I just finished an excellent video game called Sleeping Dogs. A lot has already been written about it given that it’s something of an anomaly. For the uninformed, the video game community is nearing the end of a hardware cycle. Every few years new gaming systems, XboXs, Playstations, and Nintendos the biggest of the group, hit the market stuffed with newer computer guts promising faster and prettier games, and, as with this last generation of machines, a fulfilled promise of new features that were hard to imagine only a few years before. True desktop computer gamers (those who game exclusively on high-end computers) are already grunting at the above because for them, as long as their computers are on the bleeding edge of new tech, their monitors are already displaying cleaner, quicker and sexier versions of games that any console, even brand new ones, can’t compare to given their inability to be altered and upgraded once launched. (This modular ability of the computers is the big advantage of computer gaming).
Regardless of the platform you game on though, most game developers hitch their latest and greatest ideas and games to these generational shifts. But as the older generation winds down and the newer generation of machines near launch date, the ingenuity and originality of games slows, as developers aim to hold back their best ideas for the new machines, or, they build hybrid games that can bridge both generations and thereby hamstring the true potential of those new systems.
We are currently entering one of these slow periods as the XboX 360 and Playstaion 3 are finally relinquishing something like a 7 year hold on the market, the most stalwart generation in a very long time. During this period gamers must satiate themselves on sequels to games they already love, new games based off of old systems, and most importantly, the hunt for the few new original ideas that slip through the next gen cracks.
Sleeping Dogs is a bit of all of the above. It uses the mechanics of the much maligned Grand Theft Auto games, but shines them up and makes them much more player friendly and fun. It’s not a true sequel to these series, but to the uninformed, it might as well be just another episode in the same story of games. Finally, what it does best, is shine in its originality. It takes all of the things that frustrated gamers with other titles of similar design, gets rid of them, and adopts newer and cleaner controls and ideas to produce a truly entertaining game.
One of the best decisions the developers made was setting. Unlike nearly every game of its kind, Sleeping Dogs is set in modern day Hong Kong and the city of nearly seven million is rendered in expected beautiful and stunning detail. A quick drive up one of the mountain passes, and you’re looking down at a game stopping view of this classic east meets west city. But what’s even better is the intricate plot of the game, wrapping crooked cops, gritty Asian mobsters, and classic but underused Asian gangs like the Sun On Yee and others to create a new slant on an old angle, the undercover cop with divided loyalties to those he hunts and those who hunt him.
As is my wont, I’ve now shifted into something of a foreign noir/detective side path in my reading and interests. I’ve dug out and watched some or all of the more classic Asian cinema in my collection, the ubiquitous John Woo 80s and 90s classics, The Killer and Hardboiled tops on the list of course, (digging deeper, A Better Tomorrow 1 & 2 and Once a Thief are great shoot ‘em up action flicks as well from him), but I’ve also sprinkled in the new, Tony Jaa’s excellent Ong Bok series (though only the first really qualifies as noir), and also an assortment of Korean movies as well (The City of Violence heads this list).
In literature, try a great series of books based in Asian by John Burdett, all of them in his Thai Royal Police series. They follow a half-blood humble Thai cop and his dark adventures across the legendary city of Bangkok. Staying in Thailand, Pablo Bicaguilpi ‘s Noir/Sci Fi epic, the Windup Girl (yes, I’m about three years too late to recommend this incredible book) is in the plainest words I can muster, a must read. Back to Brudett, if you’re interested in staying in Hong Kong, try The Last Six Million Seconds set in the city in 1999, just prior to the British relinquishing control of the city back to the Chinese. A review to come on this one shortly.
My own work frequently dabbles in Chinese and Korean villains. Italian mobsters have their literary Omerta trope of honor among thieves, but the coupling of the extremes in fictional Asian gangsters, the disparate poles of the Buddhist religion and shooting someone behind a pork bun shop, is too enticing not to explore.
So the next time you’re at a loss for a new gritty crime fix, look to the treasures of the east, their wealth of dark and desperate characters may surprise you.
Traveling without moving,