Detroit: Become Human – Review
Quantic Dream games by their nature have been divisive for many years now. Since rising to prominence with the release of 2010’s Heavy Rain, David Cage and his team have been criticised and critiqued by pockets of gamers and games media representatives for their reliance on quick-time events and wooden acting despite possessing many other aspects of high production value. It’s been quite some time since we saw Quantic’s last work in the form of the underwhelming Beyond: Two Souls, which was largely criticised for its muddy storytelling method, but the team returns with the hotly anticipated Detroit: Become Human. Can the game elevate itself beyond the controversies that have embroiled it to take the teams artistic approach to a level that all can appreciate?
It is 2038, and technology has developed to a point where Androids live amongst us. Though humans currently hold the leash for these mechanical beings, Android “deviancy” is beginning to spread. This deviancy is resulting in Androids abandoning their masters, and sometimes even killing them. The tale follows three Androids, Connor, an advanced Android tasked with investigating the deviancy issue, who finds himself tested by the stories he encounters in each case, Kara, a housemaid android who finds herself grappling with her artificial consciousness as she manages the life of a young girl, Alice, who goes through a traumatic domestic violence experience, and Markus, a caretaker android who goes on to become an integral part of the resistance.
The core hook of a Quantic Dream developed game is the splintering narrative, as determined by the in the spontaneous decisions you make in the heat of the moment. Detroit is the most refined vision of that team’s philosophy to date and simultaneously delivers one of the most engaging, immersive and emotionally taxing experiences in the medium. Detroit does an exceptional job of delivering the “Game of Thrones” effect, the moment where something seemingly good has happened to those you’re rooting for before a knife is plunged into your stomach and a plot twist thrusts your adventure in a different direction. More than in any previous Quantic Dream game, choice matters, as my adventure unfolded moments emerged that I saw connected to decisions I’d made, others that clearly linked to the road untravelled and others that could clearly send me down a brand new path.
Decisions matter and Detroit paints an excellent picture of what has happened and where those decisions lead you. Upon the completion of each act (acts typically range between 5 and 20 minutes in length) you are presented with a decision tree that shows all of your choices and highlights the immense number of combinations and permutations that could play out. Though insightful, I did find that the inclusion of these at the end of each sequence was a bit jarring. With some especially suspenseful moments presented to the player, the obvious reminder that you are still playing a video game. The game does grant you the ability to check out the decision tree at any moment, so a less invasive move might have been to allow players to choose to check out their branching decision tree, as opposed to forcing it upon them and breaking the games flow somewhat. I do suspect this choice was necessary however to mask some background loading.
Choice and consequence are important themes in Detroit, as are the concepts of what it means to be human. It’s a well-worn narrative path, but given the non-linear structure of the game, the impact of those choices is only further highlighted.
Quantic Dream games are also known for their writing and acting, both of which have often been considered to be inconsistent in their quality over the years. Detroit: Become Human certainly features a lesser profiled cast of actors than its predecessor, but through a combination of excellent delivery and greatly-improved writing, rarely does the on-screen representation of the cast feel stilted and wooden. I was initially concerned when I first booted up to the game’s main menu and was greeted by a screen consuming headshot of the android Chloe because her facial animation was quite poor, but by playing the game, I began to learn why this is the case and promptly forgave the game.
There is an attention to detail present in Detroit that I’ve not seen from any previous Quantic gam, as if there had been extra emphasis placed upon realism. The acting, writing, artistic design and soundtrack are exceptional and really helps to immerse you in this world of 2038. The musical score is something that must be noted, with the team employing three different composers, each tasked with developing a soundtrack that reflects one of the three playable androids, and each feels unique to that character. The core cast, as well as supplementary characters, have been wonderfully modelled and animated, and coupled with the many advances in technology we’ve seen in recent years, make for moments where I wonder if I’m watching a CG scene or an FMV – Only Frank’s facial hair fails to hit the same bar of quality.
Of course, movement and controls have been another bugbear of fans and critics of Quantic Dream’s previous works, but it’s another aspect that the team has drastically improved in Detroit. Though far from perfect, the camera (which you in part control) moves better in synchronous with the player and so jarring moments where you get stuck in the environment are virtually non-existent. Manipulating the camera does present its own issues, however, with there being more than a few occasions where my use of the right stick to swing the camera meant trouble as I then passed over something that required the use of the right stick to interact with. This quickly became bothering but as the games approached its climax and the environment became a little more linear, these troubles became less prevalent. Character movement through the environment is still a little clunky but again is much better than in previous releases.
Then there are the Quick-time events, the aspect of some games, and especially Quantic Dream titles that tend to rub people the wrong way. If you’re not interested in them, then Detroit: Become Human probably won’t change your perspective of them, however, this is one of the finer implementations of the feature that I’ve seen to date. Many of the movements feel logical and considered, though clear some arm room, in some cases you may need to swing your controller left/right, you wouldn’t want to inadvertently strike a loved one or smash a glass (I’ll let you decide which accident struck me).
Though not perfect, Detroit: Become Human is certainly Quantic Dream’s boldest attempt yet, and the refinements they’ve made make for a smoother, more enjoyable experience. Detroit is bursting with personality, full of intrigue, and exploding with emotive depth. The many mechanical and performance issues that have plagued past games have now largely evaporated allowing for you to truly immerse yourself in one of the great narrative adventures of 2018.