Nostalgia is such a compelling emotion, and this is no more evident from the buzz that filmmaker John Wikstrom had generated with his fan-made trailer for Pokémon Sun and Gold. Chronicling a young boy’s journey into adulthood, the video started with the kid popping in the Pokémon Red cartridge into his Game Boy, to him growing up into a weary man fatigued by the responsibilities of adulthood.
Like many other gamers watching the clip, I got a bit misty-eyed. The Pokémon series was one of the first games many folks picked up as a kid and was a building block of our formative gaming years. I was ten when Pokémon Red and Blue was released, and could still remember the trepidation of choosing my starter Pokémon. With some help from my older brother, I went on to discover more videogames to play under the stealth of night, when I’m supposed to be studying for my exams. I didn’t do very well back then, but hey — I’m writing about videogames now.
So it is with such nostalgia in mind that I wanted to write about United Front Games and the game that it was most known for: Sleeping Dogs. News about the studio’s closure broke last month and, of course, any hopes of seeing a sequel to this beloved open-world title was dashed. Set in Hong Kong, Sleeping Dogs puts players in the shoes of a Chinese undercover cop named Wei Shen, with a personal vendetta against the triads that ruled the area. With vendors shouting at you to buy their knock-offs and street food (a pork bun is an absolute must-have in your hand) in a chaotic mix of English and Cantonese, the streets were pulsating with life. Yet, crime abounds in the city’s underbelly, with triads cloaking their criminal operations in the guise of legitimate businesses.
Yes, Sleeping Dogs is a Hong Kong crime drama come to life.
Having watched such films a lot as a wee Chinese kid in Singapore, Sleeping Dogs fulfilled a long-standing dream of mine: to play through a videogame set in the gritty streets of Hong Kong, as I shoot, kick and punch my way through hordes of tattooed thugs and walk away from explosions. But it’s not all about violence; I remember spending late nights curled up in my parents’ room, enamored by the scenes that played out on our television screen. In these movies, triad members have a strict code of ethics, with the undercover cop often torn between his responsibility to the force and his growing loyalty to his comrades in the triads. Poignant and moving, these are accentuated by the bloody action sequences and shootouts so emblematic of the genre.
As Wei Shan, I felt these emotions acutely. I felt his desire to prove himself to Sun On Yee, and his conflicting feelings about his obligation as an officer. I felt his growing attachment to Jackie, his childhood buddy and a criminal he was supposed to arrest. It was through Sleeping Dogs that I had a taste of what it’s like to be an undercover cop in Hong Kong — and the kid in me was ecstatic.
Few videogames had allowed me to live through the turmoil of an Asian crime action drama, but Sleeping Dogs had captured the experience perfectly. So thank you, United Front Games. It’s never easy to hear about studio closures, but yours is one of those that hit me pretty hard.