Detroit: Become Human is a jaw-dropping graphical masterpiece utterly let down by failing to include a dose of subtlety.
Having neither played a David Cage game, nor having watched anything other than the teaser trailer at last year’s E3 presentation, I went into this game completely blind, only warned that it was a narrative-based experience with occasional quicktime events to keep you focused.
From the onset the game offered a lot more interaction than I was expecting. You’re thrown into an active crime scene in which you find an android teetering on the edge of a skyscraper with his arms wrapped around a human child as a hostage. As an android detective, you must piece together what happened by interacting with numerous clues strewn around the luxury penthouse apartment and rewinding time to figure out where you can find other pieces of evidence. This opening tutorial mission had me hooked from the start and for the opening couple of hours the storyline was so intriguing I had no idea what to expect next.
Not only did the opening chapters leave me highly impressed, but the game’s overall design is breathtaking. Each area you visit, no matter how little time you spend, is meticulously designed to a degree of photorealism unsurpassed by any game released so far. The artistic direction of a clean future lit by bright blue neon lights and enormous glass structures is consistent from start to finish and kept me absorbed for my entire playthrough, only broken by poor dialogue and ridiculous plot holes.
At the heart of this game are three android protagonists, each one with their own personal struggles and stories interwoven at various points in the game. As deep as the main characters are, Quantic Dream’s failure to develop the backstory of virtually any secondary character is further evidence of a major breakdown in priorities in Detroit’s development. With two notable exceptions, almost all secondary characters appear briefly and, despite having huge narrative potential, they are never fully explored.
It’s incredibly difficult to describe the further issues this game has without spoiling major events. However, as anyone who’s seen the trailer by now will know, this game is purely about the civil rights movement in America with an android veneer. Cage wanted to portray the effects of racism and the struggle to achieve civil rights in one story, yet the clunkiness of the dialogue and the fact that he’s tried to shoehorn 150 years worth of struggle (from slavery to a total end in discrimination) into a period of less than 3 months is laughable at best, insulting at worst.
That said, it does seem that Cage has done his research – it’s just a pity it’s from a high schooler’s textbook. From the Android-themed March on Washington (this time down a street in Detroit) to spraying “I Have A Dream” graffiti on cars, and even our very own MLK speech broadcast across TV networks by a skinless android, the references to the civil rights struggle are omnipresent, just without actually mentioning racism.
Unfortunately, as Cage obsessed over mirroring real-life historic events, he left the game open to various narrative anomalies. Two of the main characters experience events which allow them to adopt human emotion in their early chapters (making them ‘delinquents’), yet how androids can adopt a characteristic completely unique to living creatures when no part of them is biological is still left unanswered long after the credits have rolled. Not only that but converting androids to delinquents suddenly switches from having to individually touch them and whisper in their ear to being able to instantly turn 20 of them from across the street. I’m sure it was passed off as the leader gaining more influence, but in a game that sells itself as a deep, interactive thriller, the plot is so shaky it’s laughable.
With interaction playing a larger role than I was expecting, it was disappointing that navigation was so clunky. Though Quick-Time Events requiring button mashing or pressing appear as expected and are often used in an intuitive way to mirror the action of the character you’re controlling, other interactions, especially moving around feel cheap and sluggish. Having the right analogue stick as both the camera control and interaction with certain objects (often in a circular motion) caused my character to unexpectedly rotate 360° on multiple occasions, which added to frustration. A simple ‘lock in’ with a shoulder button before touching the stick would have solved this but it was seemingly overlooked.
Undoubtedly, the most interesting part of Detroit: Become Human comes at the end of each chapter when the paths you chose are presented visually. Unexplored paths and major consequences are thankfully unviewable, though you can also compare your decisions to both your friends list and the worldwide stats. At one point, I’d put my controller down to have a drink and in missing a QTE I had unlocked a path that only 1% of the people playing the game had achieved. This is certainly a game where, especially in Experienced difficulty, your choices feel as though they matter and greatly affect not only the chapter you’re playing, but the rest of the game. This greatly encourages a secondary or further playthroughs and the ability to play from any chapter of your choosing quashes any dull repetition that would be felt by starting all over again.
It’s impossible to fault Detroit: Become Human on a technical standpoint. Despite some clunky interactions with objects and character movement being a bit iffy, Cage’s view of an Android-centric world in the not too distant future is fully believable, with each location you visit complementing previous ones in their style and jaw-dropping attention to detail. Unfortunately, the game falls apart as soon as you delve slightly further. Cage has achieved his goal of reflecting the civil rights struggle through the experience of androids but rather than having android prejudice subtly mirror real events in the past, he’s placed like-for-like historical moments and attempted to sculpt a story around it, in which he regrettably failed.