I Never Thought Driving On The Left Would Be So Much Fun

I Never Thought Driving On The Left Would Be So Much Fun

As I played Sleeping Dogs this past weekend, I kept getting into car accidents. Every time I’d hop onto my motorcycle or into a car, I’d find myself getting into head-on collisions with the residents of Hong Kong; I couldn’t keep a car in good condition for 30 seconds of driving, and I couldn’t manage to stay seated on my bike. Needless to say, this made escaping the cops a real chore.

It wasn’t that I was a bad driver, though — I may not be as awesome a driver as Tina, but I’m no slouch behind the wheel. No, the reason I kept getting into accidents was simple: In Sleeping Dogs, just like in Hong Kong, you have to drive on the left side of the road.

And though I may be bad at it, it turns out I really dig driving on the left side of the road.

I’ve played so many Grand Theft Auto-style games that Sleeping Dogs puts a certain part of my brain onto autopilot. The rhythms of the game, the sidequest-sidequest-mainquest-sidequest flow, the way that the screen fades into a cutscene after you roll over a quest-triggering hotspot… it’s a soothing balm for an open-world-crime veteran like me.

But I also love it when my auto-pilot gets jostled and I have to pay attention. No, you can’t car-jack that guy from the left side! What are you doing, driving into oncoming traffic? Steering wheel on the right! Driving lane on the left!

After over a decade of driving both in the real world and in GTA-style games, I’m amazed at how thoroughly ingrained little things, like left-turning across traffic, have become. In Sleeping Dogs, you left-turn directly into the closest lane, and that’s on a two-way street! At this point I’m not making the error anymore, but driving on the left-hand side of the street certainly hasn’t begun to feel second nature.

Sleeping Dogs adds a number of other nice little tweaks to the GTA formula — the ability to press “X” to ram your car into the car next to yours is particularly welcome. But I’m enjoying that the coolest thing it does is simply mimic the real road-rules of Hong Kong. Sleeping Dogs isn’t the first game to feature British-style roadways; the London-set The Getaway did as well, though I’ve never played that game. But Sleeping Dogs does it very well, and makes me long for other games that force me to adapt to local customs and laws and in so doing, let myself be transported into the worlds of the game.

This kind of quick subversion of an expectation is what makes a game stick with even the most seen-it-all gamer. The way Retro/Grade moves backwards in time is a great example of this — who knew it would be so disorienting and cool to play a music game backwards, from right to left? And I always liked the idea floated by Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, (apologies, I can’t seem to locate the link), in which he discusses a theoretical game in which the protagonist begins very strong, then gradually loses his/her powers over the course of the story; as the player gets better at the game, their character gets weaker, until they have to overcome the final boss with grit and skill alone. It’s the kind of easy flip of our gamer expectations that makes for a memorable, possibly paradigm-shifting game.

Sleeping Dogs is… not a paradigm-shifting game. For the most part, it really is GTA Hong Kong; the broad strokes of the game play are incredibly familiar, the story, while spirited and never lazy, is certainly nothing new. But despite all that, the game itself feels fresh and different. That’s in large part because the city and world feel so believable and interesting. (And it doesn’t hurt that United Front put together such a terrific-looking PC version of the game.)

The fact that players have to drive the left is just icing on the cake — but it’s delicious icing. I’m already absorbed in the world of Sleeping Dogs: I’m walking down the waterfront after a hard rain, streetlights glistening off of the pooled water on the wooden docks.

I head up to the street and steal a car, and as I do so, I think: “Okay, man; rules of the road. You’re not in America. Let’s do this right.”

And by right, of course, I mean left.


  • Welcome to how the world of left-hand drivers feel when playing GTA. I’m from Australia and have to adapt to right-hand driving every time I play a GTA-style game. Its not that hard, you just need to use common sense

    • I felt the opposite. I play so many racing games and city driving games that, as an Australian, I am accustomed to driving on the right in games. I’ve been smiling in Sleeping Dogs when I hop into a car from the left side and have to see Wei jump across the seats to the driver’s side!
      I was stunned how ingrained driving on the right in games was! Maybe the game is a mirror image to real life for me?!?

      • +1

        I felt exactly the same way. It has taken me nearly 8 hours of playing and It is almost normal again now, but for the first 2-3 hours it was hilarious. I wa running into everything.

      • Yeah, I’ve played so much GTA and its clones that as an Australian it took me a minute to realize that Hong Kong has left-hand driving, and much longer to adjust to that.

    • When I play GTA I always drive on the Australian side of the road because it would feel weird to do otherwise.

  • Wow. Being from Australia, I’m used to having to drive on the “wrong” side of the road in computer games, it really isn’t that hard to get used to?

