Detroit: Become Human is finally upon us. Quantic Dream have had players waiting for over four years for their follow-up to the Beyond: Two Souls. Detroit is, in many ways, the end point of Quantic’s “Kara” tech demo from 2012. It’s disarming, strange, interesting and delves deep into the uncanny valley.
“Kara” was an impressive demo for its time, and a showcase for what was being squeezed out of the PlayStation 3 hardware late in its life. “Kara” was intended as a demo reel for Heavy Rain, the game that catapulted Quantic Dream into the gaming consciousness for better or for worse. But writer/director David Cage clearly had ideas he wanted to explore, including the character. Quantic’s following two titles, Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, shelved the “Kara”‘s science fiction angle for stories that were more modern and dealt with chance and the paranormal.
The world got its first proper look at Detroit: Become Human at E3 2017, with fans shown actual gameplay footage highlighting sprawling choices and tense, dramatic scenes in a futuristic Detroit dominated by the political schism between humans and androids.
The recently released Detroit demo offers only a minuscule sample of what I believe to be one of the most stunningly beautiful and immersive experiences I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing on any console to date.
Detroit: Become Human is a game set in Detroit, 2038, a time in which you can buy Androids to serve in your home. Androids perform many tasks for their human owners — a cleaner, child carer or pretty much for any other industry you can think of. A political tipping point has been reached: Androids are starting to take over the remaining humans jobs. They’re even starting to play in world-class sports like baseball, and taking part in the space program. They’re even starring in films.
Detroit follows three completely different Androids, all exhibiting the early stages of self-awareness. Kara (played by Valorie Curry (The Tick, Blair Witch) is a newly created housekeeper android who cares for a young girl and her abusive drug-addled father. Markus (Jesse Williams (Grey’s Anatomy, Cabin in the Woods) is a caretaker android who takes it upon himself to free others his brothers and sisters from bondage. In one of the game’s biggest winks, Markus’ owner is a rich but kind artist named Carl Manfred, played by one of film history’s most recognisable androids, Lance Henriksen. Connor (Bryan Dechart (True Blood) is an advanced police android tasked with hunting down units that have deviated from their programmed behaviours. Connor is one of Detroit’s very first police detective androids and works alongside the reluctant Detective Hank Anderson (Clancy Brown (Starship Troopers, Thor: Ragnarok).
None of these people, however, are the first android you meet in Detroit. The first one you are introduced to is Chloe, an Android that speaks directly to the player prior to entering the game. Chloe scans your system settings, and politely asks if you would like to change any of them. She then takes you through a short tutorial, explaining how the game works and the sort of situations to expect. She also gives the player friendly but knowing nudge, reminding you that its best to play through the entire game first without going back and changing any of your choices.
I’m glad I undertook this unwritten No Scum Saving contract because it made my first playthrough so much more intense. Once you start changing your decisions to see which way the story could have gone, the game loses its magic. Completionists will eventually see every outcome, but you should absolutely play the ball where it lies on your first run through. To prove how immersive it can be: My father is visiting from England at the moment. My father, who couldn’t care less about video games, sat down, watched an entire hour of gameplay and was rather upset when I had to switch it off and go to bed. To have someone that has never picked up a controller key into the game, interact with it and the choices it offered is another experience and feeling entirely.
If you have come to know Quantic Dream’s previous games then you know that your choices matter. All your interactions in the environment around you — looking at books on the bookshelf, rubbish on the floor, placing fallen objects back onto a desk, looking through every nook and cranny of every wonderfully rendered environment can lead to a whole new story path or multiple new conversation trees.
These same conversation trees like you to be ready to make a decision. Being given a short time to choose how to react to a situation is intense; if you wait too long, the worst possible choice will often be picked for you. You walk around each environment, which are not typically very large, and investigate the space looking for he next interaction or clue to move the story along. A minor gripe in these sequences is that the camera can be a bit finicky when in a chase or needing to round corners quickly. The option to press R1 and change the angle is a welcome one, but not completely intuitive as the game tends to favour only the most cinematic angles, and not all of them are totally clear.
The music is also some of the finest I’ve heard in a game. it should be, as it has been composed by three seperate composers: Philip Sheppard (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Nima Fakhrara (The Signal) and John Paesano (The Maze Runner trilogy) composed the themes for Kara, Connor, and Markus, respectively.
While it thankfully leans more heavily on its predecessor Heavy Rain and its detective mechanics than on Beyond‘s more supernatural abilities, Detroit reminds me of L.A. Noire. This resemblance isn’t just carried through the investigative and conversational sections but also through the game’s incredibly life-life motion capture performances. I haven’t seen anything that captured real human expressions this well since Rockstar’s detective adventure. It’s quite a feat.
One of the game’s most intense moments presents the player with a number conversational options for diffusing an explosive situation. However, Kara’s frightened expression as she attempts to deal with abusive prick before her might lead you to take an option Kara wouldn’t ordinarily choose, and might even make the situation worse in ways she cannot foresee.
When Connor lies to an android holding a little girl hostage about having a gun on him, you can feel him regret it immediately. When Markus is pushing his client’s wheelchair around, you can feel the weight of the love and respect he and his mentor share. Depending on the choices you make, the narrative paths of all these characters may slowly intertwine throughout the 10-12-hour story — or they may not. Make the wrong move and one of them may die early and permanently.
It’s an epic tale of androids experiencing a moment of self-actualisation and how we as humans treat things we are wary or afraid of. It shows us yet another structure of segregation and racist behaviour in a fully realised future that could very well be our own. The plot device of robots taking over the world has been used again and again through the history of storytelling, but with Detroit: Become Human it has rarely been more intricately detailed, refined or as interactive as it has been here. The developers knew exactly what they wanted the game to be and it never pretends or tries to be too many things at once.
Detroit is not all nice bells and whistles. As with any title, it has its issues, though they are thankfully fairly minor. The gameplay can often take a back seat to what feels like a film in progress for a little too long at times. On my first run, I felt that it only really slowed down in some of Markus’s scenes. These sequences sent me on a treasure hunt for graffiti that, while gorgeous to look at, went on for far too long and pulled out of the moment. They made it feel like a video game again, when I just wanted to forget I was playing one. Besides a few missteps like this, I was on the edge of my sofa for the rest and I still can’t get enough. To give anything more away would be to do a disservice to the game, and to what Quantic Dream have waited so long to show you. While it doesn’t evolve this style of genre it greatly, it does make a number of improvements on it. You simply must experience this for yourself if you are a fan of this genre or, even better, if you have a group of friends or family that can sit with you and smile and laugh at your choices and gasp at others. Just be warned, the game does not hold back in its overall shock value and I couldn’t be happier for it.
I really hope we don’t have to wait another 4-5 years to see more of Quantic Dream’s work, as of right now it is a masterpiece to me.
Score: 9.0 out of 10
Highlights: Absolutely incredibly detailed graphics, motion capture and acting at its finest, unbelievable immersion with rich detailed environments and a believable futuristic reality. Heavy choices, huge consequences.
Lowlights: Some very slow segments grind the games usual intensity down to a halt, camera angles can become a little claustrophobic in some tight areas.
Developer: Quantic Dream
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment (SIE)
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Game reviewed on the PlayStation 4 Pro with pre-release review code provided by the publisher.