Detroit: Become Human is a 2018 game from Quantic Dream published by Sony Interactive Entertainment and, at least at the time I downloaded it, available for free to PlayStation Plus subscribers. For a PS4 game it’s a good-looking thing helped by a menu system looked over by a supposed AI with film star good looks. Siggy walked in while I was on the menu screen and thought I was watching a film, it’s that convincing. It’s only really when you clean your glasses and see the lip sync and mouth animation isn’t quite there yet that you’re snapped back into the uncanny valley of the dolls. The graphics in the game itself aren’t quite as good, but it sure looks good on my OLED TV.
I got a few chapters along in the game, to the point where I’d got used to the initially uncomfortable on-screen command system, and was really enjoying the story of three different androids, when I swapped my PS4 for a PS5 and got stuck into the Miles Morales Spider-Man game, and then Horizon Forbidden West, and then the new Lego Star Wars game. So it was only after that, when hunting around for something free to play, that I remembered Detroit. I am glad I did, because I found it to be really good fun, and I was happy to play through the five or so chapters at the start again as it gave me the opportunity to choose a few different options and see their outcome.
This is what Detroit is all about. It’s an interactive drama game where your decisions most certainly decide the overall outcome of the game, and Quantic Dream go so far as to lay out the decision tree for you at the end of each chapter (of course with the options you didn’t take greyed out) so you can see where the tree branches spread out if only you’d chosen not to eat that cake you found. They also provide the statistics for all the players in the world so you can see how your decisions compare with other players. There’s also an interesting survey to take about AI and androids and it’s interesting to see the results on that. Guess how many players said they’d consider having a relationship with an android that looked like a human.
65% at the time of writing. 65%. Shows the type of people that play computer games right? Well maybe it’s a bit more nuanced than that, but this game certainly goes a long way in exploring such ideas. Indeed it goes much further than a lot of fiction I’ve read in exploring lots of different themes around androids and essentially their slavery (for an example of a book ‘fail’ in this arena see – Kazuo Ishiguro – Klara and the Sun – which bears some initial similarities to the story one of the android characters in the game).
The characters in Detroit are Kara, Markus and Connor. Kara serves as a home help android for an abusive man called Todd who lives with his daughter Alice. She soon goes on the run with Alice to protect her from Todd. Kara is voiced by Valorie Curry and indeed looks a lot like her. The character movements and facial expressions are motion and performance captured, with the actors performing a huge script to cover all the various alternate fates and interactions of their characters.
Markus (modelled on and played by Jesse Williams) is a prototype carer android used by paralysed painter Carl Manfred (modelled on and played by Lance Henriksen). However, after some shenanigans I won’t give away here, Markus goes in search of and joins the cause of a group of deviant androids. As with Kara, it’s up to you to decide how his story plays out.
Connor (Bryan Dechart) is on the other side of things, working with the police, he is an android designed to hunt down the deviant androids. Sounds a bit like Blade Runner I know, but the future Detroit doesn’t really look a whole lot like the city in Blade Runner and it’s less Deus Ex more like HBO’s Brave New World TV show in it’s styling. Connor is paired with police partner Hank (Clancy Brown) and I found this relationship the most interesting as Hank really doesn’t like androids one bit. It’s interesting to try and get Hank to warm to Connor through your interactions with him and also discover why he hates androids so much.
The writing for the game is great and so too is the acting. I can’t say I was ever 100% comfortable with the control system (and in fact I realise that this was improved compared to QD’s previous game Hard Rain which I had a go at recently) and the choice of camera positions, but I got used to it in the end. It was fun, once I’d completed one ending of the game, to go back and replay some choice moments in the game to say, see what would happen if I didn’t eat that damned cake.
There’s also some genuinely strange moments with the android on the main menu who it turns out is a minor character in the game, but I will let you see that for yourselves. No spoilers here. For a change.
It’s a great game and one that I’m going to keep in my library, as I am still intrigued about some of the potential story outcomes and I intend to dip in and out of it some more and explore some of the less obvious decisions.
Also, there is no cake.