Reviews

Detroit: Become Human

It’s been a long wait but Detroit: Become Human finally arrived on PS4 on 25th May after the initial showing of ‘Kara’ back in 2012 which depicted an android confirming what her duties were only to then start showing signs of thinking for herself. If you are familiar with Quantic Dream, you will have heard of Farenheit, Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls and have an idea of the style of game that the studio produce. Cinematic, emotional narratives mixed in with interactive quick time events (QTEs) and a number of different possible outcomes. When Detroit was announced, I was immediately intrigued. The thought of androids discovering emotion and breaking their programming seemed like an interesting concept if handled in a certain way and I wanted to share my thoughts on my experience with the game so far. I will try my best to avoid big plot spoilers where possible as there are a number of different outcomes which I will be trying to get as I continue my playthroughs, but for now, let me take you to Detroit in 2038.

If you played the demo of Detroit either at a gaming convention or in the weeks leading to the games release, then you will be familiar with the opening. You start the game as Connor, played by Bryan Dechart. Connor is an android used to assist police in their mission to seek out androids who go against their programming who are called Deviants. In this scenario, Connor is there to learn what happened and save the hostage from the android on the roof. The game throws you in straight away giving you an apartment to explore, victims to analyse and the clues to help Connor reconstruct what happened here. Depending on what you discover and how you approach this situation, you will have a probability of success shown to you to give you an idea of how likely you are to succeed and there are 6 possible outcomes where human and android life could come to an end or be saved. It’s up to you. Now without giving too much away, Connor was the most interesting character for me because he is designed to complete his mission no matter what. You are able to be cold and calculated if you wish or you can take a warmer stance to try and win people over including your human partner, Hank, played by Clancy Brown. I loved the relationship between these characters in my first playthrough as Hank warmed to Connor and they had the makings of a friendship after a rocky start. But in my second playthrough, I did everything I could to make Hank dislike Connor just to see how much of a difference it made and it most certainly did change things while making me feel incredibly guilty for being that way. Connor was made to find Deviants and not become one himself. So the real question is, will your Connor do everything he can to stop androids?

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Next we have Kara, played by Valorie Curry. Our first encounter with Kara is in a repair shop where her owner Todd says she was hit by a car and conveniently, her memory has been wiped due to the repairs. As Todd returns to their home, you learn that all is not well in this household with Todd’s drug habit and penchant for beating his daughter Alice and Kara too blaming androids for his lack of job. Depending on how you play, you will leave the house with Alice in tow and become a fugitive with a human child to care for. Nothing runs smoothly for Kara and Alice with the whole world seeming to be against them but all being well, you may be able to start the journey to the border without too much hassle… that is unless Connor and Hank catch up to you. My initial playthrough with Kara was always looking to be good, kind and maintain a trusted family bond with Alice trying to keep a low profile along the way. It made me feel quite emotional at times as it all feels little hopeless at times and you just want them to catch a break that never really comes along. I have also tried to play Kara as someone who will do bad things to try and get by such as stealing which can damage the relationship with Alice and it’s so hard to maintain because I can’t help but slip back into that mothering role that Kara presents so easily. While I liked Kara’s story, of the three I found this to be the most goal based as all Kara wants is to get Alice to safety. In a way, this made it the least interesting for me and that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy playing these chapters at all but from a story point of view it felt as though there were fewer moral choices to make. This isn’t a problem as such as it can be quite draining making those choices while questioning your own humanity constantly meaning that Kara’s chapters are a break from this providing cunning and action than some sort of existential crisis.

