Sleeping Dogs is violent. Incredibly violent, in fact. At the push of a button it is possible to run up to anyone within the game, smash their legs in half and then walk off while everyone around them winces. Set among the dangerous triad gangs of Hong Kong, Sleeping Dogs is a Grand Theft Auto-style open world game which thrives on the seedy and tempts you at every turn with something mischievous.
The world of video games usually employs a fair amount of artistic licence to provide the player with fun. In the case of Sleeping Dogs however, things are more real than you might think. Speaking to Chris Thrall, an expert on all things Hong Kong and ex-doorman to the 14k, a notorious triad gang, Pocket-lint learnt how realistic Sleeping Dogs is - as well as how scary the real life Hong Kong can be.
“My first time in Hong Kong I was in an area called Sheung Wan," Thrall explains. "While I was in the street, a gun and grenade battle broke out between a triad group who had attacked a very upmarket jewellery shop.
“It had all gone a bit Pete Tong and this gang had ended up chucking grenades down a main street in Hong Kong.”
Things are sounding very Sleeping Dogs already and this is just Thrall's first experience of the city, well before he had moved there permanently and got involved with the triads himself.
Just like in the game, he experienced Hong Kong at its most raw and violent. Moving to the city to setup a business venture which quickly turned sour, Thrall, an ex-Marine, ended up working as a bouncer in a gang-run nightclub.
In the case of Sleeping Dogs, there's club Bam Bam, a place not unlike that in which Thrall ended up working. Home to some of the best fight scenes in the game, things again start sounding all too real when we ask him to outline an average day's work.
“My fellow doorman who stood next to me, he was a streetfighter, he would just go mental in a scrap,” Thrall says.
“The third doorman, he was a 6 ft 7in assassin. He used to get smuggled across the border to the mainland quite regularly to do a hit on some other triad gang."
“We had a guy come to our club one night, a very small chap wearing a scruffy suit, he must have been about 50,” Thrall continues. “Our 6 ft 7in mate is literally running towards the door with this man in a scruffy suit strapped over his shoulder."
“You could see that whatever this old boy had done, he had made them lose face because of it.”
Face - or respect - is wound meticulously into the criminal underworld of Hong Kong, Thrall tells us, and often leads to extreme bouts of violence just like that he has previously mentioned. In Sleeping Dogs, it can be won by helping out other characters and results in you gaining access to more impressive outfits and vehicles. Just as in real life, this "face" is gained all too often by resorting to violence.
For Thrall in the Hong Kong nightclub, things were even more brutal. There was no new outfit to wear here, more a thorough beating for the scruffy suited man from the two triad bouncers.
So Sleeping Dogs gets the triads right, it gets the violence right, but what of the city itself?
“Hong Kong is a playground in itself.” says Thrall. “It is a very unique place with so many dimensions.”
This is carried over into the game which, while not being an exact clone of Hong Kong, is a pretty close representation, a city divided into different areas - from skyscraper districts to neon-lit night markets and temples.
“I used to love the night time in Hong Kong. Going down the back alleyway, most look like something from a Bruce Lee film with water dripping from antiquated air conditioners," says Thrall.
“There are rats the size of cats everywhere and then you turn a corner and suddenly you are next to a vast night market.”
Sounds like Sleeping Dogs nails it, then. We certainly think so, check out our review of the game here. For those interested in learning more about Chris Thrall's story, you can order his book Eating Smoke here.
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