When you're dropped into the virtual world of 'Detroit: Become Human' you are a social activist marching for the equal rights of your android friends and family. During the march, police authorities start shooting down your friends and loved ones in cold blood. Do you continue the peaceful protest or do you fight back? Potentially damaging the public opinion of androids forever?
This is an example of the tough decisions you are faced with in Quantic Dreams' new adventure for PlayStation 4, which has been written by famed Creative Director David Cage.
Cage has made a career built around experiences wherein you, the player, makes the choices that shape the outcome of the drama in front of your eyes. From 'Heavy Rain' to 'Beyond: Two Souls', Cage has striven to put the player in the middle of an interactive drama where you the player choose the outcome. This is the strength of 'Detroit: Become Human'. Taking inspiration from such sci-fi properties as 'Blade Runner', 'Ghost in The Shell' and a similarity to Channel 4's 'Humans'. You take control of three android characters living in a world where androids are seen as nothing more than slaves. As Connor, you are a police detective with the objective to capture androids who have gone rogue. As Marcus, you are poised to take care of an elderly artist in the twilight of his life, as you have to contend with day to day abusive from humans who see you as a threat. While as Kara you are an unfortunate synthetic human put in the nightmarish position of protecting a young child from her abusive father.
The game's story does what Telltale's adventure games have lacked in recent entries. The choices you choose truly shape the story. For example, as Marcus, you are called upon to rise up with your cyborg peers and can choose to go the MLK route of peaceful protests or the Malcolm X route of violent riots. This decision will shape the character's future whilst affecting the way the whole story's ending will play out. It's a true evolution of the gaming genre that keeps you on edge for the whole 10-hour adventure. 'Detroit' rarely has any downtime as you're constantly put on your toes by the haunting moral dilemmas. A small dialogue option in the opening chapters could lead to disastrous consequences down the line. It creates tension rarely found in games nowadays that tells a complete story over its runtime so you see how those small decisions create big ramifications down the line. Decisions that have stayed with me hours after completing the story with regrets that make me want to pick up the controller and replay the game again.
Gameplay-wise 'Detroit' is in the same mould of Cage's recent creations. You mainly control dialogue options within cut scenes with sections of gameplay where you can walk around small environments interacting with objects and people.
It has to be said it's not a style of game that is to everyone's taste. For instance, if you are not a fan of story driven adventures then this is not the purchase for you. It's a game designed for the player who wants to get absorbed in a cinematic experience and while that's very much its' strength, 'Detroit' does lack a lot of action set pieces with only a sparse amount of chase and fight sequences. With many of these action moments potentially overlooked if you choose the passive choice when given the option. It's a shame as these action beats are some of the most heart-stopping moments of gameplay.
As you have to make in the moment decisions that play out in real time, so take too much time to make a decision and see a favorite character perish because of it. A big reason for the story being so absorbing is down to the actors portraying the characters. From newcomers like Bryan Dechart's portrayal the android cop Connor with a self-seriousness that has a layer of comedy to it, to Valorie Curry's emotional portrayal of a cyborg mother trying to protect a seven-year old girl from the dangers of the future world.These great performances are anchored by memorable character actors such as Highlander's Clancy Brown as your alcoholic anti-android police partner, and Alien's Lance Henriksen as an old painter that you take care of in his final years. All the performances prevent the game's premise from getting silly, even though the scripts sometimes cram in too much clunky exposition. It could be argued, too, that the climax gets too heavy-handed in its closing chapters, forgetting the dark humor that make the opening chapters a joy to play through.
However, there is no doubt that 'Detroit: Become Human' is one of 2018's must-play games. With a story that keeps you hooked throughout its runtime, performances that drive home the drama and a story that does truly change based on the outcome of your choices, it illustrates how the medium of video games can be used to tell a mature character-driven story. It's an experience you will sink into and not stop thinking about after you put down the controller.
'Detroit: Become Human' rating (for PlayStation 4): 4/5
By Ross Martin-Pavitt