Quantic Dream looked to have given everything they had to make their latest cinematic adventure a success.
How does it feel to be an android? If we asked Kara, Markus or Connor this question, could they really give us an answer we’d expect, or even accept as truth? Maybe. Maybe they could. Quantic Dreams’ Detroit: Become Human explores a future where artificial intelligence has reached the point of sentience, and it’s too late for humanity to back down from truly understanding the arising complications when consciousness develops inside a new lifeform. What’s worse is that the idea of androids having free will doesn’t look to postively change public opinion.
Detroit doesn’t shy away from rapidly outlining how divided and cold society has become during the year 2038. To humans, it’s not a big deal; androids aren’t ‘real’, they don’t feel pain, empathy or any emotion for that matter. People don’t care how they’re treated, as long as they effectively serve their primary purpose; that’s anything from completing simple domestic chores, to functioning as a sex worker. Detroit’s on-the-nose portrayal of segregation and an ‘us versus them’ landscape can be stretched at times, but there’s these moments that may seem trivial at first, yet hold an important place in this near-future world David Cage has created; you’ll spend the majority of a chapter doing menial tasks: washing, cleaning, carrying and being treated like a lesser being by your human ‘owner’. You very quickly empathise, and that’s totally the point.
We begin the game at a moment in time where some androids have gone sentient, and these are known in the city as ‘deviants’. A tense scene kicks us off playing as Connor, a police investigator android trying to track and shut down all deviants. His first assignment with us is to talk down an android from jumping off a rooftop, whilst holding a human girl. It’s up to Connor to control the situation by gradually walking towards the deviant, and choosing from a set of dialogue options. It’s here we notice that Detroit’s rich and premium user interface feels at home with the rest of the game’s presentation, and further sells us this futuristic time period that scarily doesn’t feel too far away.
Once you finally start breathing again after that first chapter, you’ll also play as Markus and Kara in their own separate sections, engaging this both stressful and intense ride of trying to make sure you successfully shape your decisions to experience the conclusion you’re hoping for.
All three androids are very likeable characters, and so it’s hard to not be ‘Team Android’ all the way, hoping they successfully revolt against humans - doing absolutely everything and anything they can for freedom, justice and equality. You’ll put yourselves in their shoes long enough through this ~12 hour escapade - enduring the abuse, torture and mistreatment, that it’s hard to really feel anything at all towards humans. However, you have to decide if progress can really happen without conversation. Choosing the sword over the pen with an eye for an eye mentality may well come with its own set of consequences.
Mechanically, Detroit feels at its best when investigating crime scenes as Connor, hiding from maniacs as Kara and executing sweet bursts of parkour with Markus. I’m also pleased to see quick time events return in the form of simple button prompts - I’d always struggled with Beyond: Two Souls’ reliance on slow-motion to determine in which direction you should flick the analog stick. General movement is still a little bit clunky at times, especially when trying to interact with something at an intersection where the camera angle suddenly shifts. Once in a while, there are still some annoying motion controls to deal with, but clever use of the DualShock 4’s touchpad is welcomed.
David Cage has often suffered heavy criticism for his writing in previous titles Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, and Detroit’s is by no means perfect - but it successfully tells an interesting story and I felt the chapters had a solid structure and flowed nicely. A stressful scene of trying to achieve something within a tight time limit would be shortly followed by a more relaxed and emotional dialogue scene between Kara and her human companion. Your decisions are what determines what you find, what you experience, who succeeds, who fails, who lives and who dies. There is an opportunity in Detroit to play a previous chapter again to alter the outcome, should you become filled with regret from any of your decisions, but I personally feel there’s a more wholesome experience to be had by ignoring this feature and sticking to your original choices.
Visually, Detroit is stunning, with quite possibly the best use of lighting I’ve seen in a video game - especially on character models. Androids have that plastic, pristine look to them, contrasted wonderfully with the humans’ imperfections, taught skin and tired eyes. There’s plenty of moments to get snappy with the screenshot button, and the artwork unlockables are genuinely worth your time to flip through.
Graphics aside, what really shines through on Detroit: Become Human are the simple details and props dotted around the world. In almost every chapter, there’s a digital magazine that can be read and interacted with by swiping the touchpad to turn the page, showing news headlines of the future that include conflict, politics, the economy, environmental issues and ethics - it’s a really nice touch of world building. The android who greets us on the main menu of the game also changes her behaviour and speech patterns at different points each time the menu is loaded, there’s even a chilling survey she’ll ask you to complete, revolving around your personal feelings on artificial intelligence and its direction.
I’ve kept this review spoiler-free, as I feel like the story is worth going into as cold as possible to get the most honest experience. After finishing the first playthrough, I’m looking forward to revisiting Detroit again to see what’s underneath the rest of that crazy flowchart!
Detroit: Become Human - Official Trailer: