Detroit: Be­come Hu­man

Do an­droids dream of quan­tic sheep?

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You can feel Detroit striv­ing to be more than it ul­ti­mately turns out to be. We don’t mean for that to sound overly crit­i­cal, but only to sug­gest that while fan­tas­tic progress has been made from Heavy Rain through Be­yond and now Detroit: Be­come Hu­man, it also doesn’t seem as if David Cage’s vi­sion has been fully re­alised just yet, al­though it might be the clos­est he’s ever got­ten.

What we will say to its ab­so­lute credit is that the sub­ject mat­ter of Detroit: Be­come Hu­man suits Quan­tic Dream’s style down to a tee. Work­ing in sci-fi re­ally suits the stu­dio’s ap­proach to menus, char­ac­ter de­sign, its cine­matic flair with a cam­era, and even the na­ture of the con­trols. While the aim of these games has al­ways been to bridge the gap be­tween movie and game ex­pe­ri­ence in as tight and clean a way as pos­si­ble, the quick­time events, HUD el­e­ments and in­ves­tiga­tive twists some­times felt like they put a bar­rier be­tween us as play­ers and the ac­tion. With an­droids as your leads that doesn’t feel as odd.

Detroit works with this re­ally well as it es­tab­lishes early on that it’s the pro­gram­ming the an­droids them­selves that’s dic­tat­ing where they can and can’t go in the game world (a sim­ple twist on the in­vis­i­ble wall con­cept), that the dif­fer­ent el­e­ments they see around them are part of how they view the world. And it’s in­ter­est­ing to see that change through the game too as they first break their strict pro­gram­ming (or not, as the case may be) and es­tab­lish their own pri­or­i­ties. Then, sud­denly, you choose not to walk down the al­ley, not be­cause your pro­gram­ming says not to, but be­cause the char­ac­ter has cho­sen a pri­or­ity for them­selves that they are tied to.

It cre­ates a nice feed­back loop for the game as me­chan­ics and in­ter­face in­ter­min­gle with the nar­ra­tive and char­ac­ter devel­op­ment. In that way, Detroit is pos­si­bly Quan­tic Dream’s most im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence, rarely feel­ing like it’s break­ing the il­lu­sion of the re­al­ity it’s build­ing, even when but­ton prompts are ap­pear­ing on the screen every few sec­onds.

It’s not with­out its in­con­sis­ten­cies though. It still in­cludes a plethora of seem­ingly inane con­trol prompts to in­ter­act with the world around you or give you a small role to play in what is broadly a cutscene. It can some­times feel like in­ter­ac­tiv­ity for its own sake, check­ing in with us just to make sure we don’t feel left out of the ac­tion. But the game doesn’t need to keep do­ing that so long as it’s do­ing the rest of its job right, and it of­ten does. As you get deeper into the story, you will be in­vested and you will feel in­volved in every mo­ment, even if you’re not be­ing asked to press X or slide your fin­ger across the Touch pad, so feel­ing the need to do so can de­tract from that a lit­tle.

There’s also the ques­tion of when you do and don’t get to make a choice for the char­ac­ter. This is a tricky area for any game that al­lows you to dic­tate so much of the per­son­al­ity and de­ci­sion-mak­ing of a pro­tag­o­nist; how much will the game as­sume con­trol to keep the char­ac­ter on a par­tic­u­lar track and how much will it al­low us to con­trol those choices. We have to say that our ex­pe­ri­ence of Kara, Con­nor and Markus was pretty con­sis­tently in our hands, with only a few mi­nor con­ver­sa­tions where we thought it was curious we didn’t get a say in the words be­ing spo­ken, but they stood out be­cause of how rare they were.

