Detroit: Become Human

Platform: PS4

Developer: Quantic Dream

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Detroit: Become Human is set to be very polarizing. On one hand Detroit has to contend with not being a traditional game; it’s more of an interactive create-your-own-story. On the other hand Detroit centralizes around a plot that has shades of the current culture war - race, inclusiveness, collectivism, individualism, income inequality and automation replacing human workers. The heart of the story depicts the android struggle of finding its own “humanity”. For the most part Quantic Dream crafts a good narrative with some minor stumbles here and there.

 

 

 

Gameplay

Gameplay and controls are pretty straight forward, there are no intricances or learning curve. Movement and combat are the least engaging part of Detroit. Movement is handled by the left analog stick with the camera being controlled by the right stick. Movement can be very stiff. This is mainly due to the semi-static nature of the camera angles the game uses. Most of the time you are able to rotate the camera or tap R1 to change angles, but as the player you never really feel in full control, which can slightly break immersion during intense moments. This drawback doesn’t effect the experience too much, but it is definitely something Quantic should address in their next endeavor.

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The right analog stick also serves as the main mechanism for contextual interactions. When the character needs to interact with the environment the player will be tasked with flicking or rotating the stick in a particular direction. This includes opening doors, looking at evidence or just picking up objects. This method is mostly intuitive, but the novelty wears off later in the game. I found myself just wishing a simple button tap could perform the action I wanted.

R2 serves as a special vision to highlight interactable objects or GPS. Holding the button down will greyscale the screen and highlight points of interest in yellow. Use this sparingly to truly experience the world.

QTEs (quick-time events) take center stage for combat. The player will be prompted to press one of the various face buttons or move the right stick in a certain direction. Occasionally the player will have to physically move the controller by either jerking the controller left and right or flipping it up vertically 90°. Moving the controller can be hit and miss; oftentimes my controller movements wouldn’t register until after a few attempts. This happened so much so that I questioned how this method passed QA.

Overall the controls are serviceable. Detroit’s use of QTEs didn’t bother me as much as I anticipated. For the most part controls worked, excluding controller movements.

 

Story

Story is the main course of the experience in Detroit. The story unfolds through the actions of 3 protagonists - Connor, Kara and Markus. On the trio’s journey each of them will make decisions ranging from insignificant to potentially fatal. Each decision carries the threat of major ramifications on the overarching story-at-large, as each chapter can branch out into multiple endings. Choice matters.

The decisions the player makes not only affect certain plot points, but also the feelings of the companions around each character. The choices you make will influence these companions positively or negatively. The player will receive visual feedback on whether the decision they made was liked or disliked by their companions. It’s nice to be able to see where you stand with the other characters, however, this could have been better achieved through facial expressions and body language. Not knowing precisely where you stand with a companion would have added another layer of tension and drama to the story. Instead, I found myself making decisions based on an influence meter, not really the best mechanic for immersion.

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Androids in Detroit really imitate humans. They walk, talk and even, in some instances, behave like humans. They also look just like humans. Androids are differentiated from humans by a LED ring on their right temple. This LED will change color from blue to yellow to red depending on the situation the android is in. Androids are also identified by special clothing that they wear that marks their model number and name. On the sleeve of each android is a bright blue armband, which reminded me of Nazi occupied Poland. It was the armband symbolism that tipped me off to what the themes of this story were going to be.

Androids are in some ways segregated from regular society. Several establishments have “no androids allowed” signs and android specific waiting areas, Androids even have a designated spot at the back of buses. The bus thing was a little on the nose for me. I get the imagery they are trying to invoke, but it’s way too obvious. The back of the bus sentiment isn’t the worst offender in this regard though. Detroit has a literal Underground Railroad in it’s world, I’m not kidding. Concerned citizens smuggle androids North to Canada where they have more favorable android laws.

All of this symbolism conveys the point they are trying to make; I just wish they had come up with a more original plot device to set the events of the story in motion. You are meant to see these androids as slaves. This plot device is used as a catalyst to get the player to empathize with the androids and see humanity in them. This kind of falls flat when they carbon copy one of the most horrific human experiences in history.

This sets up the biggest point of contention in the story - do androids deserve human rights? This questions hinges on empathy. Does the player see themselves in the protagonists? Detroit does it’s best to answer “yes” to these questions and I mostly agree. I empathize with each of these main characters, but with one caveat. By the end of the story I still saw them as machines and AI.

