The world is what you make of it...
«Detroit: Become Human» review: a tense thriller directed by you
l'll admit, the story’s not exactly new: A number of sci-fi novels and movies, «Blade Runner», «I, Robot» or «A.I.» for example, are about robots with feelings. Androids, to be more precise. «Detroit: Become Human», exclusive to PS4, doesn’t add anything groundbreaking to this debate, but it’s unique in giving you an active part in the story's development. Once again, the French video game developer has proven to be one of the best when it comes to interactive games.
«Detroit: Become Human» takes place in the year 2038, in a time in which lifelike androids are indistinguishable from humans and exist only to serve mankind: They are used as babysitters, sex toys, craftsmen or security personnel, to name just a few tasks. This results in an extremely high rate of unemployment, political tensions and a steadily growing aversion to androids. You play as three android characters, leading them through mostly rather straightforward settings with clear objectives. It begins with ordinary things such as cleaning up a house, leads on to looking for clues in crime scenes and ends in hectic chases with quick time events (QTE).
The plot makes sure the game never gets boring. Most of the time, you know what’s expected from you and don’t spend time running around looking for hints. The story is exciting and interacting with a large number of characters adds to this. For one, there’s Kara. She’s a girl who works as a nanny for Alice and Alice’s dad, who has a drug problem and is notoriously violent. After an unpleasant incident, Kara manages to overrule her pre-programmed behaviours and escape together with Alice, making Kara a deviant. That’s when you take over and get the task of looking after the little girl.
Markus is another android who’s managed to free himself from his digital chains. After a casualty, Markus is on the run.
The third character you take on is Connor, an android prototype. He’s on the opposing side and helps the police in their investigations into the increasingly frequent incidents with deviants. It gets especially exciting when the storylines of these three characters come together.
I must say, the stories are captivating and vivid. Not once was I tempted to skip dialogues – and I’m not exactly a patient person. Having said that, there’s no way of skipping dialogues anyway. Although the stories are rather predictable, you’re engrossed in the game and really keen to see your androids succeed. I didn't think much about the underlying question whether androids should be free or not, but was more interested in the individual stories and fates of the main characters. Kara, Markus and Connor are three distinct characters with their very own personality and story. Although the dialogues and plot lack logic here and there, my overall impression of «Detroit: Become Human» is that it paints a coherent picture of a dystopian future with androids as slaves of the 21st century.
The game puts you under time pressure on a regular basis. Not only in dialogues that give you a few seconds only to choose an answer, but also in situations such as one where you need to find a suspect by interacting with androids in your surroundings. Knowing that you only have one attempt to get it right is sure to make your heart beat faster. So do wild chases and fighting sequences that are mostly based on quick time events. You never know how many mistakes you can make before you reach the dreaded blue screen of death. I’m usually not a fan of QTE, but in this game, they work well to create suspense. No doubt, never having to repeat a scene also helps.
A range of options
The best thing about «Detroit: Become Human» is that you really get a say in how the story unfolds. As in the previous releases, «Heavy Rain» and «Beyond Two Souls», the game is based on a flowchart system that allows for a vastly unique experience for almost every player. Depending on what you say, which option you go for or how you react in quick time events, the story takes different turns. You can’t turn the story completely on its head, but the different outcomes and how earlier decisions have consequences later on are impressive. After each section, you’ll see a flowchart that shows the path you took as well as how many other possibilities there would have been. You can't see exactly what could have happened; you just see the empty fields.
Most players will experience more or less the same story, but there are substantial variations – your characters can even die. If they do, the game won’t begin from scratch or from a checkpoint, which makes things incredibly exciting. What’s a pity, in my view, is that the decisions you take in dialogues are far too predictable. It’s easy to guess which answer will lead to which outcome. As long as you have a good look around every location and interact with all glowing objects, you have all options to choose from. I would have preferred more complex decisions and more room for interpretation.
Another thing I didn’t like was that some answers are ambiguous. I once, for instance, choose an option and expected it to be a friendly answer, but then realised I was really having a go at the other person. This made me feel just as annoyed as my virtual avatar was.
Without the exceptional technology behind it all, the storyline and characters wouldn’t be half as compelling. We’re given an authentic version of the future Detroit that looks so real you almost forget it isn’t. The game takes you to truly impressive settings and comes with an atmospheric soundtrack. But let’s get to the real highlight of this game: the characters. Played by real actors, they’re perfectly staged thanks to motion capturing. Their movements and facial expressions show real emotions and really bring the androids to life (in a metaphorical sense, that is).
Conclusion: perfect apart from a few minor flaws
As a big fan of «Heavy Rain» and «Beyond Two Souls», «Detroit: Become Human» had an easy task entertaining me. But it did more than that; I must say, it’s a huge step forward when it comes to gameplay and especially the freedom of making decisions. I’m impressed with the progress Quantic Dream has made. The behaviours and feelings of the three main characters and most supporting characters are authentic. Their destiny and conflicts really touched me. I didn’t find this game as emotional as «Heavy Rain», but this might just be because I sympathise more with humans than with androids. This contradicts my style of play, but hey, I’m only human. ;)
The plot might have a few flaws and the characters behave illogically now and then (androids, don’t forget), but within an overall story that’s absolutely thrilling, I didn’t mind that too much. It will take you about 10 to 15 hours to play the game from beginning to end. In my mind, that’s too long to play through other variations, as the settings are almost identical every time around. I prefer watching the other storylines on YouTube. ;)