Which brings us to our an­droid pro­tag­o­nists in a lit­tle more fo­cus. We have to say that we rather liked all three of them, and for pretty dif­fer­ent rea­sons in each case. They each of­fer slightly dif­fer­ent de­grees of con­trol too, which is in­ter­est­ing. Kara’s story is prob­a­bly the sim­plest and most fo­cused, which does mean that it lacks some of the broader, big­ger-pic­ture nar­ra­tives that Con­nor and Markus en­joy, but it’s the emo­tional core that can in­form a lot of your think­ing process with re­gards to the other char­ac­ters. It doesn’t re­ally feel like you have a lot of con­trol over her re­la­tion­ships, but you can con­trol her ac­tions, and the es­cape plot just keeps ratch­et­ing up for her.

Con­nor feels very much like FBI agent Nor­man Jay­den from Heavy Rain, this time with his high-tech glasses re­placed by an en­hanced ver­sion of the mem­ory palace that all an­droids can tap into, freez­ing time mo­men­tar­ily to high­light points of in­ter­est and re­view di­rec­tives. As the new­est an­droid off the pro­duc­tion line, his jour­ney is a grad­ual ques­tion­ing of mis­sion ver­sus self. His ob­jec­tive is to solve the de­viant cri­sis, but that means hunt­ing and ul­ti­mately shut­ting down the an­droids who are ‘mal­func­tion­ing’. How far is he will­ing to go to do that, and to what de­gree is he will­ing to in­gra­ti­ate him­self with the hu­mans around him to ‘fit in’? It’s a slow burner, but a re­ally sat­is­fy­ing el­e­ment of the game with its de­tec­tive el­e­ments.

And that leaves Markus, whose story is re­ally the over­ar­ch­ing one of Detroit, and the one that is driv­ing the events in the world that are so badly af­fect­ing the other char­ac­ters. His is a purely moral strug­gle of peace ver­sus vi­o­lence. Detroit does a fan­tas­tic job of de­liv­er­ing both of those po­ten­tial through lines for you, giv­ing you am­ple rea­sons and op­por­tu­ni­ties to flip be­tween one or the other if you feel com­pelled to do so. Markus is the char­ac­ter who feels as if he of­fers the great­est over­all con­trol of his nar­ra­tive and de­ci­sion mak­ing, al­though some of his re­la­tion­ships feel a lit­tle too eas­ily won.

But as with pre­vi­ous Quan­tic Dream games, it’s not just about the de­ci­sions you make, but the speed in which you make them and whether you fail or suc­ceed along the way. One thing that im­pressed us greatly was how even things that felt like fail­ure ac­tu­ally wound up be­ing in­ter­est­ing threads to pull later on. On a cou­ple of oc­ca­sions, what seemed like neg­a­tive out­comes in our nar­ra­tive cre­ated boon op­por­tu­ni­ties for us later. And sim­i­larly, do­ing what some­times seemed like the right thing or the moral thing could send us down a dark path.

And there are so many paths. Quan­tic Dream made the de­ci­sion with this game to re­veal the threads (al­beit in text­less flow­chart form to give you noth­ing more than an im­pres­sion) that could have been taken. We had our con­cerns that this would re­move some of the ten­sion from the ex­pe­ri­ence or show us too much be­hind the cur­tain, but thank­fully that’s not the case. What it does do is give you about a thou­sand rea­sons why you’ll need to go back and play through again to see how things could have turned out. You can start over at the end, of course, but you can also dip back into com­pleted chap­ters and select a Do Not Save op­tion so that you can test out ideas with­out fear of over­writ­ing your orig­i­nal ex­pe­ri­ence. We would highly rec­om­mend a clean open­ing playthrough though, be­cause it makes for a far more sus­pense­ful and com­pelling ex­pe­ri­ence.

In fact, Detroit man­ages to main­tain its sus­pense­ful story very nicely. The open­ing ne­go­ti­a­tion scene, re­leased as a demo be­fore Detroit: Be­come Hu­man’s launch, sets the tone for what’s to come, giv­ing every chap­ter an ur­gency and threat be­cause you’ve al­ready seen how nasty things can get very quickly with Con­nor’s rooftop show­down. When the high-stakes de­ci­sions start com­ing in thick and fast, es­pe­cially once sto­ry­lines be­gin to over­lap, the po­ten­tial for catas­tro­phe at any dropped quick­time move or any mis­spo­ken word feels im­me­di­ate.