I believe this is mostly due to the first arc. You don’t see enough of Connor, Kara or Markus exist on their own without servicing a human. Showing them with their own interests, hobbies or pursuits would have gone along way to achieving a more grey area of Android humanity. Adding a playable human character that has to wrestle with the moral choices of hating androids or accepting them is an opportunity that I believe was missed.    

 

Visuals

There’s no other way of saying it, Detroit: Become Human is a beautiful game. The graphics on display are top notch, even more so with a 4k and HDR capable tv.

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Environments really shine. Everything from the bustling trendy areas to the poverty stricken slums looks genuinely lived in. I often found myself stopping to just take in the world. Everything was painstakingly hand crafted and it pays off big time.

The facial animations are spot on. Quantic Dream has a knack for capturing human emotion and they flaunt that expertise. There are some really great mocap performances to be seen from Valorie Curry, Jesse Williams and Bryan Dechart.

 

Final Grade  

There was a lot to like in Detroit: Become Human. The value proposition is moderate. There is some definite replayability, seeing the other possible endings, but it can be somewhat of a chore to slog through the beginning again. Also, if you’re like me, you’ll have a hard time not being a paragon in a serious game like this to go back and just be a dick.

Overall I give Detroit: Become Human a solid 4.5 enchiladas out of 5. Even though I had my gripes with it, the game was thought provoking and left an impression after it was over.

Follow Ryan on on his YouTube Channel Colenado Gaming.

The Bedtime Story - A Game of Don't Freeze!...Tag

by Ryan Cole
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For full transparency I worked with Brandon Serowski (the developer) in the past and participated in the Alpha and Beta testing of the game.

Indie games have a special place in my games library. These games can be a very welcome breath of fresh air among the safe bets that large studios tend to make. They often surprise you with unique mechanics, creativity or just good old fashioned challenge. The latter is what The Bedtime Story brings.

The Bedtime Story transports you into the shoes of a frightened little boy who has lost his comforting companion, his teddy bear. This is how the game begins - no parents, no lights, no bear. Only the comfort of a flashlight with a very limited battery.

Dark and alone I awoke in my room. With a little exploring I managed to find a few pickups and a couple of locked doors. Wondering what to do next I looked around a bit until I saw the chalkboard. At first the controls are written up there, but then something else happens. This is where the tone of the game is set.

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As I am looking up at the board a slight chill runs up my spine when I see the words “let’s play a game...tag”. The words “Stay in the light” are then written out as I stare blankly at the board wondering “what the hell should I do”, then with a thunderous crack of lightning and a familiar creaking sound a door swings open.

This is the only direction you are given as the player. The controls, the game you are playing, an open door and a small hint to “stay in the light”. I’m left wondering what awaits in the dark.

Sound is a very important aspect of this experience. Headphones are recommended as you'll use them to pick up on audible cues. Trust me, you'll need to listen carefully. There's something lurking in this house.

Light plays an equally important role. Your flashlight battery is very limited and only stays on for a short amount of time before it needs to recharge. Exploring proves vital as you can find additional batteries of 2 variants, yellow and red. One grants you increased time limit with precious light while the other increases the range at which the light pierces the dark.

Exploration also gets you access to other pickups, such as keys and lamps. Keys will obviously unlock doors to additional rooms for hiding in or scavenging extra batteries. Lamps play a more vital role in last second survival. Once you figure out what these bad boys do you’ll try to pick up every lamp you see (not all can be picked up). Lamps are your most valuable and scarce resource. Use them wisely.

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This game is about trial and error, mostly error. With the minimal amount of guidance the player has to figure out the rules of each game. This approach may not be appealing to everyone, but it’s hard to beat the feeling of winning one of these games. I experienced a huge amount of glee when I finally bested my foe in the first game “Tag”.

The visuals on display are what you’d expect for a game built with Unreal Engine 4, but when you take into account that this was made by a solo dev it becomes even more impressive. The atmosphere and light for the most part are great. Light from standing lamps could use some additional work as they look more like cones of light instead of a light source fighting back the dark. Objects look crisp and clear although it does get a little redundant with a lack of variety in furniture.

All in all I give The Bedtime Story  4 Enchiladas out of 5.  If you have a PC pick up The Bedtime Story on STEAM, because at $2.99 the value proposition here is very high.

Ryan is a console and PC game enthusiast who has recently been trapped in Fortnite. You can find Ryan’s playthrough/developer interview of The Bedtime Story on his YouTube Channel Colenado Gaming.