Set in the not-too-distant future, Detroit follows the lives of three androids: Connor, a police investigator programmed to take down any “deviant” androids; Markus, a gentle being who is a caretaker for an aging artist; and Kara, a low-tier housekeeper android who witnesses the mired, awful underbelly of humanity.
You may remember Kara from Quantic Dream’s 2012 PS3 tech demo, aptly titled Kara. (I remember being blown away by this short, and you should definitely check it out if you’re unfamiliar!) In fact, in a move that I am hugely in favor of, Quantic Dream got the same actress to play Kara in-game as the demo-- Valorie Curry, creating a stream of consciousness that illustrates the organic origins of the story. You’ll notice a bevy of other familiar faces, such as Jesse Williams, who gives a touching performance as Markus, and Clancy Brown as Connor’s (human) partner Hank Anderson. Lance Henrikson and Minka Kelly also join the cast, but I won’t spoil their characters for you.
Androids and humans have, at best, a tumultuous relationship, with many humans blaming the ills of their lives on the advent of androids as commonplace creatures. Prejudice runs rampant and often incites dangerous situations, mirroring the worst of our own reality. Using famous faces, such as Jesse’s, puts the narrative into an interesting place: these are faces we see, follow, and almost worship in real-world media, yet here they are, being synonymous with the lesser beings in this gritty future.
Detroit leaves behind the safe shores almost immediately; your very first interactions with the game require finesse, and you’ve only got so much time to learn, process, and choose your actions before the action decides for you. With every character, you investigate your surroundings, interact with bits of information to be better informed, and move through situations rooted in the daily life-- daily struggle-- of an android. Your interactions are peppered with Quick Time Events, all of which will ultimately change the fate of you and your playthrough.
Yep-- Detroit: Become Human has multiple endings for every chapter, and your results could vary wildly from mine. Fair warning: you see a lot of awful things in this game. From domestic abuse to grisly violence, the android characters are thrown into a world they are ill-equipped to understand and are forced to break away from their programming in order to survive. Detroit goes so far beyond Paragon and Renegade (y’all knew I’d throw a Mass Effect reference in there, right?), forcing you to sometimes do really unsavory things, or to submit to severely uncomfortable situations.
The choice is yours; that’s the rub of being human.
Eventually, your characters-- and their choices-- collide, and your story path becomes narrower. Note that narrower doesn’t equate to less difficult; because the narrative is going to force your hand, one way or another, and we all know that usually means I AM NOT HAPPY WITH THIS BUT I HAVE TO.
Why do I love such torturous games so much?
Because GOOD STORY. Anyway.
From a technical standpoint, Detroit is a marvel to behold. After all, the game’s graphics are largely unparalleled, which might be anticipated from a company that literally supplies other companies with Mo-Cap technology and services. Scene transitions are usually super smooth, and I have yet to see a “jittery” cutaway. Much like Quantic Dream’s other title Heavy Rain, the game’s focus is emotional-reaction-based, which means you’ll usually be concentrating on reading the body language of others and adjusting your approach in reply. The faces in this game are so well-rendered, that it crosses the surreal reality line, and you can see the sheer emotion and conflict present on all of the actors’ faces. The outside world is beautifully rendered as well, with tons of action and movement on the screen without the game slowing down.
My only gripe about the visual aspect of the game is jowls. Seriously, sometimes lips, and the puffy surrounding skin, can seem off, especially while specific androids are talking. (If you watch the blonde android who intros the game menu, you’ll see what I mean.) However, this gripe is small, and thankfully it doesn’t take away from the brevity of the game at all. (We don’t have Mass Effect duck lips. Yay!)
Detroit’s use of Quick Time Events usually makes a scene feel more realistic and visceral, but sometimes they’re just plain interruptive and jarring. For example, some scenes will completely stop until you do the event-- this leads to an emotional cut-off, however temporary, and it pulls you out of the comfy home known as temporary suspension of disbelief. One scene, in particular, involves Markus giving his owner’s paints a try, and if you don’t do the event, it just stalls. Instead of it being a sweeping, quiet moment that you can dig deep into, the action just stops and waits.
The controls themselves are a handful, with the majority of the buttons pulling double, and sometimes triple, duty. For example, interacting with objects and moving your camera are both the right directional stick, which means you’re usually ramming your camera (and character) into walls while you’re just trying to read a magazine or pick up an item. You’ll be getting a workout with some of the events, pushing 3 or 4 buttons together just to accomplish your task. However, with as ambitious a project as Detroit, this can largely be forgiven; the button mapping does what it has to, and none of it is impossible to execute.
Besides, who among us hasn’t rammed into walls in our most beloved games? THE ANSWER IS NONE OF US, YOU STOP THAT. PUT YOUR HAND DOWN.
Detroit: Become Human, in short, is a frickin’ masterpiece. Despite a few hangups, it’s quickly risen in my personal ranks for Game of the Year and is an obvious labor of love and dedication on Quantic Dream’s part. With a gripping story, amazing graphics, and a unique perspective, Detroit should absolutely be gracing your game shelves.