I recently came back from a two-week stint visiting my wife’s family in Hong Kong. For a part of the world where I don’t know the language, I love it there. This being our first visit since lockdown, we wanted to use the opportunity for her to visit her father and for me to see more of the region. As I went into tourist mode, it got me thinking about just how great the region is as the setting for open-world games. To be fair, it’s been the site for a few games in the past. However, I was also intrigued by how good it could be if it was the location for an open-world racing game.

Tequila crossing a Hong Kong street from the first mission in Stranglehold

Video games using Hong Kong as a location setting

There are so many video games that have used Hong Kong either as a level location or as a direct inspiration. Most of Shenmue II takes place in a very liberally modified version of the region. Sleeping Dogs uses a version of Hong Kong Island for its setting. Then you have games like Cyberpunk 2077 and Stray which use elements such as the former Kowloon Walled City in building their respective worlds.

But it goes much deeper than that. When doing a bit of research, Hong Kong used to feature prominently in racing games. Gran Turismo 4 included a course driving around the streets of Kowloon. The long-running mobile game Real Racing 3 has the former Hong Kong ePrix course. There are many more racing games from the early 2000s that include tracks using the streets of Hong Kong.

Action and adventure games are no strangers to Hong Kong. Outside the previously mentioned Shenmue II and Sleeping Dogs, the cult-classic Stranglehold takes place here. Even a few other games have a level or two that bring you here. There is even a stage in Rainbow Six Siege located in a deserted amusement park somewhere in Hong Kong.

A screenshot from Shadowrun: Hong Kong

So few games use Hong Kong anymore

Outside of a few exceptions, it feels that Hong Kong isn’t getting the same attention. Sure, we have games that use it as inspiration, but there is only a handful now that actually take place there. Of the more recent games to feature the city, all take liberties. When using Hong Kong as their setting, they’re creating a futuristic view rather than how it currently exists.

Over the last eight years, outside the previously mentioned Rainbow Six Siege stage from 2017, I could only find five games that take place in a version of Hong Kong. There was 2015’s Shadowrun: Hong Kong, 2018’s Fear Effect Sedna, 2019’s Hong Kong Massacre, Sense: A Cyberpunk Ghost Story from 2020, and this year’s Wanted: Dead. Of the five, I wouldn’t classify any of them as marquee games.

At the same time, none use present-day Hong Kong. Instead, they all go the “Neo” route, which allows the designers to use the aesthetics that makes Hong Kong so unique without showcasing how it is right now. In the case of Wanted: Dead, if the game didn’t tell you it took place in Hong Kong, you wouldn’t be guilty of thinking it took place in just about any other Asian city.

A Formula E car racing around Hong Kong taken from Real Racing 3

Let me race around Hong Kong

It’s crazy to think that outside of Real Racing 3’s Hong Kong ePrix course, the last game that gave players a realistic portrayal of Hong Kong was Sleeping Dogs. Don’t get me wrong, Sleeping Dogs is a great game, but it shouldn’t be 10+ years since the last time a game-used modern Hong Kong as a location to play in.

During my most recent visit, I spent most of it either riding a Taxi, the MTR (their metro system), or one of the various buses the city offers. There are two buses to choose from: you have the minibusses or the famous double-decker buses. On this trip, we used both kinds to see parts that the MTR doesn’t cover. We went to places like Sai Kung, Aberdeen, and Stanley, all while the buses road through areas such as Fung On Village, Chai Wan, and Repulse Bay.

Except for snowy peaks, Hong Kong has it all. Coastal villages are connected by narrow and windy roads. Multiple highly populated areas are filled with crowded streets and towering skyscrapers. Long, picturesque bridges connecting multiple districts. Plus, massive highway roads where you can really build some speed.

Shen riding a motorcycle, from the 2012 game Sleeping Dogs

It’s been done, but it can be done again

2012’s Sleeping Dogs did such a great job allowing you to travel around Hong Kong Island. But that game was first and foremost, an action game with driving elements. The racing was just one of the many sidequests necessary to progress the story. Not to mention, it focused on one part of Hong Kong. There is so much more, including places like Kowloon, Lamma Island, The New Territories, and much more.

In the hands of a racing game developer, the possibilities are endless. I could easily see a franchise like Forza Horizon using Hong Kong as a locale in a future game. Heck, I would love for a Need for Speed game to take place in Hong Kong. The NFS series has focused too much on Americanized racing culture. A shift to a different part of the world is just one of the many things necessary to give that franchise a needed jolt of newness.

For years, fans of the Forza Horizon series have wanted the series to use Tokyo or an interpretation of Japan as the site for a future game. We’ve yet to have one take place in Asia. But, I think Hong Kong is the better option. While I agree that Japan has a more visible car culture, I think with regard to setting, Hong Kong has a lot to offer.

A photograph showing traffic in Central, Hong Kong

Give Hong Kong the flowers it deserves

Since coming back to Canada, I am still thinking about my visit. I absolutely love Hong Kong. Yes, it’s an expensive place to live. Plus, as an owner of multiple dogs, it’s probably impossible for my wife and me to find a place we could house them and still live comfortably. But since I can’t live there, I would love to experience it in a video game world. If a developer is out there looking at potential “real-world” locations to consider for their next game, I can’t recommend Hong Kong more.