Review – Detroit: Become Human
If there’s one thing Quantic Dream is known for, famously or infamously, it’s pushing interactive cinematic narrative adventure gaming to its limits. And Detroit: Become Human is no different. Other developers may be catching up but many still lack the ability to create choices that truly change the story or outcome. And while there is still ample room for improvement, this is Quantic Dream’s bread and butter. For better or worse, you may not see certain story arcs and progression that your friend will. In turn, they more than likely will have a different outcome to each chapter than their friends.
To get it out of the way: Blade Runner, I-Robot, Chappie, Short Circuit, Bicentennial Man, Westworld, Ex Machina, Wall-E, 9. Obviously Detroit: Become Human isn’t breaking new ground on the examination of Artificial Intelligence becoming sentient or human. But by getting its players to relate to the near future, to relate to the recent industrial decline and racial divide of its city and to relate to an already global reliance on quality of life devices, it may be one of the more impactful and thought-provoking examinations.
Right off the bat, you know this game is way more Heavy Rain than it is Beyond: Two Souls, and an improvement in every measurable way. Detroit: Become Human is a Neo-Noir Thriller set in the near future of Detroit, forcing it to undergo a second industrial collapse in a relatively small span of years, and further igniting a racial divide that the city has become known for since the 1970’s. As a backdrop, there is little more poetic than Detroit and none that give it a more direct 1:1 comparison.
You play as three androids: Conner, Kara, and Markus. Each established in their own unique station in life but each forced to face the same anti-android hate and segregation. Although you start from completely different points, possible story branches will have you cross paths in some fashion. Maybe by simply looking through police files or investigating leads, you may even come face to face. And, barring death, all three stories intersect for the final chapters of the game.
Conner is an early favorite and the character you start as. He is loyal to Cyberlife and to the police force that he assists. Tasked with tracking down deviants of his own kind, androids that resist programming, while working with and for humans that fear, mistreat and resent him. In the beginning, it’s the Conner sections that gives you actual gameplay. And although a welcome break from the slow buildup of the other two, he does get a little two dimensional, really only having aggressive or compassionate action paths. Clancy Brown turns in a fantastic performance as Conner’s partner, Hank, and it’s definitely those moments that stand out the most.
Markus has the most luxurious life of the three. He is the caretaker for his owner, Carl, who is masterfully played by Lance Henriksen. Carl sees little difference between human and android and even has a certain love and respect for Markus that borders on father-like, often telling him to not let anyone else tell him who he is. But that also means he has the most taken from him when fortune takes a turn and he is ripped from that life. A phoenix risen, it is Markus that is the game’s vanguard for its resistance movement. Unfortunately, the slow burn of his origin turned into a sprint to becoming resistance leader. I was hoping to see a more emotional or intense struggle within Markus as he rises through the ranks. However, he quickly went from trash to soldier to leader to apostle in a matter of two or three chapters.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Kara. An often abused android that is treated and used as a simple servant. It’s in the midst of abuse that Kara is forced to question and resist her programming. Protecting Alice becomes her primary need. It is Kara’s story that is the most emotional, the extent she will go to in order to protect her kind of surrogate daughter, Alice. It is Kara’s story that keeps the player grounded in that while you have people on both sides of a revolution, there are others just trying to survive. And in a strange way, it is Kara’s story that shows you just how far gone the world is. Those that let fear and opportunity justify their depravity but also those that refuse to not do what is right.
As with other Quantic Dream games, gameplay is primarily your interaction with the environment. The few Quick Time Event chases and fights thrown in are there to make it more “gamey,” but the actual gameplay is in who you interact with and, more importantly, how you interact with them. Often times a magazine article will give you more of a glimpse of what the overall world is. Talking to a person, choosing a certain path, looking at a specific spot; any of these could trigger a path you wouldn’t have otherwise been able to take. Any path could lead to the introduction or loss of another person in the game. One minor complaint is that sometimes moving and aligning yourself correctly to get the button prompt to talk or interact is difficult. sometimes I’d have to make my character move to properly align myself or to even plain walk away and circle back.
In addition to the standard interaction that these games are known for, I really did enjoy the use of additional mechanics like investigating. Finding a clue that allows you to reenact a possible confrontation and then manipulate the environment around it to find another clue until you piece together the entire assault. Another added mechanic is success probability options where you can see multiple paths in front of you and choose which to measure the chances of success. Choosing that option then shows you a couple other paths until you find the correct string to accomplish what you are trying to do. Yes, simply going to an area and pressing X could suffice, but this gave it much more of an AI feel.
Quantic Dream adds a sense of scope to how each choice can affect other larger choices with the introduction of Flow Charts. At the end of each chapter, you are shown the direct path you followed as well as splintering branches you could have taken. In the beginning, I would only miss an object or two, nothing really affecting my game. But by chapter 10, I began to really see how choices affect choices that affect choices. By the ending chapters, more than half of each of my flow charts were orange and locked, making me want to revisit each to see what could have been. And thankfully, they allow you to do just this. Completing the game allows you to replay chapters instead of forcing you to replay the game.
As masterfully as Detroit: Become Human handles its story path progression and splintering, it can cause story issues. An example is for most of his chapters, Conner is trying to figure out who or what an entity is that is mentioned over and over again. Honestly, I don’t ever think I got an answer and that is a kind of red herring you just can’t have by games end. I understand that it is difficult to cover your bases on every single path option, but it is something that has to be handled better.
Using Science Fiction to bring social awareness to a large group is not something new. You want to do a low budget movie about concentration camps, chances are it may not get picked up. But you add aliens to the mix and suddenly you have District 9. If done well, it is a recipe for success. That subtlety, however, is not something David Cage always understands. “Less is more” and with volatile topic pieces, sometimes that is even more important. There are times the game understands this but there are a handful of times the game, well, doesn’t. Detroit: Become Human would have been better served if it trusted its players to form their own understanding instead of making sure it spelled it out for them.
The main thing with a game from Quantic Dream, is it doesn’t matter how I review it nor the number I use for its final score. If you don’t like cinematic narrative driven games, you won’t like Detroit. If you don’t like “David Cage” directed games, you won’t like Detroit. If you didn’t like Heavy Rain or Beyond: Two Souls, you won’t like Detroit. But if you enjoy any of these, then Detroit: Become Human really is something special. If you enjoy thought provoking narrative gameplay then I wholeheartedly think Detroit: Become Human will resonate with you. If you are able to resist your programming that every game needs to be a third person shooter or come bundled with multiplayer and loot crates, then welcome to the revolution.
Quantic Dream always pushes out beautiful worlds and this is no exception.
Some movement and positioning issues made simple game play and dialogue more difficult than needed.
Hit its sweet spot on voice actors in primary and secondary roles. No “Jason!” moments.
Adding the flow charts gives you an immediate desire to see other branches play out, making the game more replayable.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Detroit: Become Human is available now on PS4.