Quantic Dream’s PlayStation exclusive Detroit: Become Human is a game fraught with several major problems, but despite those, it is still a fascinating attempt at giving players an insane amount of control over the game’s narrative direction. The individual moments that make it up, the gameplay, the sociopolitical ramifications of the various narratives, and the status of Quantic Dream get in the way of what should be a solid game. The controls are quite possibly the worst I have ever dealt with in a video game in years, with the same thumbstick controlling both the camera and the interactions. You might think that you’re picking up that data pad, but really, you’re moving the camera down and to the left. And sadly, you can’t fix it with a learning curve. Which essentially makes the game nothing more than a playable movie. Meanwhile, the Civil Rights and Holocaust metaphors are so beyond heavy handed that they’re practically in the realm of self-parody. And don’t even get me started on the fact that the safehouse for the Android Revolution is called Jericho. Just… Don’t. There are trains, what essentially amounts to concentration camps, an underground railroad, and ripped off speeches.
The game is basically a choose-your-own-adventure novel in interactive form. It’s not a game. The gameplay itself is incredibly limited. You choose dialogue options, though your choices are often summarized, which means you don’t know the full content of what your character is about to say. You may know that they’ll lie, or take a more aggressive stance, or perhaps take a stance based on a historic speech that was part of the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, but you don’t know exactly what will come out of their mouth. Which does mean there is a bit of each character that you can’t control. Which you might find a bit frustrating, especially when it comes to Markus’ storyline. Many of Markus’s story beats feel unearned, especially if you aren’t a Grey’s Anatomy fan with a predisposition to liking Jesse Williams.
A few of the “surprise” reveals toward the end of the game tend to take all of the emotion out of earlier scenes. Particularly when it comes to Kara’s storyline. While I don’t want to get into the realm of writing a spoiler-review, there is a revolution toward the end of her storyline which ends up humanizing serial abuser Todd, her owner. And that’s just a little bit too much abuse apologia for a game made by a studio being sued for workplace violations by former employees. Especially when you consider the incredibly sexualized, gendered violence perpetuated against Kara and Alice. Sure, neither is sexually assaulted on-screen, but I feel like “not sexually assaulting your female protagonist” is a pretty low bar, even for a David Cage game.
Ultimately, what you get out of Detroit is directly related to what you put into it. If you just want a series of connected stories about the humanity of androids, well. You could find quite a few games that are far worse than this. But if you want a game that takes an intelligent stance on the humanity of artificial life, with any kind of nuance, this is not the game for you. If you want a game with fair treatment of its characters, this is also not the game for you.
But if you want to play a game where you control the outcome of an absurd number of situations that lead to incredibly different storylines (the sheer number of branching paths in this game is staggering) then you might want to take a gander at Detroit. However, I would caution you against playing it more than once, if for no reason other than your sanity. It is a brilliant technological achievement and it looks pretty slick. But there are so many things that can get in the way of properly enjoying it, that the game is decent despite Qauntic Dream’s best attempts to squander what should be a fascinating experience.
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