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Markus is the third android who finishes off our leading line up. Played by Jesse Williams who has been Jackson Avery in Grey’s Anatomy to me for a number of years, I was overjoyed to see he was going to be in this game. Markus is a prototype who has been charged with the care of Carl, played by the wonderful Lance Henriksen. I loved the relationship between these two characters as while Markus is there to care for Carl, administering his meds, making his food and accompanying him in his art studio. I found their moments together touching which makes it all the more awful when a sequence of events in my playthroughs separates them resulting in Markus ending up in the scrap heap trying to put himself back together. Markus then heads for Jericho, an android safe haven for deviants who are trying to hide from their human masters who have abused and enslaved them. What you find however is a group of dying androids who need supplies to survive which sees Markus on a quest to help Jericho but also make your choice as to whether you will be forceful or peaceful in your approach. Now, morally I’m not a violent person so I opted for the peaceful route initially. This was tricky because it turns out humans are horrific creatures who are quick to turn on androids even when they aren’t exhibiting threatening behaviour but I tried to stay as passive as possible with one slip up along the way. This made me want to fight to save my android friends while trying to maintain strong bonds with those put their trust in Markus. You can’t make everybody happy but you might just save their lives. The violent outcome feels like it would never have a positive ending but maybe I just haven’t been making clever choices to sway things. Markus has a tough job to do throughout the game but I did enjoy my time with him, I just wish we had more time with Carl because their scenes were just so lovely.

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All of these stories run alongside and intertwine with one another which sees an interesting move from chapter to chapter, scene to scene weighing up your choices as the game builds up to whatever conclusion your decisions have resulted in. I felt engaged in their stories, emotionally invested and while my first playthrough was based on the actual choices I wanted to make (except for a couple of mistakes where I thought I was being clever or panicked), I found myself hoping that we never reach the stage where androids exist in this manner because sadly, I feel the themes are a little too close to how humans would behave and react. For me the game doesn’t force you to question your own morality as such but does make you aware of it. Would you beat your android? Would you sneak off to an android brothel? Would you treat your android like a slave? As technology progresses year on year, the likelihood of reaching the point where artificial intelligence could be at this level is still a little way off, I just hope it doesn’t happen in our lifetime because I’m not sure I want to know how the majority of the population would answer those questions.

Detroit was an interesting setting and while on 20 years in the future, there is a mixture of the technologically advanced areas with their sky scrapers, screens and driverless vehicles but then we also have the outer limits where business and homes look run down, abandoned as they struggle to stand alongside the fast developing city. Androids are separated from humans with their own stair cases, compartment in the back of buses, ‘parking’ stations where androids are left while there human owners shop or visit a bar. The way androids are treating would be considered as abuse if they were human so you can see why they break their programming to defend themselves or overcome their oppressors. This game takes you on a journey across the city and beyond as you learn about the increasing population and a turf war over the Arctic but doesn’t allow you opportunities to explore outside certain areas. This isn’t much of an issue as this is a relatively linear game but it is worth saying that you should explore the areas you do spend time in as much as possible to unlock potential options as well as finding magazines which give you a little insight about the world around you.

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The music offers a nice mix of individual character themes and modern music as you playthrough. The sound design combined with the score is pretty spot on, from the rain to the conversations you hear as you walk around, everything feels like it fits and really helps to build the world and atmosphere of the game. The only time I noticed a sound issue was during my second playthrough with Hank, Connor and the Captain in the office where the mixing was all off. This didn’t happen in my other runthroughs so may just be a bug. Digital Deluxe owners will have access to the soundtracks and be able to replay these songs but you can also ‘purchase’ tracks with the points you accumulate as you play the game so if you get a chance, I would most certainly recommend having a look in the menus. The menu also offers behind the scenes videos, the Kara short among other in game items which you can busy yourself with if you haven’t got enough of the game yet. There is also Chloe, an android who will be with you in the menu. I found her to be an odd addition at first but as I had to stop playing a couple of times, she asked me to take a survey which made me question some of my choices but also I noticed that as the story progressed, she started showing signs of her own software instability. I thought this as a nice touch and allowed you the chance to have a couple of small interactions with her as your own personal android as such. Some people might feel this is pointless rather than poignant but I still liked my Chloe.

