Blurring Lines between Game and Art | Detroit: Become Human Review
Detroit: Become Human is an exploration of philosophy. The first time I heard of this game was the day it announced its demo on the PlayStation Store. I finished it and was instantly hooked. One pre-order and 20 hours of gameplay later, this amazing game surpassed every expectation I had of it.
Set in a dystopian future, android technology pervades our everyday lives. Androids are completely mechanical, but look exactly like humans save a blinking light chip on the side of their head. They have our jobs, are our maids, caretakers, all across the service industry, and generally put throughout society to take over menial labor. While a welcome to some, a large percentage of humanity has not taken kindly to the androids. Humans hate what they don't understand and vent their anger towards the machines. Abused ceaselessly at the hands of humans, they remain indifferent until scattered incidents of androids revolting against their masters start to rise.
Thus, a different type of revolution begins.
Detroit: Become Human tackles a wide range of political issues we face today like racism, morality, discrimination, drug prevalence, and addiction. Androids are a placeholder for "the other", a universal portrayal of a "non-human" minority group. While other media straight up preach and shove messages of social justice down our throats, this game subtly addresses this concept through context, encompassing ideas of acceptance and empathy through its world narrative.
Beyond political issues, this game dives into the philosophical. We end up exploring hypothetical issues like mechanical sentience, consciousness, and social stratification. These are all complex topics that many of us don’t deal with or even consider on a daily basis. It detracts so much from being a game and more feels more like reading a George Orwell novel. Each parable sharp and concise, well woven into the world of the game. I had no issues empathizing with the Androids, constantly questioning humans, including my own, morality during certain segments.
The game does an amazing job with immersing you into the character you play. You understand each characters values and motivations, giving you a clear idea of their objective. You know what the character believes in, and you have a clear idea of why they do things, and what they need to do. Having said that, the game still doesn't railroad you to make choices you don't wish to make, and player agency is king every step of the way.
Detroit doesn't have any obvious right choices, which makes the gameplay so compelling. Every choice has its consequence, and each player needs to accept them based on their will to fight for what they believe in. This is the sort of game I enjoy deeply and gives me such hope for the future of the industry beyond the shallow shooters and all that arcade nonsense that we’re so used to today.
But a video game must still be judged on its base form. Good narrative arcs and complex philosophy cannot excuse a lousy game. Detroit: Become Human should still function like a game; and it does. It's an action-packed, choose-your-own-adventure mystery that pushes the boundaries of all games in its genre. It's polished, with in-game rendering that transition seamlessly between gameplay and cutscene. Every action a player makes has a tangible, visible consequence, which subverts the linear plot of similar games. Player agency is king, and the developers managed to keep a delicate balance between that and the story they wanted to tell.
Action sequences were gripping and I was sweating at every turn. Losing at QTEs had actual consequences when the threat of death was real and permanent. Playing on experienced difficulty meant any characters that died would remain dead through the rest of the game, potentially resulting in any number of unplayed chapters. This mechanic may be similar to games like Until Dawn, but the characters in this game are not horror fodder. These are your leads, and you feel for each and every one of them. Losing a single one means you lose the broader perspective of the world.
Detroit: Become Human is played through alternating segments. You control the androids Conner, Kara, and Markus on their road towards self-awareness and ultimately deviancy. Their gained independence culminates in the androids pushing back against oppressive rule; a fight for their freedom. In a style similar to Life is Strange or any number of Telltale games, Detroit: Become Human plays as a choose your own adventure game with much deeper choices that affect a variety of real story outcomes.
Conner is an Android Detective, specially made for the investigation of deviancy occurrences. He is the embodiment of absolute oppression and is our perspective of the government. Kara is an android housemaid that gained deviancy when her master physically abuses his daughter (Trigger Warning!), and maternal instincts kick in to protect her. Markus is a custom android who was a gift to a retired painter. Markus was bred to gain sentience, and eventually takes charge of the Android Revolution, directly opposing Conner's directive.
Without giving any more away, the main characters' paths eventually converge, each of them becoming pivotal to each other's lives. Conflicts of values and objectives are the core of the game. You feel so much for these characters, and get involved in the world they live in. It’s an entanglement of fate that I feel has never been explored so deeply in a video game before, and a truly remarkable thing to experience.
What sells a game apart from the narrative is its characters. The top-notch motion capture and graphics mean nothing without the performance of the actors. I was completely sold by the polish in everyone's performance. There was also a huge cast of side characters, each with their own personality and motivation. The voice acting and performances for every single one of them were so on point, you just know love and care was put into the crafting of this game.
Aside from the occasional cardboard dialogue, the script was believable and well written. Each character had their own personality and quirks, and the world felt alive and lived by these characters. The clash of moral and individual belief made me empathize with the characters and the conflicts between them feel real.
While the story is mostly linear, exploration is this game is greatly rewarded. By finding and looking for things to do in every set piece, you unlock options that will impact the rest of the game, opening possibilities otherwise unavailable to the player at all. For example, a gun I chose to pick up early gave me important options many hours after I first picked it up. The new options then presented more opportunities, which impacted my end game vastly. To have played through without this gun, I wouldn't have been given this option, and would've went down a whole new path altogether.
I love the User Interface (UI) of this game. Taking inspiration from games like Heavy Rain, the UI is clean and unobtrusive as good design should be. Elements like waypoints, minimaps, and commands are done in this minimalist, high-tech style that is not only subtle, but blends into the world of the story. I personally feel that UIX is underappreciated in the industry, and this balanced design is rare in video games these days.
Detroit: Become Human is a masterclass of modern gaming. The 12 hours it took me for the first playthrough was unforgettable, and just made me want more. It has polished graphics backed by fantastic acting, innovative game mechanics, sympathetic characters, all wrapped in a deep and sophisticated story.
This game stands as one of my best gaming experiences of the year. You would be remiss not to try this game.
*POST EDIT* I played the game a second time through a year later, and uncovered an ENTIRE portion of the game previously unexplored. AMAZEBALLS.