From the moment the first reveal trailer came out I was absolutely grabbed by the concept of Detroit Become Human and yet I had never played a David Cage title before. I love all things Sci-Fi but the rise and evolution of Artificial Intelligence has always been an aspect of technology and sci-fi that draws me in so effortlessly. You combine that with true player choice and a story so rich and immersive and you have an experience that most TV and Film executives wish they had the rights too. What I discovered to my surprise was a game that takes a fairly simple concept and takes it to a whole new level that I had never expected it to go to.
Set in the near and very possible future where androids are everywhere in human society. They are our assistants and our baby sitters while some do the low end labour jobs and some are used in sports to make things more exciting for fans. Androids are a part of everyday life for humans but not everything is well in this future society and tensions are rising as some in humanity are starting to push back against this rise in Android use as humans who are put out of jobs after being replaced by the free labour that Androids provide start to complain. The story then puts the player right in the middle of this social commentary by putting them in the role of three very different Androids. Starting with Connor, an advanced prototype created to help the Police investigate a sudden increase in Android ‘Deviant’ behaviour that has put humans at risk to Kara, an assistant whose purpose is to serve the household and look after the needs of a little girl called Alice before meeting Markus, a carer for an old and sick man.
The opening prologue story missions for each character are a superb way in to the story and the game for players with each representing a very different look at this society of humans and Androids. Connor starts by being sent to a live situation where an Android has taken a little girl hostage after killing its owners and Connor is sent in to try and defuse the situation and save the girl whilst investigating what has caused this Android to malfunction. If you are familiar with point and click adventures as well as Telltale games you can get a good feel for the play style in Detroit Become Human as you guide Connor around the apartment searching for clues to discover what has happened in order to find a solution to ending the hostage situation. By finding clues and investigating new decision paths will become unlocked and some clues are not as obvious to find so exploring everything and everywhere is key but there is a time constraint as this is a live ongoing situation so there is some pressure to getting a move on. Connor is also faced with the dismissive and prejudice attitudes of the police on scene again showing just how the majority of humans see and view Androids as being beneath them.
The same gameplay style also plays out for Kara and Markus in that for them you must complete the menial tasks they must perform so for Kara it is cleaning the house and caring for Alice and we meet Markus as he is picking up an order of paints from the city for his owner. The magic of the story telling is in how the player is invited to not only take in what is happening to all three characters but also in observing the world around each of them by seeing how humans respond and interact with them as well as seeing what kind of world they are all in. These all form the experiences that will ultimately guide each of them on their journeys through the world and aid the player in making the choices they have to make throughout the story. There is just so much information to process in each mission that is so very easy to miss things just as it is to make the wrong decision perhaps in dialogue or event which is then highlighted at the end of each mission when you are shown the flowchart for the mission showing you all the decisions and clues you found and the pathway those decisions took you for that chapter. These start off fairly simply but they soon show just how complicated and intricate the story is with multiple routes either not taken or clues and actions not used which then lock off other paths. The flow of this game is always ongoing and you never get the chance to revisit those decisions or missions as you are constantly moving forward and though you can compare your decisions against those of the global community and friends similar to how Telltale games do, anything choice or path not taken remains locked and hidden so you wont know what the other options are just that there were different things you could have done.
The main reason why this review has taken so much time for me to write, the longest of this year in fact, is because my OCD compelled me to try and find what I felt was the right path and just knowing that I either made a mistake or missed out on clues or actions that could have provided a different outcome bugged me for the first half of the story. This made me restart several times until a conversation with good friend of mine forced me to realise how Detroit Become Human should be played. The gameplay and story want you as the player to make choices based on reaction to what you are and have experienced to that point and that the truest way to experience this game is to just play it through all the way at least once and accept the consequences for the decisions you make. Once I accepted that, I truly became immersed in this world and the gravity of my choices only reinforced that immersion throughout leading to one of the most satisfying game experiences in recent years.
