Detroit: Become Human Review – 8.3/10

It’s hard to say whether or not I’m a fan of Quantic Dream. More appropriately known as David Cage’s interactive movie workshop, Quantic Dream is the game development studio that created Detroit: Become Human. It is their fifth game. I’ve played three games by David Cage: Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, and Detroit: Become Human. I’ve also heard only good things about Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy) over the years, but I’ve never gotten to play it myself. Of the three games of his I’ve played, I liked one, absolutely hated one, and absolutely loved one. So while I’d say Quantic Dream doesn’t have a negative record with me, I also wouldn’t go as far as declaring myself a committed fan of the studio. All I can honestly say is that after playing Detroit, I would be happy to play the next game Cage puts out.

I was reluctant to play Detroit: Become Human when I first heard about it. Part of this came from the fact that I found the idea of setting a game about high technology and opulent wealth (to buy said technology) in Detroit to be laughable. It’s Detroit not San Francisco. The city isn’t known for its wealth or its high minded tech culture. But what I was more worried about was the fact that this game was coming from the same studio that sold me Beyond: Two Souls. I think Beyond is absolute trash. When I first heard about it I was really excited, and I did like Heavy Rain so I had confidence in the studio bringing out another hit. But Beyond is just the worst. It is so unbelievably bad as far as both gameplay and writing. So I was not excited to play another David Cage game after that. Luckily I was able to borrow a copy so I didn’t have to pay for Detroit, otherwise I might never have played it. Boy was my fears about the next Quantic Dream title wrong.

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I am happy to admit that I was wrong about Detroit. Not only is it an excellent game, it’s the best game Quantic Dream has ever made. (I’m assuming it’s better than Fahrenheit based on what I’ve seen of that game.) It more than made up for the travesty that was Beyond. It’s the first game they ever made that I’ll actually do a full replay of. In their past games, I’ve taken the time to replay certain sequences to see different outcomes but never the entire game. I will replay Detroit all the way through, making different decisions, and take the time to get the platinum. That’s how much better this game is compared to its predecessors.

Visually it’s great. It’s not the best PS4 game ever made, but it looks very good. Specifically how real the characters look. The character models are based on the real actors, some of which are notable personalities you’re probably familiar with like Clancy Brown and Lance Henriksen. This brings the game to life in ways that many games can’t because you already have a visual point of reference for many of the characters in the story. And the acting, I say acting here instead of just voice acting, is phenomenal. Jesse Williams, who I had only previously seen in Cabin in the Woods (2012) gives such a powerful performance that I wanted to see other stuff he’s in after I finished the game. I can’t remember saying that about any other character/actor in any other game I’ve ever played. The delivery of his lines and the emotion of his character model, Markus, were masterful. I truly saw the humanity in the android characters. I felt for them. I wanted them to be granted freedom and equal rights.

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It’s not just the characters that look good though. The landscapes, the neighborhoods, the graffiti, and everything else all comes together nicely to create a Detroit that I found believable in the world of the game. It’s probably the best looking game I’ve played this year set in a real world environment. Spider-Man comes in at a very close second for reference.

The sound is real good in this game. The sound track works well, the effects work well enough for what it is, and the voice acting is perfectly balanced. You feel like you’re actually in a world of other people. Conversations aren’t unrealistically loud to make sure you hear them. You can miss lots of stuff throughout the game if you aren’t listening and looking. Interactions can be completely missed because you didn’t notice the conversation going on low in the background. It’s a nice touch of realism, even while being kind of annoying when you miss something.

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Gameplay wise, this was much better than past games from Quantic Dream. There are still camera issues, but overall it’s a much cleaner gameplay experience than the other titles by them I’ve played.  Gameplay, specifically controls, was my biggest complaint about Beyond so it was nice to see them clean it up by a noticeable degree in Detroit. I didn’t have any control issues with QTEs. A lot of games in this genre often misread commands and end up making you fail where you know you shouldn’t have. This happens a lot when I play TellTale Games titles. Surprisingly, I only missed two action sequence QTE commands over the entire course of my first playthrough. Part of that may just be that I’m a lot more familiar with the genre now, but I think those results are very telling about how well the game responds. I had no such luck when I played Heavy Rain back on PS3.

