Following the so-so reception of Quantic Dream’s 2013 game, Beyond: Two Souls, Detroit: Become Human had a lot to prove and was even on our top upcoming games of 2018 list. The adventure-style games have always been decisive with gamers, falling victim to harsh criticisms of their gameplay. In Detroit, the gameplay is similar, but the subject matter is arguably Quantic Dream’s most globally impactful.
The story follows three androids, Markus, Connor, and Kara, allowing you to control them and make decisions that affect the story. Initially, the character’s stories are seemingly separate, but later intertwine on a larger scale. The year is 2038 and androids are as common as an everyday cell phone. Citizens use androids to improve quality of life, like doing the dishes and cleaning homes. The overarching theme is the question of whether or not androids are alive.
As with many global issues, there is much controversy surrounding the topic of the humanity of androids. At times, androids can discover a sense of humanity, or become “deviant”. All three androids start off as machines but teeter the line between robot and living being. The people in 2038 feel very strongly about the notion of considering androids free and human. Hence the title, Become Human.
Kara’s story focuses on her relationship with a child, Alice. Most of her storyline involves her and the child running away, trying to escape to safety. This fast-paced style of play is a great contrast to Connor’s, as his story plays out like a detective drama. He accompanies his partner, Hank, in tracking down deviant androids. Like detective mode in the Batman: Arkham games, Connor must look for clues and piece together evidence to solve crimes. Finally, playing as Markus tasks the player with gathering other androids to start a revolution, peacefully or violently.
While the motivations of the characters are different, the mechanics are similar. Like many other games of the same genre, objects can be interacted with, dialogue can be chosen, and the environments can be explored. During more advanced action sequences, the game will throw lots of quick time events at you. It’s important to go into this not expecting a robust gameplay experience, but a more narrative, character driven one instead.
It’s still rewarding to make decisions towards specific goals and have them play out exactly as planned. This didn’t happen often, due to the unpredictability of the other characters, but when it did happen, I felt satisfied. However, even with the unpredictability, not knowing what would occur next was exciting, too. There was a point where all signs pointed towards a specific outcome, but I decided against following that path and it went in a completely different direction than I had expected. Sure, there were the typical tropes and clichés, but I was pleased with the amount of times I said, “Huh, that was surprising.”
Depending on choices made, the story will unfold in many different ways. A nifty flowchart can be accessed in the pause menu to see all the possible routes or paths to different outcomes. They don’t contain spoilers but seeing the overwhelming amount of options gives Detroit a sense of scale that is way beyond my expectations.
This is most definitely Quantic Dream’s biggest game. I’m not sure how many branching paths there are, but it’s hundreds, if not around a thousand. Sticking to the style of their previous work, the developers made it so that there are no Game Over screens or any type of checkpoint to have to restart from. It’s designed in such a way that if you make a regretful decision, you must stick with it and see how the game plays out because of it. There were decisions I made early in the game that paid off towards the end and seeing those threads unfold tied the story together nicely.
Before launch, Detroit was being marketed, like many games, as an experience where “every choice matters”. Upon completion of the story and seeing a few possible outcomes, I don’t think that notion is entirely true. However, Detroit is the most choice-driven narrative game I’ve played, where many choices *do* matter. Deciding to pet Hank’s dog won’t do much to the plot, but each character has multiple important decisions that matter. “Every choice matters?” Eh, not quite, but *many* choices do matter.
Just as there is variety in the outcomes of the narrative, there is also variety in the characters, settings, and ways to interact with the world. My favorite character, Hank, is a top-tier law enforcement official with a troubled background. Due to past events and his excessive alcohol consumption, Hank is sometimes difficult to deal with, but his character is deep and distinct. Because Hank is more than a one-dimensional character, I was able to empathize and I actually cared about what happened to him. Ironically, since Connor is an android, the question of whether he cares for Hank is brought up often, even being put in situations that compromise the mission to make sure Hank is safe. It’s one of the most rounded character-driven experiences I have ever played.
The difference in settings made things interesting. There are lots of sections that take place in a house, but there are also more unique areas like a run-down theme park, ship, and a massive mansion. It’s tough to get too descriptive without spoilers, but if you think this whole game just takes place in a Detroit neighborhood, you’re mistaken.
One of my favorite things about Detroit are the many ways to interact with the environment. This is way more than just walking around, pressing X. There’s a section that plays like a third-person shooter, a part where the side of a massive skyscraper must be climbed, and even, on a smaller scale, finishing an abstract painting on canvas. The sheer variety in this game makes it such an intriguing, varied 10 or so hours.
Visually, Detroit is beautiful; Perhaps even the best looking PS4 game. Although many of the characters are androids, they express themselves like humans in a believable way. Quantic Dream games have always excelled aesthetically, but Detroit takes it to a new level. Despite this, there are some moments where the uncanny valley is present, but it doesn’t detract from the immersion. There were some moments when my jaw dropped at how incredible the lighting looked. You can see the pores in the characters’ faces and it’s amazing at how far Quantic Dream has come since their 2005 game, Indigo Prophecy.
Detroit asks many questions but doesn’t do a great job at answering them; That’s okay, though. Not every game needs to answer the questions it asks to be enjoyable. The mere fact that these questions are asked are enough to spark a thoughtful experience. Right from the start, there is no question whether the game considers androids to be alive, and that’s fine. The goal isn’t to convince the player one way or another, but to tell a fascinating story, which it achieved, magnificently.