Ever wondered what happens when robots become tired of their human masters and decide to push back?
French game maker David Cage has, and that’s the core idea behind his latest PlayStation 4 game Detroit Become Human, and for me, it’s his best one yet. It’s a game clearly steeped in themes of slavery, segregation (androids have to ride buses in an android-only compartment) and civil rights.
Detroit was first revealed to the gaming public through the Kara tech demo back in 2012 (which, as a nice nod to the foundations for the game, is an unlockable in the game’s Extra’s section) and I enjoyed Heavy Rain, a noir-style detective story despite the clumsy way it handled some things. However, I wasn’t a fan of Cage’s Beyond Two Souls.
Fast forward to 2018, and Detroit Become Human shows that Cage has learned from the criticisms pointed at his previous games. Cage seems to have a love-hate relationship with gamers and critics alike: You either like what he does, or you don’t – there is no in-between.
With Detroit, Cage wisely decided to step down from the sole writing role and was part of a team that developed and narrative, and it shows, with a more grounded, more believable narrative than in his previous games, with characters I actually became invested in as the story developed. I’ve never felt like that with any of Cage’s previous games as I found his writing in games like Fahrenheit and Beyond Two Souls was clumsy, meaning I didn’t give a monkey’s about most of the characters.
Of the three androids that take the lead rolls in Detroit’s narrative – Kara (a domestic android who looks after a young girl Alice and her abusive father, Todd), Markus (works for a kind, well-known painter) and Connor (the world’s first android detective hunting for androids that have gone rogue against their human masters) – which ponders what would happen if Artificial Intelligence actually pushed back against its human masters, Connor was the most intriguing for me. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that Connor’s story seems to have more complex layers but also because he’s partnered with a human detective (voiced wonderfully by Highlander/Starship Troopers/The Shawshank Redemption actor Clancy Brown), and the two just have this wonderful developing relationship as both try to work together, learning the intricacies of the other and trying out how the other ticks.
Connor able to gather clues at a crime scene then reconstruct the events. Once an event has been reconstructed, you can use L2 and R2 to forward and rewind through the recreation to time stamps, which can be scanned to open up new information. While t his mechanic isn’t new to games (a similar one was used in DontNod’s rather good Remember Me), it adds a nice layer to Connor’s detective abilities.
After each character’s chapter has finished (the game follows the Kara, Markus and Connor throughout the course of the game), there’s a flowchart that shows how the decisions you made at one juncture lead to the final outcome. In many of the flow charts, there were many more paths I could have taken so there’s definitely replay value here for the completionist gamer who wants to see how different behaviours or actions can change the outcome of a particular story thread.
Cage is clearly using the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” train of thought when it comes to the control scheme as he’s used the familiar scheme from his previous games where you use the right thumb stick to trace patterns that will get the character to interact with his or her surroundings or perform actions (thankfully, there is no ridiculous scenarios like “Press X to Jason” like there was in Heavy Rain)
The dialogue in Detroit is just so much better than in both Heavy Rain and Beyond Two Souls that conversations between characters feels more natural and believable, and giving the right answer or asking the right question will often unlock another dialogue branch, allowing the narrative to go deeper.
The game is still quick time event heavy, though (hey, it’s a David Cage game), and I still managed to bumble some of the fast-paced QTE sequences in the latter parts of the game, especially during fight or chase sequences, but I blame my ageing old-man fingers. I did wonder sometimes, though, how my failure at some of the QTEs had impacted on the storyline.
Technically, Detroit Become Human really does sing on the PlayStation 4, too, with highly detailed environments and character models, and at times, the in-game graphics actually look better than the pre-rendered in-game cinematics, which is generally the opposite in most current generation games.
Detroit Become Human might miss the mark a little in its comparing the plight of long-suffering android to be akin to the civil rights movement in the United States, but I enjoyed it and while still stumbling from time to time, it’s a nicely paced narrative-driven drama that I can see myself wanting to play through again to experience the multi-branching story threads.