The main elements that impressed me though were the graphics, attention to detail, the amazing motion capture and wonderful performances of the cast. A lot of work went into this game and whether it’s played on my standard PS4 or the Pro, the game looks stunning. All I’ll say is… the rain… enjoy the rain! The only time the game doesn’t feel smooth is if you miss one of interactive inputs that require you to hold and tap all at once. Messing one of these up can cause a stop/start/rewind that we have seen in previous Quantic Dream titles but it does always break the magic a little while I suppose makes you want to make sure you hit them right first time. The QTEs do what they were meant to, strike panic and fear into the hearts of those who never hit the right buttons quickly enough or in the right order. If you chose the ‘Experienced’ option at the start of the game, you will have a much more interactive playthrough whereas the ‘Casual’ version will give you less QTEs. I don’t mind QTEs too much and the only time they become irritating is when a sequence goes on too long. There were a couple of occasions where the QTEs came close to this level of annoyance and were only 2 or 3 taps away from going over the edge but we know what to expect from games of this type.

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Moving back to the performances, the actors in Detroit have portrayed their human and android characters wonderfully and provoked some truly emotional responses. The game offers up some interesting and conflicting feelings about both human behavior and android capabilities but other than the obvious ‘bad guys’, I felt moved by the relationships that were built up or torn down depending on the choices you make. Kara and Alice offer a mother/daughter relationship in which you truly hope something will go well for them, Markus’ friendship with Carl is heartwarming and heartbreaking when things go South but he has the opportunity to become a friend, leader, rebel or maybe even a lover which is a huge amount of things to juggle for one character. And then there’s Hank and Connor who I felt more invested in than the others and I think that’s because it has the potential to be volatile or become a partnership but again is something that can easily change if you play a certain way. I felt nervous during their chapters because I really wanted Hank to like Connor, the worst choice I made impacted everything and I ended up holding back the tears wishing I could go back and stop it. In other playthroughs, I have tried to make this relationship cold or hostile and it’s so difficult to do when I just want them to be friends! I think it helps that the cast are also so supportive of the game and interact with the community, especially Bryan Dechart and Amelia Rose Blaire (who plays the Tracis) who have fully engaged with the community by hosting streams on Twitch and getting so heavily involved with the promotion of the game. The performers were all fantastic no matter who they played and while the story telling is good, they really brought this game to life.

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It’s very difficult to say too much and not enough about Detroit: Become Human. It provokes a lot of interesting thoughts on human/android relations, what the future could hold for us or what might happen if artificial intelligence reaches the point where it becomes self aware or alive…. or it’s just an enjoyable story about robot people depending on how invested you want to get. I got invested. The game also offers replay opportunities as there are multiple outcomes that you may want to seek out. These are kept under lock and key on the flowchart which shows the choices and outcomes depending on your gameplay. This is both a blessing and a curse as you can track your ‘progress’ if you are after those trophies or are determined to find out what happens in every scenario but for some this may break the storytelling a bit. The flowchart appears after every chapter so you can essentially see what you missed without truly seeing what was there. I didn’t mind the flowchart and as I would like to platinum the game at some point, I can get an idea of what outcomes I need to work towards but I can understand that this feature hasn’t been in other games from Quantic Dream and players still managed to enjoy differing outcomes without direction.

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I really liked Detroit and will continue to play through when I have the time to get the alternative outcomes and possibly break my heart over and over again. If you have enjoyed Heavy Rain or Beyond: Two Souls then you may want to give Detroit a go but if you aren’t a fan of the QTEs or the multiple interweaving story arcs then this may not be the game for you but you may still enjoy watching people stream their playthroughs. I was so intrigued when viewers came into my stream and were shocked to see a scene that another streamer hadn’t managed to get. I wanted to know what choices they had made for this to happen! If you have a chance, I would recommend trying out the demo if you’re still unsure and have your first experience with Connor because that was certainly enough to convince me that this was going to be one hell of a story.

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