One instance I’m a clean-cut pleasant-sounding android detective trying to solve human murder cases with my gruff cop partner voiced by Lex Luthor/Mr. Krabs in the mean streets of Detroit 2038. The next, I’m in the shoes of a maid android on the run with her surrogate human daughter Alice, robbing people at point blank for cash and befriending strange men in foreboding mansions.
In-between chapters, I’m playing an android who looks like the Scholar from Cabin In The Woods who ends up leading an anti-human revolution after his surrogate father figure dies. Also, he looks & sounds suspiciously like Bishop from Aliens.
If that sounds like a movie idea that’s taking cues from other superior sci-fi flicks since the 70s – that also happens to masquerade as a game- you guessed right! And all you have to do to move the plot forward is walk around a bit adventure game-style and press a few buttons in quick succession and order.
This is basically the David Cage experience. Surprisingly, it’s for the better since the game director and his Quantic Dream crew improved upon the interactive cinema adventure game formula. Though that’s not really saying much since games impose a sense of challenge.
And to call Detroit: Become Human a challenging experience is quite a stretch.
More Human Than Human
Detroit: Become Human is not a video game in any traditional sense, since it leans more towards a narrative that you can shape to your liking thanks to flowcharts. Its story focuses on three androids – detective Connor, robot maid Kara, and caretaker-turned-revolutionist Markus- as their jobs and lives intertwine in Detroit year 2038 where the tech is expanding but the android prejudice remains.
The game plays like a triple-A blockbuster adventure game stylized as a cinematic experience, only with less inputs and the ability to shape the story as you see fit. Personally, tailoring the game as such is fine. There are visual novels that do the same thing. Hell, I love most of them, especially ones like VA-11 Hall-A. But those visual novels at least have some simple gameplay, brain teasers, and puzzles to them. That game I mentioned had a simple-if-fun cocktail-mixing minigame among others. And I only paid US$15 for it.
We’ll start off with the good points: the graphics and music are nice. Really, really gorgeous. There’s little to no loading time at all, which is a plus if you want to get through the story in a hurry.
If you played past David Cage experiences, you’ll get a huge sense of deja vu in terms of controls and play structure, though the narrative is less disjointed.
Lord, You Made Us Human
Truth be told, the story of this “game” is framed and told competently and in an orderly logical fashion. The stories of Markus, Kara, and Connor are nice to watch and experience, with all of it tied to a grandiose plot of a possible android uprising.
The game’s kicker is that you get to decide how the story plays out. You want to play it so that Connor’s cop pal Hank hates you? Go ahead; you’ll get a heckuva ending. Want to try out all three possible endings to Kara’s chapter where she’s out in the cold with her surrogate kid Alice? Refer to the game’s flowchart system so you know where the story crossroads are.
Want to create a better outcome for the first chapter’s hostage situation? Explore every nook and crannie in the crime scene on time so that you get access to the best dialogue options possible. Whatever multiple plot points and endings that are in the game are worth replaying. And it is fun to see some of the outcomes play out. If that’s you want out of your games, of course.
For the earlier parts of this interactive fiction, however, your challenges comprise of:
- Painting something for an elderly man in a wheelchair to showcase that an android can feel & imagine things.
- Cleaning the house as a robot maid for an abusive father and his poor daughter.
At least it gets better. Midway throught the game, you get to:
- Do parkour where the paths are mapped out for you after some rewinding and scrubbing.
- Go through an android’s version of Hell. It’s pretty evocative stuff.
- Change perspectives between robot hookers, male and female, to find a robot hooker suspect in a strip club.
- Stage an android protest march by recruiting other androids through the power of pointing.
- Catch a bus to cross the border before the police catches you.
It’s a step up from press X to Jason, that’s for sure. Gold stars for you, David Cage & team!
I’m Only Human, I Do What I Can…
Detroit: Become Human features a precognition mode where your android can plan a route for you to do cool stuff like the aforementioned parkour to bypass obstacles. Scrubbing the precog timeline back and forth while aiming the camera at any highlighted point can make you calculate the wrong or right path to getting through the obstacle.
There’s usually one solution to the problem, so while the idea and seeing the precog option in motion is cool, it’s just extra busywork in the long run. There’s also another feature exclusive to detective Connor that uses the precog scrub method: Detroit’s very own detective mode. You explore a crime scene, then turn on detective mode to replay the crime scene and its entailing events to find clues.
This is also another cool idea that the game presents but you can solve some of these puzzles by just paying attention even for a millisecond. So really, it’s all just style over substance.
I will say this though: pressing & holding the R2 button to stop time and look around for objectives and highlighted objects never, EVER gets old.
I’m Only Human, A Flesh & Blood Of Me
One wonders if there is any challenge to the “play” part of “replay”. To put things into perspective: you replay an RPG like Dark Souls over and over because you want to perfect your previous run. You replay an action game like Bayonetta to get perfect scores, to test your mettle and see how you previously stack up so you can master the game.
You replay a game like Detroit: Become Human to just open up bonus outcomes and net yourself a hollow sense of fulfilment. The only mastering needed in Detroit: Become Human is the skill to unlock stuff via replays and reacting to quick time events. This is the real-life equivalent of finding extra pages popping out of a novel, while playing Simon Says to avoid getting punched in the nads.
If you find that fun, however, knock yourself out. Personally, this is just an upgraded version of Heavy Rain. A prettier, load time-less, snowier version of a game archetype exclusive to Quantic Dream’s mad pursuit in convincing many that his games are beyond interactive fiction.
I see that he’s learning from his mistakes, but it’s hard to call this iteration of his past experiment a game that challenges you mechanically.
It’ll play well with the Twitch.tv crowd though. All those alternate endings and outcomes will get a ton of reactions for this generation of millenials.
Tell Them That It’s Human Nature…
There really isn’t much that will stimulate you here unless you really really want to see certain characters making it out alive at the final few converging chapters. Even if you appreciate the sci-fi and discrimination undertones here and approach the game’s story as a film, it just feels like the best bits of all your Blade Runners, your Metropolises, and that one cancelled android-and-cop-buddy TV show featuring Karl Urban meshed together but on a semi-contemporary landscape.
Which is fine, if you don’t watch that many movies. You’ll get a kick out of this interactive fiction, so more power to you. But if I’m getting all these features for full triple-A game price, I expect more than “fine”. And some semblance of a challenge too. And more gameplay.
At the very least, this interactive fiction is a step up from that Beyond: Two Souls nonsense with Ellen Page. Give David Cage some props for that.
- Decent-if-recycled story from better films.
- Graphics & music are well-done.
- Interweaving bits come together pretty well at the end.
- Better-paced that Cage’s past works.
- Not really a video game that presents an actual challenge.
- Plot holes & acting inconsistencies pop up if you don’t follow a certain story path.
- Déjà vu if you played Heavy Rain.
FINAL RATING: 6/10