In a time when an infinite amount information is available at our fingertips - with apps and other “smart” tools aiming to make us more productive than ever - it would be an impressive feat to write about Detroit: Become Human without considering the technology being utilized to do so. Think about it: many tasks in our lives are more conveniently performed today compared to a decade ago, thanks to advancements in modern technology. As artificial intelligence, specifically, continues to become more prevalent within our society, possibly even improving to that of having real human emotions and thoughts, would mankind be prepared to accept machines as another race? Could the two coexist and inhabit the planet harmoniously with a shared understanding of what it truly means to be human?
These questions provide a solid basis for Detroit: Become Human; an interactive game drama that fulfills its vision through interesting characters and a gripping narrative.
Detroit: Become Human - released in May 2018, exclusively for the Playstation 4 - was inspired by Kara, a tech demo shown by developer Quantic Dream at the 2012 Game Developers Conference. However, Quantic Dream founder and lead designer, David Cage, wished to expand the demo into a full game in an effort to flesh out what happened next, with a focus on the human element of being alive. Quantic Dream was well-suited to bring the Detroit: Become Human narrative to life, having seen success with other interactive game dramas such as Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls.
Detroit: Become Human takes place in the city of Detroit in 2038. The metropolis has seen a stark rejuvenation in its economy thanks to advancements in android technology, with human-like androids existing purely to serve mankind. The game follows the lives of three playable protagonists: Conner, a cutting-edge prototype android tasked with assisting the Detroit Police Department in tracking down “deviants’ - androids that have bypassed their programming, taking control of their own actions and becoming violent against their owners; Kara, a domestic service android who turns deviant in an effort to save a little girl from the abusive father she serves; and Markus, an in-home care android on the run who eventually becomes the leader of the android liberation movement.
The city of Detroit - and to a larger extent, the world as a whole - teeters on the edge of chaos and becoming a dystopian society. It is the choices of the player that determine whether or not that happens, with each of the thousands of decisions affecting the future and the lives of the characters.
Detroit: Become Human’s primary goal is to flesh out what it means to be human, exploring the dynamics of how humans might react and perceive androids if they started to have emotions. The game succeeds on this goal tenfold, primarily due to playing the game from the android perspective. Ultimately, players are tasked with either accepting the societal inequalities impacting them or fighting - in some cases, for their lives - for a cause that is bigger than themselves, be that Conner’s confliction with black and white justice, Kara’s care for a life besides her own, or Markus’ approach to liberating the android population. Quantic Dream does a solid job of weaving through each decision’s impact on the individual androids, as well as the public opinion surrounding those decisions, which is especially impressive with the sheer number of decisions available for players to choose from.
The control interactivity and decision-making system overall was a success. Even if the player is not familiar with 'reactionary' gameplay elements, the game should be intuitive enough to understand. It takes some getting used to, particularly figuring out movement in relation to the camera angles (similar to, but more refined than Resident Evil 2), but the control scheme eventually becomes second-nature.
Detroit: Become Human’s supporting cast plays well against the three playable protagonists. Hank, Conner’s rough-around-the-edges Detroit Police Department partner, and Carl, Markus’ in-home care patient and father figure, are two of the more notably strong characters. As with all of the game's choices, decisions and interactions with these characters affect the relationships with the main characters.
There were some missed opportunities to dive deeper into the history of racial inequalities and civil rights, especially considering Markus’ skin color, as well as the only female character’s designated role as a housekeeper. While more inclusion of these topics would be welcomed, they may ultimately bog down an otherwise already complex and intriguing story. Fictional global social commentary is prevalent throughout the game through such means as magazines that can be collected and read along the way. The game does well to draw certain parallels between potential real-life situations, while still maintaining the fictional world as its own place.
Players sticking strictly to the progression of the story can expect to finish the game inten to twelve hours. However, its replayability value is fairly high if players wish to make different decisions than their original playthroughs. The decisions players make are shown at the end of each chapter in the form of branching-tree diagrams, visualizing the decision route taken compared to the rest of the outcomes that could have occurred in that chapter.
Detroit: Become Human truly shines with its ability to leave a long-lasting emotional impact. While some decisions and outcomes may be a bit cliche, others carry a significant amount of weight. The emotional weight of certain decisions only increases as the story progresses and the characters continue to develop. Since the game takes place from the android perspective, one of the more intriguing dynamics of the plot exists in moments when the success of the androids takes precedence over the well-being of humans. Quantic Dream did exceptionally well to make the characters and their overarching objectives easy to care about.
Fans of David Cage and Quantic Dream will no doubt enjoy Detroit: Become Human, as it very much falls in line with the previous interactive game drama successes from the studio’s past. Likewise, newcomers will feel right at home in the world that Quantic Dream has created. Detroit: Become Human succeeds in what it sets out to achieve, resulting in a game that is enjoyable and emotionally gripping from the very start.
Detroit: Become Human is available now exclusively for the PlayStation 4.
4.5 out of 5 Stars