Game Review: Detroit: Become Human
So, where'd you go, Alley? Oh, y'know, I found something new and I had to obsess for like, a week and a half. Anyways, if there's one thing you should know about me, it's that I really like story-telling games. Like, really like. I guess we should say "Thanks!" to my lovely partner for actually paying attention to what's happening in the video game world and sitting me down in front of games he knows I'll like.
But enough about that, let's get to the review! Obviously, there's a chance of spoilers below.
Detroit: Become Human is a decision-driven adventure set in Detroit, 2038. In the future, a company called CyberLife is the new Apple and has developed the next can't-live-without product: androids. These (scarily) human-like robots serve a variety of services, from construction and home care to police work and yes, sex work. The economy is teetering on the brink. Unemployment is at an all-time high due to what amounts to essentially the automation of every industry in which androids could legally be used, while the GDP of the U.S. is soaring because who needs labor laws when there's robots?
The game switches between three main protagonists:
- Kara, a housekeeping model who's on the run from her abusive owner
- Markus, a caretaker android who finds himself the last hope for androids
- Connor, a special police detective prototype who is tasked with discovering why androids are becoming self-aware
During the course of the game, you'll play as each of these three characters, making decisions to move the story forward. Their stories can entwine--if you make the right decisions. With a huge number of game outcomes, there's a likely chance that you'll not play the same game as any of your friends.
Detroit: Become Human was released May 25, 2018 for PlayStation 4 by Sony Interactive Entertainment and was developed by Quantic Dream. It was written and directed by David Cage (Adam Williams also contributed to the writing), produced by Sophie Buhl, designed by Simon Wasselin, and was programmed by Jean-Charles Perrier.
I'm a sucker for an excellent story. I'm a writer, duh. So I was pretty intrigued by the story of this game, and was intrigued to play it. Here are my thoughts on it.
What I Liked
I really enjoyed the worldbuilding of this game. There was plenty of thought put into the crime scenes and how the story flowed from chapter to chapter. After every chapter, you'd be shown a flowchart that explained the path you took, as well as world stats. I enjoyed the character development of many of the characters, though some felt really flat in my playthrough. The plot is simple enough, but if you aren't careful, it can grow complex quickly.
What I Didn't Like
You ever read a story where the idea was amazing, but the writer didn't have the skill to pull it off? Kids, meet D:BH. I loved, loved, loved the premise of an android uprising while the company responsible for androids sends their best android to prevent it. After all, who doesn't like a good revolution story?
Unfortunately, the timeline of this was just... weird. The dialogue fell super flat at times, but was (sometimes) rescued by the actors. Relationship development between characters was not as natural as I'd have liked. Because I'd spent literally the entire time I've known this character advocating against her beliefs and asking her uncomfortable questions about her past, but we did the Samsung S Beam thing once and now she's my lover? Yikes. I feel like there was too much story crammed into too little game, and I wish they'd taken more time to build out the parts that felt rushed.
Visuals & Soundtrack
Going to lump these two together since I feel they contribute pretty equally to the experience. D:BH started as a technology demonstration back in 2012, and it shows that they really excelled at creating human characters. I'm looking at you, Bethesda, and your weird character mouth motion.
What I Liked
Visually, it played just enough into the futuristic style to be exciting, but kept a lot of the grittiness to still feel real. It's only 20 years in the future, so it's kinda nice that we didn't somehow end up with a shiny, plastic-and-chrome future. The characters were gorgeous and I was thrilled at the variety of bodies, skin tones, and faces that were used. The soundtrack is one of my favorite game OSTs, and is currently on repeat as my writing music at my day job. The soundtrack is divided into three parts, one for each main character. Each character's music was handled by a different composer so each character's music has a uniquely different feel. Philip Sheppard composed for Kara, John Paesano for Markus, and Nima Fakhrara for Connor.
What I Didn't Like
It can be kinda obvious at times that the budget was primarily spent on developing the characters and settings in the game. I think the place this is most obvious is the scaling of some in-game objects, like the whoppin' enormous scissors Kara uses in "On the Run." Also, the liquid behavior in this game is super hit and miss. When it's raining, which is often, the water behaves very naturally. When liquid appears in a container, such as when Markus pours Carl a scotch or is drinking from a bottle of Thirium (the bio-component conductor that androids contain), well... it can be underwhelming. Kinda retro, honestly.
Now, no matter how great a story is, bad gameplay will have me reaching for the power button. At times, D:BH definitely tested me. I played on easy mode, while Jon, my partner, stepped up to hard mode. Here's how it went.
What I Liked
I found it cool how they incorporated the mission markers and instructions into a very polished HUD. Since the game is in third-person, it didn't lay over your vision like a Power Armor HUD would, but rather appeared naturally as part of the environment. I also was fascinated by Connor's reconstruction simulations at crime scenes. The quick-time events aren't remarkable on easy mode, but they got much more challenging in hard mode by incorporating the analog stick as well.
What I Didn't Like
What genius decided to share the camera control with literally the most-used interaction control?! If you're not lined up pretty precisely on the trigger for an interaction, such as a door or a QTE, all you're going to do is bobble your camera around. Speaking of cameras, you can choose from two angles and that's it. Other than slightly moving your camera, you see what you can see. Super disorienting while you're trying to maneuver in and out of small spaces. There are also a lot of multi-button sequences. Now, I'm all for a good QTE or challenging pattern, but when you want me to hold down X, triangle, and then use the right stick to make a full rotation... no. Also, I don't need a multi-step dishwashing sequence.
Can you replay this game? Absolutely! It can be a little draggy if you're trying for an ending that diverges more greatly at the end of the story than the start, but there's still like, dozens of different outcomes you can get. In fact, I'm on my second playthrough, which has been dubbed "Con-inator: I'll Be Back" because guess who keeps screwing up and killing Connor?
While playing through D:BH, I definitely noticed something we have to talk about. There are some heavy parallels between the android uprising and historical civil rights campaigns. While I'm glad that the struggle is recognized, D:BH presents a Hollywoodized, white-washed version of something that hundreds of thousands of people have fought and died for. In the world of 2038, anti-android bigotry is the new racism, and it's shockingly casual--after all, they're not human. Hmmm... where else has that been said?
Just some of the things I spotted in my playthrough include:
- The use of the raised fist iconography, both in logos for the revolution and the march
- "I can't breathe but I'm alive." as a chant
- The constant references to historical black civil rights figures in Markus' speeches
- The really heavy-handed parallels between slavery and equal android usage, including a desire to be seen as equal to other humans
This dramatization of serious issues that are still being argued for today really struck a nerve with me. I'm not black, and I can't put myself in anyone else's shoes. But I can recognize capitalizing on black suffering and black struggle. I feel like, removed from the context of society, D:BH stands as a great game. I do think it loses a significant amount of its power by using the history of civil rights and black Americans as loaded symbols.
For a great, in-depth look at this issue, check out Gizmodo's write up.
Got any thoughts? Drop them in the comments below!
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