    When I get to play Sleeping Dogs I guess it’ll be nice to drive on the “right” side of the road 😛

  • Yeah I am intrigued what it will be like to drive on the left side of the road in a game (I didn’t play The Getaway either). I’ve always wondered whether if my years in GTA would allow me to switch over to driving in the US for real. I remember being with my dad on a trip to the US and he was pretty terrified at first when he had to make a left hand turn there. Anyone put their GTA experience to good use like that?

    • Yea helped me, I almost ran off the road in Yosemite. Or that could’ve just been the Mustang not liking corners.

    • nothing can prapare you for driving on the right side.I have played games with righthand driving all my life, last year I was on holiday in Italy and it was a revelation just how ingrained driving on the left is. I was constantly fighting muscle memory and instinct ,it was like a tug of war between my concious brain and my sub concious

      • Mum and dad said that when they drove around America for 3 months. Dad said initially one night he drifted unknowingly to the other side of a mountain highway and missed a lorry by around a meter. However when they got back he said it felt great to be back on the left lol.

    • I’ve driven extensively in both left and right hand drive countries and can tell you from practical experience that the only real difference is that the turn signals and windshield wipers are on different sides, which means the first time you go to indicate you will turn on your wipers until you get used to it.

      Frankly, it’s pretty bloody obvious to remember the direction of travel because if you don’t, there is usually an oncomming vehicle to remind you. That fixes you up real quick.

  • I found myself having the same issue, I have always lived and driven in Australia but my habits change when in game.

    I got so used to in games driving on the right I do it out of habit now. (This has never happened in real life, I don’t accidentally crash after playing GTA4 :p)

  • I default to the right in videogames because of every game ever, so it took me a little bit of adjustment to stay on the left in Sleeping Dogs. Not sure why, I’ve been driving on the left in real life for 15 years.

  • Odd, must be different for some people; I’ve not had any issues driving on the opposite side of the road in right-side orientated games such as GTA, nor any trouble driving on the side I am more accustomed to in games such as the Getaway…

    Though it’d be interesting to see if perhaps a right-side-of-road game was released that actually contained road rules; driving in GTA was no issue as it just boiled down to avoiding other cars; it was only ever against the law to hit other people or police cars. 😛
    The police cars in the Getaway gave chase if you broke the rules, but as I’m Australian the left-side was no issue.

    • The original Mafia also had road rules in there, right side of the road, red lights and speed limits. It sure was fun to instigate some police chases like that. It also featured a unwieldy clutch for equally unwieldy 30’s cars.

      • Mafia is probably the only open world sandbox where I’ve ever felt particularly compelled to give a stuff which side of the road was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’… I mean why even bother with the road, necessarily?

  • I don’t really pay attention to what side I’m driving on. It’s all about just avoiding things in front of me. =P

  • I’ve driven on the left side of the road all my life and I still crash all over the place in Sleeping Dogs. It’s not the side of the road that’s the problem, it’s the shitty driving physics.

  • This highlights the American mentality of being the centre of their own universe. They truly marvel that they would, nay could, play a game that uses another countries driving laws. I was waiting for a condescending, oh how cute at the end.

  • I usually drive on the left side of the road in games anyway. Helps get more boost in games like Burnout and tends to be a bit clearer than the right.

    • Well actually the vast majority of the world’s drivers use the right hand side. Europe, North America,South America, Middle East, most of Africa and China. While it’s basically commonwealth nations on the opposite us, UK, India and South Africa. Interestingly American Samoa and Samoa have just converted to our side be a useful most of their cars come from family in Australia and NZ.

  • lulz at every single American video game “journo” making such a big deal out of the driving in Sleeping Dogs.
    Seriously, its not that big a deal. I’m amazed they haven’t demanded a patch that will switch the driving to the right side because driving on the left “is too hard”

  • Why is this a problem doesn’t everybody else just drive on whatever side of the road has the less traffic in GTA like me.

  • driving on left side of the road does make it harder for me to loose the cops though in SD. in every other open world game like saints row an gta i just drive the on left and dodge tthe traffic because while i can dodge on comming cars, the cops that are chasing me sure as hell cant

  • Wow. You know games are getting boring and repetitive when driving on the other side of the road makes you extremely excited. You better prey they don’t make a game based in the southern hemisphere with flushing toilets, you’ll lose your mind

  • I’m Australian and this game just feels very comfortable compared to GTA in terms of driving, I can then look outside my window and know that I’m not going insane.

  • It gets even more awkward when you actually drive on the left-side of the road during the day yet automatically go onto the right side whenever you’re in game. Though personally I actually find it better to drive that way, especially at night, the lights of oncoming cars and bikes make them much easier to spot and avoid.

    That and, I find the trick to getting rid of police cars is just to let them catch up to you and then ram them off the street.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!