Late to the Game: Detroit: Become Human - Reviewed

Detroit: Become Human, the newest game from controversial Quantic Dream mastermind David Cage, opens with a scene featuring android detective Connor (Brian Dechart), brought in to assist with a hostage situation involving another android. Connor investigates the crime scene, learning more and more about the situation based on clues he finds throughout the spacious apartment. The more he learns, the better his odds of a successful mission: save the hostage at any cost. Plenty can still go wrong; one bad choice or poorly timed move can make or break you, with implications that span not only this scene but the rest of the game. It's no surprise that this particular tension-packed scene can end one of seven different ways—and the game's stunning opening credits haven't even rolled yet.

Detroit is set twenty years in the future, in a city revitalized by the manufacture of not cars, but robots. Hyper-realistic humanoid androids, manufactured by the Detroit based CyberLife corporation, are a part of everyday life, dominating the service industry, taking care of our homes and even our children. Anyone who has ever read sci-fi can guess what happens next, as the once subservient androids one by one begin to gain sentience, and in the game's parlance become "deviants".

Connor's story, which finds him predictably partnered up with a grizzled android-hating human detective (Clancy Brown) to investigate a series of murders involving suspected deviant androids, is one of three intertwining tales that make up Detroit. Completing the triad are service android Kara (Valorie Curry, Blair Witch), tasked with keeping an eye on a young girl with an abusive drug addict father, and Markus (Jesse Williams, The Cabin in the Woods), assistant to an aging artist (the great Lance Henrikson). The characters and their story lines are far too dynamic to sum up past the point of introduction in a review format; even Connor's description above doesn't even begin to sum his experience up. Throughout the game we jump back and forth between the three characters, as talk of revolution begins to stir among the awakening androids.

In addition to Detroit, Cage and Quantic Dream also created the popular games Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls. Detroit shares a fair amount of its DNA with the former, with its sleek interface and three interlocking stories. Like Heavy Rain, every choice you make for your characters matters, with even the most minor action or speech or unsuccessful series of quick time events resulting in major implications later in the game. Detroit's most noticeable innovation is its full visual timeline, a slick addition that allows the player to see every choice available (or at least, that there are additional choices; unexplored options remain grayed out until unlocked within the game.) This contributes greatly to the game's off-the-charts replayability; a single play-through is a quick 10-12 hours, but with so many options and so many things that inevitably can and will go wrong, once will never be enough.

This is a game that looks and feels great to play. Even on its difficult setting, the controls are simple enough even for a novice player to pick up and play. But games like Detroit and Heavy Rain aren't as much about gameplay and dexterity (plentiful QTEs aside) so much as the often heart-wrenching decisions you'll be forced to make, particularly as the stories intertwine and begin drawing toward one of dozens of possible conclusions. A feature of the timeline allows you to see how other players, worldwide and among your group of friends, chose at each crossroads in the game; while not a unique feature, it certainly provides an interesting look at how others play the game. The game's release weekend saw a vast majority wanting to play "the right way", for the happiest ending possible for everyone, but as anyone who has played Heavy Rain knows, a happy ending for one character likely torpedoes another. One of the main trio can even be killed and removed entirely from the game in only their second scene. There's something in Detroit for players of all skill levels.

The look of the game is flashier and dare one say more colorful than Heavy Rain. Detroit of 2038 is not only breathtaking but surprisingly accurate, for the most part anyway. The iconic RenCen and One Detroit Center buildings are dwarfed by far more appropriately futuristic structures, but still take their correct place in the city's skyline. (It's not quite perfect though, as a few streets don't quite line up the way they should and the game's designers clearly have no clue where Ferndale is.) Detroit also features some of the finest motion capture work seen in video games to date, with characters closer than ever to resembling the actors who play them (Williams' Markus is particularly impressive), coming this close to cracking the old "uncanny valley" problem but simply settling for not being too uncomfortably distracting.

With all of the many good things going on in Detroit, the flaws are difficult to overlook. Some of the character's storylines sag a bit in the middle, slowing the game down just as others are starting to heat up. The racism/Holocaust allegories that are ever-present in dystopian sci-fi are at times just a bit too obvious, accentuated by the casting of outspoken advocate Williams. No one has ever accused Cage of being subtle, but a more thoughtful approach to the material might have made the game's themes a bit more impactful. Despite occasional eye-rolling awkwardness, Detroit still packs an intense emotional punch the size of the city's famous sculpture of Joe Louis's fist.

Like the city that provides its setting, Detroit is gritty but slick, breezy but weighty, beautiful to look at despite cracks in the facade. Cage and Quantic Dream have learned from the mistakes of their past and made Detroit into the complex but streamlined experience gamers were sure they had in them. Detroit travels well-tread sci-fi territory but does so in a way that still feels fresh and inventive even when the overarching themes get to be a little much. Detroit: Become Human is an engrossing, satisfying experience for both experienced and novice gamers, an absolute must-play for PS4 owners that is deserving of every year-end accolade it will almost certainly acquire. 

--Mike Stec