’t think so.

At least there’s still the grand view of Kowloon to look forward to…

The view of Victoria Harbour in Sleeping Dogs. There's nothing, spoilers. | Quasi-Local HK
… or not.

Aiya.


Victoria Peak

The horribly designed Victoria Peak in Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK
Screenshot: SleepingDogsWikia/Marijus Pikelis

This is absolutely the worst offender on the list.

It takes some real hard work and dedication to screw up the two biggest landmarks in Hong Kong, but United Front has managed to do it. Perhaps they figured the real deal would be too convoluted for gameplay, or maybe someone just has a thing against the name ‘Victoria’, but Victoria Peak is a hot mess.

The real Peak consists of two major buildings, Peak Tower and the Peak Galleria. Sleeping Dogs forgoes the tower for Peak Galleria, and they even have the balls to rename it simply as ‘Station’. Needless to say, it looks nothing like the real thing.

The horribly designed Victoria Peak in Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK

Here is the barren, soulless Peak from another angle. 80% of this place, from the gate onwards, is blocked off for a side mission. When you finally gain entry, you’ll realize it’s just a big courtyard.

The horribly designed Victoria Peak in Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK

What’s even more mind-boggling is that the entrance to Victoria Peak is a bottleneck in the form of a big, flat parking lot. With no parked cars.

In case you’ve been hitting your head against your keyboard from reading this article and are currently experiencing short-term amnesia, this is what the Peak should look like.

The horribly designed Victoria Peak in Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK
Screenshot: SleepingDogsWikia/Marijus Pikelis

This Tram

A tram from the game Sleeping Dogs | Quasi-Local HK
Screenshot: SleepingDogsWikia/DemonDMC

Compared to the rest, this one is a relatively minor complaint, but it still bothered me enough to warrant writing about.

Sleeping Dogs takes place entirely on Hong Kong Island, where trams are naturally found. Trams run on rails built into major roads throughout the island. Trams are also quite slow – going from the opposite ends of Sheung Wan to Shau Kei Wan has a journey time of about 90 minutes.

Now that we’re established the ground rules for trams, would anyone like to tell me how it is physically possible for this in-game tram to reach motherfreakin’ Tai Po?

Let’s ignore the fact that Kowloon (let alone New Territories) does not exist in the world of Sleeping Dogs. If a tram takes 90 minutes to travel its usual 12km route, that means it would take rough 250 minutes to reach Tai Po from Central. That’s four hours. One way. Contrary to popular belief, even tram operators have to pee.


TLDR

To be fair, Sleeping Dogs is not supposed to be realistic. Its meant to be the video game equivalent of a Michael Bay flick. Sleeping Dogs is an arcade-y adventure that’s throws you an army of bad guys to beat up and damsels to save. For god’s sake, this game even features cockfighting and the ability to jump from one moving car to another.

In my opinion, United Front did an admirable job for a North American company, though there’s certainly tons of mistakes they could have avoided had they just consulted me.

Bottom line: if anyone here is thinking of making the next video game about Hong Kong, maybe shoot me an email first? I promise I’ll give you a good rate.

So do you think Sleeping Dogs does the real Hong Kong justice? Roast me below!

Felix W

I run a cool little website about Hong Kong called The Quasi-Local. I only have, like, two readers, but you know, I’ll get there one day! Believe it.

4 thoughts on “Sleeping Dogs vs Real Hong Kong: a Quasi-Local’s comparison

  • Pingback: 賓果賓果程式

  • October 4, 2017 at 10:00 am
    Permalink

    Accidentally found this article and I’m glad that I did.

    First of all, most of the in-game comparison pictures used here were captured by me and taken from Sleeping Dogs Wiki, there is no credit for them. Quote: “snapping a whole bunch of screenshots for your comparing pleasure.”, which a few only might be your own.
    Second, United Front Games was a Canadian, more specifically Vancouver based company, not North American.
    Third, Sleeping Dogs Hong Kong was never meant to be a realistic representation of the island, but made specifically for the gameplay.
    And lastly, the game was advertised as an action game, but it was never meant to be a sort of Michael Bay flick.
    + There actually are missions which involve footbridge.

    It seems that the author of the article did not play the game in its entirety or in fact know much about it.

    Opinion is one thing, false information is completely other.

    Reply
    • October 4, 2017 at 2:50 pm
      Permalink

      Hi Marijus! I’m glad you found this article too. Thanks so much for reaching out. I’d love to give you the proper credit for your photos from the Sleeping Dogs Wikia (you’ve done a fantastic job with the site, by the way).

      As for your other concerns, you’re absolutely correct — United Front was indeed Canadian. However, if we’re arguing semantics, Canada and more specifically, Vancouver do indeed fall into North America. You can trust me on this. I’ve lived half my life there.

      I agree, Sleeping Dogs wasn’t never meant to be an ultra realistic recreation of Hong Kong, but that doesn’t mean a comparison is out of the question. I think United Front did an amazing job nailing the feel of Hong Kong. Though I do make fun of some oddities in design, this article was mainly written for any gamers out there who have not personally visited Hong Kong, and who might be curious as to how closely the digital representation matches the real thing. As someone who has spent a good amount of time living in Hong Kong and getting acquainted with the city, I felt it appropriate be the one to make this comparison.

      And yes, you are also correct about the footbridge. If I recall correctly, there is one brief moment when you chase an enemy through a section of the bridge. I suppose what I meant was the there’s a real missed opportunity there for not doing more with such an iconic landmark. Just take a look at the new Ghost in the Shell movie. They set the entire final showdown there!

      Anyhow, thanks again for your comment! I can tell you’re a huge fan of Sleeping Dogs, which is great, because it’s arguably one of the most underrated games of all time. Apologies if you took offense to this article, and I wish you the best of luck with the Wikia!

      Reply
  • November 3, 2017 at 1:35 pm
    Permalink

    I live in Shenzhen, so I don’t have the local expertise you have.
    I felt that U.F.G. captured the essence of how a foreign tourist would expect HK to look and feel.
    When I visit HK, I always think “Wow ! HK doesn’t look like Sleeping Dogs !” – not the other, obvious way around 🙂

    HK also has more foreigners than Sleeping Dogs portrays. Outside of the main story, I don’t even remember seeing a caucasian NPC, let alone a black, or Indian NPC wandering the streets.

    Also there seem to be an inordinate amount of sluttily dressed women walking around the streets in broad daylight. This says more about the outdated fantasies the devs had about Asian women, than the reality.

    And there’s the NPC smoking. They smoke everywhere. In reality they would be busted by the ‘Smoking Nazis’ that patrol the streets night and day.

    I’m not sure why you say the game “looks like poop” ? The Definitive Edition, on a PC, looks great. The reflections in the wet road look as good as those in GTA V, and S.D. NPC models are superior to GTA V (which admitedly does have poor quality character models for 2015)

    Reply

Say anything!

css.php