2020 has been a horrible year on many counts, not the least of which has been the video games that have been released. The handful that I had been looking forward to have come and gone and it’s been a pretty weak market with almost nothing on the radar until next year (with one notable exception next month). However, my son had been pushing Detroit: Become Human like I pushed Doctor Who on people throughout my youth but, like my own targets, I ignored a good recommendation. I realize as I type this, I did to him exactly what people did to me, and I now feel even worse, but suffice to say, his perseverance paid off and I am glad to be able to say: his opinion was spot on! To be fair, the game didn’t look like one I’d be into. It was clearly a console port and they rarely appeal to me as a PC gamer, but Steam was offering a 20% off discount, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. As a result, I will be looking at this game in three parts.
I’ll start off by saying I was initially befuddled by the game play. The game opens during a hostage crisis and game developer Quantic Dream puts you right into the action as Connor, a soft spoken android detective. You get a brief explanation that holding a button and moving in a direction will do things, but when a specific image appears on screen the first time, I wasn’t sure what to do so the hostage negotiation almost went down really badly. Thankfully, once the game is understood, it plays very smoothly. In fact, it’s extremely easy to play, once you get past that initial surprise. But it also means that, after the first heart pounding mission, the game drops into slow motion… and that had me playing only a mission or two per night. I’ll explain more about that next week. For now, I want to explain why I am breaking this into 3 “issues”: there are three characters to play as. Connor is the detective. I’ll come to Kara and Marcus in the coming weeks. The content of the game and quality of the story actually warrant the extended review.
Connor starts the game with “The Hostage”. It also sets the tone of the game. Androids are everywhere; they are the next generation of our now ubiquitous home assistants like Siri, google home and Alexa. They look like us and can be bought to many specifications, from child care, house cleaner, friend and date… the list is endless, as they loading screen shows. (The first time loading on my souped up system took far longer than I would ever have expected, but after the first time, it was faster however it served to give me time to peruse the many models available.) In the situation we are thrust into, Connor is an Android sent by CyberLife to help the police get a child back from her family’s rouge android. The android, once friend and teacher to the child, is holding a gun to her head while standing on the side of a building. The android is expressing feelings and can’t cope. As Connor, you are trying to diffuse the situation and get the child out safely.
What makes this game far more interesting than most is that the resolution is far from scripted. I did save the child, but took a nosedive over the edge of the building and died in the process. The chapter ends with a roadmap that shows me how I did, and reveals all the choices I made. To enhance this, I can press the tab key to see what other people did. I studied this trying to understand my strengths and weaknesses. This was a minigame all unto itself.
Connor’s story doesn’t end here. Connor comes back because, like Data at the end of Star Trek Nemesis, Connor’s mind can be downloaded into another model. That doesn’t mean he can’t die again, as I found out. Later in the game, I found a small cemetery with two tombstones and before I had a chance to focus on them, I realized they were both mine. The game plays on emotions better than most movies I watch and I found myself choked up on more than one occasion and wishing I could be in that world, hoping to make a difference. It plays on human fear and prejudice which really gave the game a visceral feeling. I couldn’t shake my discomfort over the way the androids were treated. It also made me feel horrible for ever getting mad at Siri for not understanding my words. Is a machine really just a machine? Can’t they feel? Perhaps not yet, but what happens if the technology gets to the point where they can pretend so well that we can’t tell for sure? If that happens, am I qualified to deny them? Wow… this was an intense game.
Connor pairs with legendary actor Clancy Brown as Hank Anderson. While Brown’s IMDB page requires one to use the scroll wheel extensively, he really came to my attention during HBO’s fantastic Carnivale as Brother Justin. In Detroit, he’s a grumpy cop who spends too much time getting drunk and debating about ending it. Don’t worry, a good detective comes to understand why this is. Every case Connor is on has the added challenge of trying to win Anderson over. What makes Connor so enjoyable to play is the amount of times we are actually analyzing a crime scene. Reconstructing a scene from evidence is reminiscent of one of my favorite elements from the Batman: Arkham games – which was grossly underutilized then too. For these moments, we have to analyze a scene, study everything and rewind or fast forward as we piece new clues together. The entire experience is tremendous fun.
As the story goes on, Connor begins to realize there’s more to these rogue androids than meets the eye and the player has to choose his path. Unlike most games, this is open to the gamers play style. Now, I can’t say how I did until I talk about the other characters. Connor is my favorite to play, but he wasn’t my favorite story. That distinction goes to… well, stay tuned to find out. But Connor’s game play is incredibly fun.
When I started the game, I was amazed how real Connor looked. When I saw Hank, I realized that the graphics in this game were something special indeed. They recorded the actors so insanely perfectly that the game comes off playing more like a movie. Netflix’s Black Mirror gave us an interactive episode which was fun because we got to play what we were watching, but this was interactive on a whole new level. I can see a time when we can all watch our favorite shows and talk about how an episode ended, and find we don’t all have the same experience. Quantic Dream shocked me and my son was right to push me.
I’ll fill in more blanks next week as I continue the journey of the androids. I will tell you this: after every episode, you collect points to use on the “Extras” page. I used them to unlock videos. I was afraid to unlock them too soon, so I was cautious but they were mini movies themselves. The ones about the making of the game are fascinating and to watch how they created this masterpiece was awe inspiring.
I’ve said on many occasions that there are games worth playing; many of the games I’ve reviewed here are on that list. But none have come close to creating the sheer range of emotions I had while playing this.
I found the E3 trailer for the game. It has a spoiler only for the first mission, which is only about as long as the trailer itself. My playthrough did not go the way this does, so it’s only a spoiler if you play the way the player did while making this trailer. Check this out. Next week, I’ll introduce another character.