In a world where Androids, the pinnacle of human achievement become a potential “threat” to humanity itself, which side does one find themselves on? Welcome to the complex that drives the cinematic, interactive motion picture, and PS4-exclusive game, Detroit: Become Human. It’s certainly not a mystery that games have transcended the simple paradigm of pressing one button to one action, and being in constant control of the character(s) in the experience. Today, the lines between drama, theatre, and interactive media are blurred, and are executed with extreme prejudice by the folks at Quantic Dream. With this, let’s dive into the theme - shall we?
Upon beginning the game, Quantic Dream does their best to non-verbally convey to the player what world they are in specifically. This is something that has to be delicately done, but when done effectively, drastically increases the immersion for the player. As I slowly began to take control of Connor, a prototype android detective with a silver tongue, my experience began with question after question. What kind of machines are these? How human are they? How do humans feel about them? What rules are there for my character, and can I break them? The more I played, the more was uncovered.
Throughout this game, you’ll control three perspectives, including Connor. Kara, a caretaker android who develops a motherly relationship with a young girl; and Markus, who’s relationship with humans is far deeper than what’s presented to the initial surface. Humans are split on androids as a general theme, with some owning them for everyday chores, to speaking with them at stores or amusement parks. They have become a part of everyday life, and seemingly there’s comfort with them operating in society under the current laws and technical limitations governed by CYBERLIFE, the parent trillion dollar company. That being said, many humans despise these androids for taking jobs, many seeing them as unnatural plagues. And this is where science fiction begins to be a reflection of America, 2018. The undertones of racism and prejudice are still there under this guise of Androids and humans, and the writing does a great job in both showing and telling enough for one to understand.
Decide Your Fate
The gameplay of Detroit follows the same tropes as the likes of Heavy Rain, and Beyond: Two Souls. With Connor you’ll investigate areas and crime scenes, involving button presses and holds to interact with clues and recreate scenes. You’ll also use these controls to solve puzzles, and interact with off course items such as magazines to explore the world, or a coffee pot that might unlock an unforeseen story option. Kara and Markus will use these controls similarly, moving the left stick to guide them like a common third-person adventure, but it never overtakes the cinematic experience as it’s kept to a minimum.
During scenes involving a chase or fight, there come the reliance on QTEs, or quick-time events to get you through, or alter the conditions of a confrontation. This is where the line between player, producer, and director slowly mesh into one, and you can almost sit back and ride the wings of this game as you tell it where to take you.
Naturally as this is still a game, the difficulty of these QTEs will increase, and without carefulness you can expect more mistakes, that could lead to poor heat of the moment actions, leading to unintended stress at crucial points of the game. This is not something new to Quantic Dream, but certainly something to keep in mind if this is the first game of this type that you play.
The game is driven by a tree of storylines, with multiple options, choices, and endings for each chapter and each character you play. You can go back at any time and replay these areas as well, prompting the player to explore all options, or go back and fulfill the “what if I didn’t shoot this person” question in your mind.
A Raisin in the Sun
With a strong narrative, Detroit pulls the gamer in, and delivers with as much impact as the gamer inputs. This is done in an extremely aesthetically pleasing manner, as the environments, facial expressions, and animations are all top notch. Simply speaking, the more you buy into this world, the more rewarded you will be. That being said, one potential issue with the way that the world devours the player, is that there are some aspects left to be inferred a lot. When we think of androids and we look at the Blade Runners, the Westworlds, the anime, the cartoons, we have an understanding of the capabilities, and technology powering. There is slightly more obscurity here outside of the fact that there’s synthetic blood that powers tech components. Other than that, these things are coded to not error out, work completely, convey emotion, and exceed us all! Believe it! This could have been done in a more nuanced manner, but we’re really nitpicking at this.
Within the storytelling and the writing, there are some cliche one liners, and some eye-rolling moments with the interactions with other side-characters that might remind you that this is still a production and not necessarily real life, but they’re far and few in between. The game also makes up for this by providing scenes that are the exact opposite, and extremely emotional to the point of nearly drawing tears. Specifically when playing as Kara, you’ll need help to cross the border up to Canada, seeking help from an African-American woman named Rose, and her son Adan. When Kara asks why she helps, Rose explains that her people also faced persecution for similar reasons, and felt compelled to help the androids although she herself is human, and could be jailed for helping. Moments like these remind you that, regardless of the time period, regardless of the sci-fi technology, humanity remains the same and is actually what makes the genre so good. The fact that it’s still us humans with our complexities and our nature, that now occupy a futuristic world. It doesn’t necessarily mean that those human natures change - rather, they come to light even further.
Does it Explode?
This game must be played if you own a PS4, and enjoy a sci-fi story, or if you happen to enjoy what Quantic Dream creates. It’s easily their best work from a writing perspective, but also their most ambitious. The execution and commitment to diverse, quality voice-acting, animation, and divergent storylines is something to be adored, and certainly experienced firsthand. With that, this is not a game that will satiate an urge to shoot, hack, slash, or yield constant control to the gamer. You are expected to sit back, relax (somewhat) and enjoy the ride this takes you on. Some decisions seem cliche and vague, some points of the game may feel restrictive, but at the end of the day if you play by the rules of this game, and immerse yourself in its world, you most certainly won’t be disappointed.