Despite making just two games in the last decade plus, developer Quantic Dream and its founder David Cage tend to elicit a wide range of emotional responses among gamers. For our part, we enjoyed Heavy Rain quite a bit (even with its narrative liberties) and felt Beyond: Two Souls missed the mark in comparison. Cage’s newest story come to life is Detroit: Become Human, a futuristic tale that hearkens back to Heavy Rain’s multiple protagonists.
If you’ve never played a Quantic Dream game before, here’s the gist: outside of basic walking pretty much every action you take is done by following on-screen prompts to flick sticks, swipe the touchpad, press buttons or manipulate the controller itself. It’s very straightforward and, outside of the occasional multi-button prompts that create stilted animations while it waits for you input, it handles smoothly enough.
Although it’s basically the same setup as the developer’s previous games, Detroit does feel cleaner and less ambiguous. By that we mean there were very few instances where we thought it wanted one input but actually wanted another, particularly in the QTE-heavy action scenes. The game does have one new trick as your androids can enter an analytic mode, allowing you to locate objects to interact with, pre-plan routes at specific locations and more.
It’s hard not to get engulfed into the world of Detroit: Become Human with its exceptional detail work and unparalleled facial rendering. The actors playing the game’s characters are instantly recognizable, and there are no wonky NPCs to take you out of the experience. While the game is linear and your movement is heavily restricted it never feels small — instead it comes across like you’re just visiting one small piece of a living, breathing world.
Actor performances are very strong across the board with the exception of Alice, a little girl that’s central to one of the three storylines. She’s just not very compelling, which is a problem when your role is to protect her from all manner of threats.
Cage’s dialogue can be ham-fisted as well, eschewing subtlety for exposition far too often. That would’ve made sense a decade ago, but with the quality of both the visuals and the acting there’s no reason the game has to be so heavy handed with some of its themes. Still, dialogue is consistently well delivered, and the character building is effective. A solid score rounds out the strong presentation.
Set 20 years in the future, Detroit: Become Human follows the stories of three androids: Connor, a detective dispatched by the CyberLife Corporation to aid in a police investigation into why androids are becoming “deviant,” Marcus, a caregiver to a rich artist, and Kara, a domestic working for an abusive deadbeat dad and his daughter.
Across the game’s 32 chapters you’ll see their individual stories play out against the backdrop of androids “waking up” from being objects before eventually coming together in the final stages. Although it’s a more cohesive and engaging story than Two Souls, you end up with the same phenomenon where some chapters are really strong whereas others come across as filler.
There’s definitely more room for significant decisions and branching paths here, all of which is spelled out in great detail by the game’s flowchart, which lays out all the possible scenarios for each chapter (they show as locked until you actually view them). Fans of TellTale’s games may have seen homemade ones online, but Quantic Dream gets exhaustive with seemingly every action available shown on the charts.
Whether or not this is a good thing is debatable. On one hand, the game is clearly spelling out the reasons that you should go back and replay chapters to see how differently things could have gone. On the other, it’s pulling you out of the narrative at the end of every chapter; it’s not something you simply call up on your own, either. It’s part of your progression and cannot be missed.
As with Cage’s other games, the writing fluctuates a fair amount. He does an effective job of creating an emotional attachment with the main characters and their plight, but some of the secondary roles are familiar takes — the drug-addict son that resents his father’s success, the cruel alcoholic father, the hard-boiled detective that disdains technology, and so on — that bring nothing new to the table.
A playthrough should take around 10 hours, but unlike Quantic’s last two games, Detroit: Become Human begs to be given at least a second go around. There are lots of meaningful choices and different directions you can take the protagonists. Marcus can channel Ghandi or Che Guevara to address the plight of his fellow androids. Connor can buddy up to his human partner or regard him with cold contempt. It’s very compelling.
There’s also considerably more action here than in Cage’s previous offerings with plenty of marvelously rendered fisticuffs, chases and gun play. The game is a little too forgiving with your inputs, though, as you’ll need to really mess up the prompts to fail an encounter.
While it could’ve benefited from a lighter touch in some areas, Detroit: Become Human is Quantic Dream’s best effort to date and a game worth experiencing more than once.