By Nat Vu, Nerd
What does it mean to be human? Quantic Dream tackles this question among others in this thought-provoking, narrative driven game, often not so subtly.
Detroit: Become Human is an adventure video game that shapes its story through your choices. Developed by Quantic Dream, best known for Heavy Rain and Behind Two Souls, Detroit is perhaps their most ambitious game yet. It takes place in the future, primarily in Detroit as the name suggests. Androids are very much a part of daily life. They each have their own specific purposes, including housekeeping. You might think that this must be a pretty happy world if we have machines doing our work for us, but you’d be wrong. As useful as they are, androids are met with strong opposition from various human groups. With the mass deployment of androids, humanity is left with fewer jobs. This is one of the many reasons that androids are constantly mistreated and abused by their owners or even random people on the street.
You play as three android characters. There is a caretaker android named Markus, who initially looks after an old artist, but whose life takes a dramatic turn early on. He is played by Jesse Williams. There is Kara, a housekeeper android who struggles with protecting a little girl while dealing with her abusive father. She is played by Valorie Curry. Lastly, there is Connor, a police investigator android who specializes in hunting down other androids. He is played by Bryan Dechart. These three protagonists have very different stories that are interconnected in this very immersive world that Quantic Dream has built. In my personal experience, it felt very different playing as one character and then switching to another.
Each of these three characters felt incredibly unique not just in their narratives, but also their gameplay. For example, one of my favorite aspects of the game is Connor’s investigative ability that the other two characters do not possess. I felt like such a badass robot detective whenever I had to piece together clues in a crime scene and reconstruct what happened based on seemingly little things like where certain things are and other things that I’d imagine humans would have a tough time seeing. Connor’s story also benefits greatly from a superb job done by Clancy Brown, who plays Connor’s alcoholic partner Lieutenant Hank Anderson.
Hank hates androids for reasons you can discover as you play through the game. His and Connor’s relationship is perhaps the most flexible relationship in the game. What I mean by that is that your actions as Connor really do affect your partner’s views. The relationship between Connor and Hank truly does find the perfect balance of serious and funny. There are certainly an abundance of tension filled moments given Hank’s reluctance to work with an android and Connor’s drive to complete his objective regardless of the cost. At other times, it feels like a typical buddy cop movie, which I found refreshing in a dark game that beats you over the head with serious issues.
Markus’s parts were also very specific to him and made his story stand out from the other two. Without getting too deep into spoilers, his decisions affect the world in a big way and you truly do feel the consequences of your choices. As you might have seen from the reveal trailers, Markus does end up leading a group of androids against the humans. You have a choice of whether to play it as a pacifist and protest peacefully or start a full-blown revolution by force. No matter what your decision is, not everyone is going to agree with you. I truly felt the weight of an entire intelligent species while playing as Markus.
Kara’s story is a lot more personal and intimate. Amidst all the chaos and turmoil that the world is going through, Kara’s only objective is to protect the little girl that she travels with, Alice. What I love about Kara’s arc is that it does something that we don’t see enough of in video games. It explores the relationship between a mother and a daughter. Kara is obvious not Alice’s biological mother, but the way she cares about her and puts her first above everything else is everything a mother should be. As I played as Kara, protecting Alice was my only concern. It offers a much welcome contrast to Markus and Connor’s stories because it feels a lot smaller and more contained.
Detroit: Become Human’s biggest strength, even more than the main characters, is in its world building. We have seen sentient androids before, such as in Blade Runner or in Westworld. However, Detroit’s world just feels different, as if it hasn’t been done before. You’ll find magazines throughout your playthroughs that show new stories about events happening around the world. You’ll learn about the status of large nations like Russia and China and how they’re handling their android situations. While this ultimately has no bearing on the game’s story, I very much appreciated that they took the time to build this whole world around these three characters. It made me feel like I was a part of something much bigger, even though my actions did affect the entire country in this world I had been playing in. While it felt like I was important, I also felt like there was a lot more to this world than I had seen.
The gameplay was as good as it could have been given the genre. Although many people have discussed their gripe with the motion controls, I didn’t mind them. At certain points, I felt calm and that I could take my time exploring and talking to people. At other times, I was in a fast paced fight or a chase of some kind that kept me on my toes. While the game is ultimately about the story, the action was fantastic, albeit a bit too easy. I played through my first time without losing a single fight even though I had thought that I had messed up in very crucial moments. The fight scenes were very forgiving, but they were done well enough that I didn’t care.
My biggest problem with this game is its lack of subtlety. Detroit tackles some very big social issues, but it does it in a way where you are constantly reminded of it. Detroit isn’t going to be taught in a video game history class where the teacher asks you what you think they meant with this little thing or what does so and so symbolize. No. It beats you over the head with its themes. Over. And over again. We get it, dude. This game is about racism.
That said, the game does have a lot of heart. It makes you feel for these characters in a way that movies, shows, or books cannot. You are playing as them. You make their choices. You ultimately decide their fates. As a result, you feel connected to them. Even with the lack of subtlety, I found myself so invested in the plot. I wanted to know what would happen next. I could not wait to move onto the next chapter. I needed to know that my favorite characters were okay. I play a lot of video games. There have not been many instances where I have cared as much about what happens to video game characters as I did here.
I play a lot of games where choice is seemingly important. I love Telltale games. The biggest issue I had with these games was that it felt like my choices did not ultimately matter. Yes, my actions affected a lot of what happens in the middle of the story, but the ending is the same. No matter what path you take, you end up in the same place.
That was not the case at all with Detroit. From what I’ve seen, people can have vastly different endings. Choices that seemed inconsequential are actually important. Just looking at the flowchart, which is a chart you get at the end of each chapter that shows the path you took and where you might have ended up if you went with a different choice. I loved seeing what percentage of people did what I did. I wanted to go back and see what would have happened if I did just one thing differently and how drastically my story would change. There were some instances where I felt like they made a choice for me just to get the story where they wanted it to be, but that’s to be expected from these types of games. Maybe one day, they’ll do it better.
Detroit: Become Human is a special game. It is not without its flaws, but it more than makes up for them with its compelling story, strong cast of characters, immersive world building, and emphasis on your choices. I was emotionally invested the whole time playing. Although it was draining sometimes, I couldn’t wait to go back and play it all over again. If that’s what you’re looking for in a video game, then you need to play Detroit: Become Human.