Detroit: Become Human started life as nothing more than a tech demo for the PS3 way back in 2012. Six years and a console generation later, developer Quantic Dreams (helmed by writer and director David Cage) finally revealed the fruits of their labour in May this year with their latest narrative driven adventure game; this time focussing on the interweaved stories of three androids in a near-future version of The Motor City. Since Detroit: Become Human’s release I’ve spent my time playing through the game multiple times to see how different decisions play out.
The year is 2038, realistic android – nearly indistinguishable from humans – are commonplace in society; fulfilling lower level, unskilled labour which consequentially leads to widespread unemployment and resentment amongst the blue collar, working class. The story focusses on an uprising in the rejuvenated city of Detroit, home to robot production company Cyberlife, as androids learn to break their programming, develop emotions and independent thought whilst pushing back against their human masters.
Detroit: Become Human shows this uprising from the perspective of three different androids, each with their own motivations: Connor, an advanced prototype charged with investigating the deviant outbreak; Kara, a domestic maid/nanny droid on a self-imposed mission to protect her young charge from the surrounding chaos; last but not least is Markus, a former home care assistant droid turned leader of the robotic rebellion.
Each character has a number of allies and can either build or destroy relationships with them. Connor is paired with grizzled, android-hating police lieutenant Hank Anderson, but also makes frequent reports on the investigation to Cyberlife via his liaison Amanda. Kara’s primary companion Emily is the daughter of her former owner Todd, with gentle giant Luther tagging along later in Kara’s story. Markus has the most complex relationship structure with three main allies Josh, Simon and North to consider, as well as the perception of all deviant androids and that of the human public.
Building on Quantic Dream’s tried and tested formula of their previous titles, Detroit: Become Human is a heavily story-driven game filled with multiple dialogue options, QTEs and branching storylines. However, the game brings something new to the table, as the player now has to be mindful of how their allies perceive them; much like the “so and so will remember that” mechanic from TellTale’s games, your decisions and actions will have an impact on the story and change how the game plays out
Flowcharts bookend the conclusion of each chapter, which shows the path the player took, as well as which branches they’ve yet to uncover. This provides a degree of replayability, especially for completionists that need to see every eventuality play out. Luckily, once you’ve completed the game you can skip to specific chapters if you’re curious to see how a big either/or decisions would’ve ended without the needs to play through the entire game again.
The world of Detroit: Become Human is nothing short of breath-taking; as the game is set in the near-future the game looks both familiar and alien. The city centre and more salubrious suburbs are all well-kept and presentable, with not even the odd piece of litter to offend the eye; whereas the less affluent parts of the city just scream ghetto with dilapidated houses, uncollected garbage lining streets and its inhabitants struggling just to survive, some held in the grip of a highly addictive drug known by its street name: Red Ice.
Likewise, the character animations are equally as impressive. Each of the primary and secondary characters are well animated, enhanced by realistic face and motion capture of each actor’s performances. The game really does feel like you’re playing a twelve to fifteen-hour movie.
Like its predecessors, Detroit: Become Human tries to tackle some heavy hitting issues: domestic abuse, slavery and mental health to name but a few. The game succeeds in some aspects, whilst others feel ham-fisted. The uprising is an obvious allegory to the civil rights movement, with the deviant android faction calling for equal rights and an end to servitude. Similarly, the chapters also feel a little lopsided.
The stand out scenes are all Connor’s by a country mile, as they give the player the greatest amount of interaction: investigating crime scenes, pursuing fleeing androids and combat sequences. Actors Bryan Dechart and Clancy Brown put on a stellar performance, injecting life into Connor and Hank with an odd-couple pairing, both chewing the scenery during their time on screen. One of my favourite sequences involves Connor discovering an unconscious, inebriated Hank and the android’s subsequent attempts to sober his partner up; the exchanges between the two are hilarious and hammed up to the Nth degree.
Markus’ sequences still offer a degree of interaction, with some stunning action set-pieces, but are bogged down with a lot of monologuing on the plight of his fellow androids. Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams does a good job with his dialogue, but some responses do feel as if they go on for longer than they should. In stark contrast, Kara’s scenes slow the action down to a snail’s pace as her chapters revolve around her concerns for Emily’s safety and a lot of walking whilst achieving very little compared to the boys’ actions scenes.
By the end of my first playthrough, Connor and Hank had become BFFs, Markus had sparked a peaceful revolution that had captured the hearts and minds of the American public and Kara, Emily and Luther had made their way to the safety of a new life in Canada. Along the way, various revelations were revealed that in reality are more like massive, gaping plot holes – although I think this has more to do with giving players a reason to replay the game (with the benefit of hindsight) from a perspective the likely would’ve had the first time around.
Clumsy storytelling, wonky pacing and plot holes aside Detroit: Become Human is a vast improvement on Quantic Dreams’ past works. The inclusion of the relationship mechanic makes some of the choices harder – whether it’s deciding to make Markus into a messianic figurehead using passive resistance against his persecutors or ruling with an iron fist, relying on violence and intimidation or whether Connor should shoot or spare two android sex workers that have turned deviant and killed an abusive John.
How much you’ll enjoy Detroit: Become Human really boils down to just two factors: how much you enjoy heavily story-led games and whether you’ll replay it to see all the alternate set pieces. The latter is crucial as some seeds need to be sown in the early chapters to have the desired impact by the final act. With this in mind, my final score is based on a single playthrough, though add an additional point if you’re like me and intend to play the game to death to see all of the eventualities play out.