But there’s a cer­tain rhythm and for­mula to a Quan­tic Dream game that be­comes trans­par­ent as you play. You can be fairly con­fi­dent that any

you’ve al­ready seen how nasty things can getvery Quick­ly­with con­nor’s rooftop show­down

fight is largely sur­viv­able up to the fifth or sixth quick­time event on­wards. You can be fairly cer­tain that while death is pos­si­ble at any time, you will be given am­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties to avert it. If you’ve played the stu­dio’s re­cent of­fer­ings then this will come as no sur­prise to you. That all said. Detroit does a bet­ter job in most in­stances of dis­guis­ing the for­mula and keep­ing you guess­ing. Over­con­fi­dence that you know what is to come can just as eas­ily be your down­fall.

Mak­ing un­in­ten­tional er­rors through mis­un­der­stood di­a­logue choices was not a prob­lem we en­coun­tered. The clar­ity of the in­struc­tions and op­tions you’re given through the course of the game is far more con­sis­tent than we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced else­where. We never felt as if the response we had cho­sen was con­trary to what we had ex­pected or hoped to give. And jump­ing be­tween the three char­ac­ters, you have a chance to play out very dif­fer­ent at­ti­tudes to­wards the same prob­lems. Whether you choose to play the role of a ‘cold an­droid’ or al­low your own hu­man­ity to seep into their be­hav­iour, you’re go­ing to get some in­ter­est­ing and var­ied re­sponses on screen.

What we also ap­pre­ci­ated was the abil­ity to play our words off against our ac­tions. We could be the hard-assed, prag­matic in­ves­ti­ga­tor with Con­nor in some mo­ments, but be­have a lit­tle dif­fer­ently to that. The game seems to un­der­stand that what you say in pri­vate ver­sus what you do in pub­lic can be very dif­fer­ent and yet still re­main con­sis­tent for the in­di­vid­ual. It’s hard to fully ex­plain this with­out giv­ing up story de­tails, but suf­fice to say, if you put your foot in your mouth, you can walk it back by how you be­have, and some­times con­vinc­ing some­one you’re some­thing you are not gives you more op­tions down the line.

But for every step of progress it feels like there’s a step back taken too. Or per­haps it might be more ac­cu­rate to say that each step re­veals a small short­com­ing that’s al­ways been there that needs to be re­solved. While an­i­ma­tions in cutscenes and fa­cial cap­ture are fan­tas­tic through­out, some of the char­ac­ter an­i­ma­tion in player-con­trolled mo­ments is stilted and awk­ward. While there are fan­tas­tic new lev­els of de­tail in skin tex­tures and in the world broadly, some of the char­ac­ter de­signs feel a lit­tle un­fin­ished, par­tic­u­lar with their hair, which feels like an odd thing to nit­pick, but the del­i­cate bal­ance of im­mer­sion in a game that is reach­ing for some­thing so close to nat­u­ral­ism is so easy to tip over.

So, is Detroit go­ing to con­vert David Cage scep­tics to Quan­tic Dream’s way of think­ing? Ab­so­lutely not. This is pure the­matic pon­der­ing, melo­dra­matic, chal­leng­ing, gam­i­fied cin­e­maap­ing stuff, and that’s why we like it. And we could cer­tainly dis­sect its por­trayal of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, civil rights and pop­u­lar up­ris­ings, but we’ll leave such anal­y­sis to those bet­ter versed in the the­o­ries and facts in the real world. As a game, this is Quan­tic Dream at its most con­fi­dent and com­posed. And if you’ve been en­joy­ing time spent with Life Is Strange or the Tell­tale out­put in the last cou­ple of years, this has plenty to of­fer you.

We rec­om­mend a clean first playthrough of Detroit be­fore re­vis­it­ing chap­ters and see­ing how they could have turned out. The il­lu­sion is bet­ter pre­served by not ask­ing how it’s done.

de­tails Pub­lisher sony Devel­oper Quan­tic dream PSN Price £52.99 Play­ers 1

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