Despite its all-new setting and story, Detroit: Become Human’s unlikely to surprise Quantic Dream fans. While this interactive adventure sticks closer to the blueprint established by PlayStation 3 exclusive Heavy Rain, it shares the same slice-of-life pacing as its contemporaries, giving you a long hard look at the lives of its trio of near-future protagonists.
Pitched against a 2038 American backdrop, where the creation of cyborgs has contributed heavily to the country’s gross domestic product at the expense of its working class, the sci-fi plot attempts to explore the consequences of this technological advancement by observing people from all walks of life – including the so-called androids themselves.
It’s a disappointingly unoriginal premise for the Parisian developer to work from, with games like NieR: Automata already tackling a similar subject on the PlayStation 4 alone, but there’s a logic to the title’s hi-tech world that gives it an air of believability – even if topics like unemployment and slavery seem eye-rollingly obvious from afar.
The three leads all feed into the fiction in different ways: Kara’s story explores the concept of motherhood, as she breaks free from her programmed role as a housemaid to go on the run with a little girl; Marcus examines the upper-class, as he’s imbued essential values by his artist owner which ignites his decision to lead an uprising, and; Connor is a detective, designed to investigate “deviants”.
The concept of deviants is one that’s explored right throughout the game, as the three characters’ unique stories intertwine. As with previous Quantic Dream games, the way the plot progresses comes down to the decisions that you make, and while it does occasionally “cheat” with some outcomes, there are many more variables to consider than in Beyond: Two Souls.
This means that the leads can die and the story simply adapts to that. There are occasions where the finality of an outcome may not be quite as firm as you expect, but there are others where you’ll simply wave goodbye to a protagonist for good. While it’s maybe still not as malleable as some may anticipate, it runs rings around the likes of Life Is Strange with the sheer array of variables on display.
This does come at a cost, however, as the story wrestles with its many branching paths, battling desperately to get its message across. Ultimately, with so many potential outcomes and alterative options to accommodate, it lacks the consistency of a more linear story; it’s similar to the way that a choose-your-own-adventure novel can be rougher than one that you read from cover-to-cover.
It doesn’t help that the entire storyline is built upon one narrative oversight that we struggled to suspend our disbelief over. Without spoiling too much, the plot centres on the idea of deviant androids trying to integrate themselves in society, but with many of the models sharing the same facial features, it’s hard to believe that any of these cyborgs could ever disguise themselves among humans.
That’s not to say that it’s all bad, though, as there are a series of high points throughout the story. Connor’s relationship with his partner, a down-on-his-luck detective played by Clancy Brown, injects some much-needed comedy into proceedings – and there are a handful of excellent sequences involving Kara and her adopted kid, including one where you need to find shelter for the night.
Divisive director David Cage still struggles to settle upon on any one genre, seguing from horror to sci-fi to action – although the whole affair is ultimately much more consistent than the cumbersome Beyond: Two Souls. The acting is better across the board, too: there’s no standout performer like Ellen Page to pull up trees, but virtually everyone – including the supporting cast – puts in a decent shift with a less wobbly script.
And special mention must be paid to the presentation, which is absurd. The character models are insanely detailed and incredibly animated, even highlighting the uncanny valley of the otherwise life-like androids in comparison to their human counterparts. It’s the sets that steal the show, though: they may be limiting and claustrophobic, but they’re absolutely bursting with detail.
They’re interactive, too, with the gesture-based controls and thought bubbles from previous Quantic Dream games returning to give you a means to engage with the world. There are less of the on-rails QTE sequences from past games, with the title instead giving you a little more freedom during moments of intense action, allowing you to make your own mistakes.
While it’s not a mechanically dense game in the slightest, the developer does mix things up. Connor’s detective sequences see you collecting evidence and recreating crimes, while Marcus will occasionally have to compute plans of approach based upon what certain circumstances require. The user interface, throughout, is cleverly integrated into the world itself, which is a great touch.
And to be fair, the entire game feels very well put together. You can replay previous chapters from specific checkpoints, allowing you to explore all of the permutations. Different decisions are logged in flowcharts, which can be compared with the rest of the world. You’ll also earn points for each new thing you do in the game, which can then be spent on bonus content, including some short stories.
Perhaps most impressive of all is the menu screen, which is anchored by an android who will periodically ask you questions and comment on things that you do. If you play on a Friday night, for example, the robot will acknowledge that and commend you on your decision to begin your weekend with the game; it’s a little thing, but it all helps sell the fiction.
Detroit: Become Human is vintage Quantic Dream, delivering a multifaceted choose-your-own-adventure that’s both ambitious and somewhat of an acquired taste. It’s clear that remarkable attention has been poured into the title's vision of the near-future, which makes it harder to suspend disbelief over some of its smaller narrative oversights. The game huffs-and-puffs, but never really brings anything new to its core theme of androids awakening to human emotions – and yet despite its relative familiarity, it’s an impressively replayable interactive story with a frightening number of variables of which there’s nothing else quite like.