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Game: Detroit: Become Human
Developer: Quantic Dream
Reviewed on: PS4/PS4 Pro(Review code provided)
I’ll get this out there right off the bat. I have really enjoyed Quantic Dream’s games so far, to the point where I gave Beyond: Two Souls a 9/10 on the PS3. It’s a score that I stand by, in spite of the game’s obvious failings, and it, somewhat ironically, sets the tone for the studio’s latest output.
Skip forward a few years, and David Cage’s studio land on the PS4 in earnest with Detroit: Become Human. If you’ve yet to play a Quantic Dream title, then it’s fair to say that they’re not your typical video games. In fact, QD themselves call them “Interactive Experiences”, with multiple branching paths and the ability for the game to end abruptly for one of the main characters at any point, with the narrative shaped entirely by your decisions. In Heavy Rain, for example, there were a total of 16 different endings, depending on which characters lived or died, as well as your actions throughout. Beyond did a similar thing, although perhaps on a slightly pared-back scale with only one major character to focus on. With Detroit, there is a multitude of different endings, pathways and sections that you can entirely miss on the first playthrough. It’s a unique approach to games, and one that I still find a lot of fun to immerse myself in.
With that being said, there are several things within Detroit that immediately become apparent, which will test the patience of the biggest Quantic fan. The first is the insistence on rotating the Right Analogue Stick for a host of crucial gameplay inputs. This was fine with the likes of Heavy Rain and Beyond, as the games primarily used a fixed camera, with other button prompts being pushed to the fore a lot of the time. With Detroit, however, the game uses a free moving third-person camera, which means that more often than not, your character will completely ignore the command to pick up an item in favour of having the camera whirl around and end up pointing at the ceiling. At times, this is absolutely infuriating, particularly during a couple of the game’s time-limited sequences that require a degree of fidelity to the inputs. There are 12 obvious buttons on the Dual Shock 4, and yet the bloody-minded reliance on the same input to control the camera is borderline unforgiveable in some places, and turns a game that’s already deliberately paced into something glacial at times.
The other big criticism that I have with the game is where I imagine a lot of other publications will be sharpening their blades and putting their crosses in the ground ready to crucify Cage, partly because they’ve been waiting to do so ever since the tone-shifting “Domestic Violence” trailer from Paris Games Week 2017. Allow me to be blunt: There are sections in Detroit that have writing so poor, I honestly expect that there is a well-worn book in the Quantic Dream offices with the title “Big Dave’s Big Book of Big Clichés”. There are some absolute clunkers of lines that are delivered with the gravitas usually associated with Martin Luther King’s best works, which are often swollen by an admittedly excellent musical score. It’s a real shame, as the story, as a whole, holds together a little bit better than some are undoubtedly going to give it credit for.
That story, in case you’ve missed all the hype, is one of liberation, and the struggle for acceptance of the Android “species”. I use the term in quotes, because the allegory behind it is brutally obvious for the most part. This is David Cage trying to craft a tale about racism and acceptance, with other scenes of a ‘mature” nature being pushed into the picture as well. Much was made of the trailer at PGW, and I think a lot of people were concerned about how it would be handled. Fortunately, I think this is one part of the story that’s used to good effect. No spoilers here, but it has its place, and it’s done quite well. On the whole, the story is by-the-numbers, and you can call some of the plot points coming a mile away, but it’s an enjoyable tale that, ultimately, needs to take itself a little bit less seriously at times, and I think, ultimately, that extends to the creator as well. There is an argument here for separating the art from the artist, but they’re so intrinsically linked I’m not sure how that’s possible.
If this sounds like I’m down on the game, it’s not the case. I’ve enjoyed my time with it in spite of the issues listed above, and just like before, I’ve found myself warming to the game, thanks in part to some strong performances from the leads. Jesse Williams in particular does a sterling job as Markus, as does Valorie Curry as Kara, with both conveying the struggles of an AI coming to terms with life, death and everything in-between. The story barrels along at a decent clip, with matters escalating at a somewhat alarming rate toward the end.
Technically, the game is superb. It looks gorgeous on both standard and Pro consoles, with the obvious standouts being the urban areas in the evening. Character models are typically impressive for the most part, but for a few “extras” looking like they may be better suited to the PS3’s Heavy Rain, but these are few and far between. For the most part, Detroit is a wonderfully bleak interpretation of a future where class divides threaten to burst through and cause a full scale civil war. Neon streets are interspersed with battered and run-down buildings, with Androids fulfilling roles previously occupied by humans, forming a palpable tension throughout the game. It’s a depressing world, with a relentlessly pessimistic tone. A bit like Brexit, but with Johnny 5 instead of immigrants.
As an unashamed fan of Quantic Dream’s previous output, Detroit: Become Human is a mixed bag. On one hand, there is a continuation of the work that they’ve done with the previous titles, and they have crafted a wonderfully bleak world with Detroit. While it doesn’t quite push the boundaries as much as Heavy Rain, there are some interesting ideas planted in the early stages of the story that never blossom fully, but still gives a somewhat satisfying conclusion, regardless of how you decide to play. On the other hand, the occasionally frustrating control issues and borderline laughable moments in the script made me shake my head on more than one occasion. It’s a real shame, because there is an absolutely brilliant game tucked away somewhere in here. As it stands, it’s only going to be great if you’re willing to look past the obvious inherent flaws.