Developer: Quantic Dream
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.