Controversy has followed this game all the way to its release as much of the tone in storylines is rather dark especially when it comes to the character of Kara. We meet Kara as her owner is collecting her from the Android repair centre and the player does not learn how or what happened to Kara until further into her story. But is becomes apparent very quickly from helping Kara complete her tasks that something unpleasant is happening in that house with Todd, the human owner, treating Kara like a slave as he drinks and then smokes drugs whilst barking orders at Kara. The child Alice is quiet and nervous around him and as Kara tries to reintroduce herself to Alice after having her memory completely reset during her repair, you being to picture the dark truth in that house. Some argued that the inclusion of such themes such as domestic abuse is somehow glorifying such things in video games but that is so far from the truth. Many of the dark tones this game highlights are handled in a very real and thought provoking way that will resonate with players in different ways. If books, music, TV and film can use such imagery and issues in their stories so can video games and Detroit Become Human handles it with a delicate hammer I would say.
It does not shy away from the very real situations that our main characters find themselves in and how they react or interact to what is happening which then forms their decisions and events throughout the story. In a way by showcasing some very real human faults and issues via Androids it highlights them even more whilst showing their capacity or their own humanity in a way. These are very real even very uncomfortable issues and to ignore them would lessen the overall story being told via each character. As much as the story has dark tones it also has some very light ones as well as relationships are forged and our main characters in Connor, Kara and Markus continue to grow as individuals and through player choices our decisions shape them even more as the story unfolds based on those decisions the player has made. It is powerful and emotive and it should be, and I hope this game serves as a beacon going forward that such real life issues, even our darkest ones, continue to be highlight but used confidently and as sensitively as they are here.
I really want to stay away from spoiling too much about the main story and of the journeys our three Android characters go on but it is safe to say that this is a story worth playing and experiencing more than once if just to see how different character choices could play out. It is very possible to lose one of our main characters in the later stages of the game as a result of making the wrong choice before reaching the end, which never happened to me but for my good friend it was a factor that made her ending very different to mine. This adds weight to every choice and the writing is so well thought out that it continues to flow effortlessly no matter what decisions you make but gives the player the confidence that their choices do matter unlike in recent Telltale games for example where the story narrative will often give the illusion of player choice only to just snap everything back in line with that narrative instead of the narrative shaping around the player’s choices. It really is astonishing considering how many possible outcomes there are simply by looking at the flowchart of decisions shown after each mission.
Detroit Become Human is the best looking console game right now; there really is no debating this for me. The player models and animation are simply sublime and really showcase how powerful this generation of consoles really are especially the PlayStation 4. The world and characters are so diverse and rich that the story is embolden as a result. This genuinely feels like both seasons of Westworld merged into a single video game except the story in Detroit Become Human actually felt more personal to me. It is almost baffling just how rich this game is that as the end credits rolled and I sat there considering and trying to imagine how the ending would have played out if I had made any one of the many different decisions available to me. Even if the story has just focused on one of the characters this game and story would have been amazing but having three different stories playing out with three characters with very different motives and goals made this something very unique indeed.
Detroit Become Human is something very special and demands a place in your PlayStation library. Even if you just dip in and out, the gameplay is always satisfying and features a voice cast of incredible performances that if this were a TV show, they would be up for awards galore. The writing and design of each story makes this perhaps the most cinematic game experience I have had in quite some time. It is powerful to help guide Kara, Connor and Markus on through the story and making decisions that would effect them and those around them became an experience that will stay with me going forward and that is what I want from video games right now, a fun experience but also through provoking on different levels. In a world that is quite literally in chaos right now with how certain countries are treating those different to them, this game highlights some very dangerous traits and threats that it mirrors real life scarily well but at the same time looks ahead to a future which is very possible.
This is a new bench mark for writing in gaming it really is that staggeringly good and though I have never played a game by David Cage before, this feels like the product of all his previous work. I have already began a second play through in order to see how different choices effect not only the world but the very characters I came to care about so much and already in just the first couple of hours I have changed the personality of a couple simply by making different but important decisions.
That alone would be enough for me to heartily recommend this game but as a complete package; it is going to take one hell of a game to knock this off my Game of the Year top spot.