What’s really nice about the gameplay in this one is that your decisions really do matter and for once the game directly and clearly shows you that and in what way they affect the overall story. At the end of each chapter you are shown an events flowchart that plots all the decisions and outcomes you made and where those led to. But what’s even more useful is the fact that it shows you how much you didn’t do. In most cases the game doesn’t reveal what other outcomes you could have gotten, but it does show you how many other outcomes were available with each decision/occurrence along the plot of each individual chapter. It also shows you how decisions and outcomes from previous chapters affected the chapter you just played as well as that they might possibly affect future chapters. A good example of this was early on when you are given the choice of whether or not to allow an android to join your resistance. It’s early on in the game and you don’t know who you can trust yet. You can choose to take him with you or leave him. If you chose to take him with you, several chapters later that same android sacrifices his life to save yours. Characters can permanently die in the story and without that android’s sacrifice one of my characters would have died at that moment, ruining my perfect survival first playthrough. I think this transparency of outcomes really makes the game better because then you really do feel like your decisions matter where most games make you feel like the outcomes are fixed even if the road to them has a few branches. Detroit doesn’t do that at all because it proves it to you every step of the way.

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Without a doubt, as with most games in this genre, it’s the writing that makes Detroit amazing. Much like Beyond, this story is grounded in science fiction, but what it does right is use science fiction that’s actually believable and grounded at least part in actual science. It may be about sentient robots, but it gives you a story that you can actually believe and connect with on a personal level, more akin to Heavy Rain. Not to mention we already have tons of other fiction about sentient machines trying to obtain their freedom. Detroit plays mostly the same bits from the singularity playbook, but it puts you, the player, into the role of the android instead of the humans fighting against them. This makes the experience so much more personal and in many ways introspective. You empathize with the androids and start thinking about what you would do in a world where people had to choose whether or not to recognize them as living, intelligent beings.

For me, through Markus, the story was very personal because of the racial undertones Cage was clearly drawing upon. The fact that I’m a lighter skinned African American, especially living in the current political climate, made me identify a lot with Markus who, at least in my playthrough, leads the android revolution. The game draws direct comparisons between the struggle of the androids and racial minorities in the real world. There is even a scene where an African American human character helps the androids and when asked why says it’s because her people experienced similar challenges in the past and were only able to achieve the position they had because of help from members of the ruling class/race.

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The game lets you make key decisions about the type of revolution you want to have and it affects the story greatly. It was an interesting experience to be able to choose what type of revolutionary you wanted to be. You can be completely peaceful. You can be violent. You can be a bit of both. And the game makes you take public opinion into account. I took advantage of this and got the outcome I wanted, but that often meant intentionally making decisions that I didn’t personally want to make, for the good of the android cause. In a way, that’s the most realistic gameplay scenario ever because politics, especially when it comes to civil rights, actually does work that way. It’s not whether or not the cause is right or wrong, but how the people in power perceive the cause that matters. The writing, and more specifically multiple possibilities within the writing, in pretty much every chapter is why I’ll be replaying this game from start to finish with different choices. I want to see everything this game has to offer.

I think I’ve already made it clear that Detroit has a decent amount of replay value. It’s certainly worth two complete playthroughs and possibly even more after that to experience every possible outcome. I will probably just rerun specific sequences to fill in the holes after my second playthrough rather than doing a full third. But the game is certainly good for 14+ hours of play. I wouldn’t have dropped $60 for it but at $20, the price I paid for Beyond, I would have been very happy with my purchase if I hadn’t of gotten to borrow a copy.

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I hope I’ve made it clear that you should definitely play Detroit: Become Human. It’s certainly worthy of being a PlayStation exclusive. I’m just sad that so many people won’t get to play it because for some reason they still don’t own a PS4. It’s well written, well executed, beautiful, and an emotional roller coaster that I haven’t been on in a game in quite some time. Even God of War (PS4) didn’t personally speak to me as much as this game did. Granted I don’t have a son or a great relationship with my father so much of the narrative impact was certainly lost on me with that one. But at the end of the day, you should definitely give Detroit a playthrough. You can clear the game once in less than eight hours.

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