In a world with androids and rising tensions between nations, Detroit: Become Human delivers a fascinating concept excellently.
As a kid who would always read the Goosebumps novels, one I thing I remember fondly is the whole “choose your own adventure” series. Flipping through pages left and right and making choices based on my instinct was always something I admired about those novels. Sure, the novelty of it now seems like something prehistoric. But back when console hardware was only limited to 32-64 bits, those books were the only thing that had me coming back to the library.
So when I first saw Heavy Rain back in 2010, I (of course) was all over that game. Sure, looking back at it, the story was incredibly goofy (and the animations don’t really hold up as well as I remembered them). But the whole “interactive drama” was a huge selling point for someone like me – especially when you factor in the multiple characters, and the ability to progress through the narrative if one of them was killed.
Now released on PlayStation 4, Quantic Dream is back with their newest interactive drama, Detroit: Become Human. Ditching its modern day crime thriller and supernatural elements, Detroit takes place in a fictional-dystopian future filled with androids, police drones, driverless cars and global warming.
With three protagonists for players to control, how does it fare as a video game? Let’s find out!
Of androids and men
The year is 2038, and android technology has gone completely mainstream. Primarily used as servants and blue collar workers, the advancement of this technology has seen rapid growth in the US economy.
Unfortunately, this has also lead to widespread automation and redundancy, leaving millions of US citizens unemployed, homeless and resorting to drugs and crime. As such, this has led to protests and anti-android hate crimes all across the country.
In Detroit, players will control three distinct androids throughout the entire game. The first android you’re introduced to is Connor – an early prototype created to help with police investigations and taking down rogue androids (otherwise known as ‘Deviants’).
The second is Kara, a simple house servant created to tackle menial tasks, such as doing the dishes, hanging out laundry, taking out the trash and babysitting.
The third is Markus, another assistant android, who instead cares for his elderly master, Carl Manfred.
As explained at the start, Detroit: Become Human is another one of those ‘choose your own adventure’ titles, which, for the most part, plays like any other Quantic Dream title.
Gameplay serves as more of a movie than a typical video game, with little button prompts presented for players to perform actions and dialogue choices. If you’ve played either Heavy Rain and/or Beyond Two Souls, you will feel right at home with these controls.
As far as interactivity goes, players will have a limited space in which they can explore and interact with items. Within this space, players are presented with either a linear path to progress through the story, or a situation where they have several options as to how they want to proceed.
For instance, in one point in Kara’s story arc, players are placed in a situation where they have to find shelter for the night. In this scenario, players are given a variety of different options as to where they can stay, all of which require different tasks to complete. In one situation, players can choose to stay at a motel nearby – the only problem being that they need to steal some cash in order to rent a room. The next option is choosing to sleep in a rusty car, or breaking through a wired fence to stay in an abandoned house.
As you can see, these three options do have their flaws/perks, and can lead to some moral dilemmas if need be. For instance, with the Motel path, players would need to steal money from a cash register, which if players do, will affect their relationship with the little girl and cause the shop keeper to call the police.
Do androids dream of electric sheep?
Each character is presented within the city of Detroit. With three seperate narratives going on at the same time, Detroit’s narrative will branch out in different paths depending on what choices the player makes.
With the prototype model, Connor, players will be using this Blade Runner-type machine to explore crime scenes relating to “deviant” android models. Using state of the art technology to scan crime scenes and recreate homicides, players will explore cases relating to android homicides, as they try to stop the models from causing a civil war.
For Markus, players will be leading an android revolution against the humans, demanding equal rights and the end of android slavery.
And finally, with Kara, players will mostly be protecting a little girl, as they try to the escape the city amidst all the chaos.
For the most part, the story itself is okay and the dialogue is relatively fine for a Quantic Dream title. As someone who is into dystopian science-fiction titles, I really enjoyed their take on android/AI technology.
I like how the game notes the benefits of having androids, as well as demonstrating their real-world ramifications, such as massive unemployment and social backlash.
I also enjoyed reading up on the various news articles scattered across the world, which detail stories about international space races between the US and Russia, and the various topics surrounding sports agencies enlisting androids to perform in their games. While not heavily explored, it does help paint the picture of a much bigger world surrounding Detroit, and that android technology may soon make the entertainment industry obsolete to some degree.
Android lives matter – from pacifist to revolutionist
The game delves into a lot of confronting areas, such as domestic violence, drug use, speciesism (humans treating non-humans like trash), and police brutality. While a bold attempt for Quantic Dream to tackle such difficult subjects, the end result isn’t that great. (We discuss whether video games should feature themes like domestic violence in this article.)
A lot of the time, I felt as if some of the messages were painfully ham-fisted, so much so that characters come across as either unnecessarily dickish or just bland cardboard cutouts virtue signalling obvious moral values (like, “killing innocent people is bad” and “speciesism is bad”).
Arguably Detroit‘s biggest issue however is that, while it does provide a variety of interesting choices, it may not be enough for people to play more than once. During my first playthrough, I was eager to replay this title again to see what kind of alternative paths there were for the story. After a good hour of rewatching the exact same cutscenes, I began to feel incredibly bored at what I was playing.
Considering how slow the start can be, I doubt many would want to sit through this title for a second time. Even when you’re out of tutorial stage, there are a lot of linear sections within the middle of Detroit – with little-to-no freedom on how you can impact the narrative.
Despite its writing flaws, Detroit: Become Human is a pretty great game. From its stunning presentation, interactive cinematics and moral choices, fans of Heavy Rain and Until Dawn will get a kick out this game.
While replaying it for a second time may not be for everyone, those with the patience can be guaranteed a wide variety of narrative choices that can lead to different outcomes in the end.