The question that sits at the centre of Detroit Become Human and drives it forward is what does it mean to be human? This is the same question Detroit and developer Quantic Dream wants the player to ask themselves.
Is it human to love and to hate? Is it more human to protect a child or abuse them? Are you human because you have a job or because you grieve?
What defines humanity in Detroit Become Human is free will and the freedom to exercise it.
What does it mean to be human?
Detroit showcases a vast array of human behaviour, both from the Android stars and the ‘real’ people living in the city. This behaviour varies wildly and includes some of the best and worst humanity is capable of.
The previously mentioned child abuse is but one of the horrific things shown in Detroit. Thankfully, unlike previous Quantic Dream titles, heavy themes aren’t there just to service the plot. They’re there to force players to confront that question. What does it mean to be human?
Humans have a long history of doing horrible things to each other, something one Android makes note of during the game. While the Androids, may not be accepted as human in the world of Detroit, they stand-in for every persecuted, mistreated and oppressed group.
Set in the future, Detroit features a world in which Androids have become commonplace. Like a car or toaster, an Android is seen as a necessary tool for everyday life. They’re used as nannies, personal trainers, assistants and more.
Menial jobs have all but been erased thank to Androids and their existence has led to record growth in the US economy. However, they have also led to huge numbers of unemployment as humans are unable to get jobs that Androids can perform for free.
Freedom and Free Will
It’s in this world that we step into the shoes of three different Androids; Markus, Kara and Connor. Each has different functions and abilities and each has a vastly different view of the world.
Kara is a home assistant, cooking, cleaning and looking after her ward. Markus is a personal assistance and friend to an elderly painter named Karl and Connor is an advanced police unit, designed to detect and locate deviant Androids.
Deviants are Androids who have rogue programming and have developed self-awareness and human emotions. These deviant Androids threaten the very fabric of the fragile world in Detroit.
If these Androids are alive, then they should be treated as such. But in the world of Detroit, so much of the day-to-day relies on Androids being seen as only machines that if they were to be considered human, everything would grind to a halt.
Best Experienced, Not Read
There’s far too much to get into with regard Detroit’s narrative and to do so would only spoil the journey. It’s best for players to go into Detroit with as little prior knowledge as possible. This will ensure the story beats land and help players have a pure experience, untainted by bias.
As for Detroit’s gameplay, it’s very similar to Heavy Rain, with some streamlining and improvements in the year’s since. Actions are all contextual and appear on-screen as you near an interactable item.
You may be required to press a button or move the right stick in a specific way. Other times, you’ll need to hold down combinations of buttons as you move the stick in order to complete intricate actions. It’s all very familiar to anyone who’s played any of Quantic Dream’s previous titles.
If you haven’t, Detroit does a decent job of introducing the gameplay elements over the first few chapters. Unfortunately, movement in Detroit can be troublesome and navigating the gorgeous scenes is like piloting a massive barge.
Thankfully, Detroit largely drives itself and the majority of gameplay comes from your decisions. Each and every choice you make in Detroit truly feels like it has real impact. Even innocuous decisions come back to make a difference.
Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain
What really helps drive the idea that your choices matter is the included flowcharts. After every scene, you’ll be shown a flowchart of every action possible and the path you took. There aren’t any spoilers, but you can guess as to what some of the branching paths are the result of.
These massive decision trees, really help to sell the replayability of Detroit too. As soon as I’d finished one playthrough, I started again right away. This time I chose to do the exact opposite of my first playthrough and the difference to the narrative was astonishing.
Better still, no matter what decisions or what events played out, Detroit felt complete and without plot-holes. There were some janky transitions and some odd scenes that seemed out of place, which is par for the course. By and large, Detroit’s narrative is coherent, engaging and impactful no matter which way you play it.
It wouldn’t be a Quantic Dream game without QTEs and while there are plenty of them, they’re short and infrequent. These two are ‘choices’ in a way. If you ‘win’ the QTE you’ll get a totally different outcome than if you ‘lose.’
Everything you do in Detroit matters and it all comes together to create your unique story.
These games are a hard sell if you’re not into interactive drama but honestly, this is one of the few games that have a story so worth telling that everyone should hear it. I’ve never felt emotionally moved by any Quantic Dream game before, but Detroit rocked me.
Throughout the duration, I was jubilant, fearful, angry, incensed, sickened tearful and more. There’s no escaping having a genuine emotional response to Detroit, which is exactly as it should be.
Outside of God of War, Detroit Become Human is easily the most visually impressive game available for PS4. The motion and facial capture along with amazing voice acting have truly brought each and every character to life. The environments and backgrounds have all been flawlessly rendered and together Detroit looks and feels real.
In my hands-on preview of Detroit I wrote;
Detroit Become Human asks a lot of questions in its opening few hours. Hard questions, painful questions and about topics and subjects not often broached by games. Answers are not readily apparent in the early stages, though I’d hope they appear later.
If not, the weight of Detroit’s themes will vanish. It’ll be a real shame to see the potential established early on squandered and I’m truly hoping it isn’t.
I’m happy to report that for all the questions Detroit asks, most have been answered. Those that haven’t are left open on purpose. To make the player answer them for themselves.
Detroit’s weighty themes could have been its undoing, but somehow David Cage has written a nuanced, thoughtful script that delivers on its promise.
Detroit Become Human is a must play and an absolute work of art.
Detroit: Become Human was reviewed on PS4 using a digital copy provided by Sony.
A coherent, thoughtful story - 8/10
Amazing visuals and sound - 10/10
Actions matter - 9/10
Detroit Become Human is the game Quantic Dream has been striving to make for years. It’s both the most cinematic and most game-like title the French studio has ever created.
Detroit is (almost) free from plot-holes and out-of-character moments and it truly helps sell the world of the future.
There are plenty of scenes that are actually quite disturbing, so trigger warnings apply liberally. That being said, Detroit actually has something to say about its content and themes, rather than using them simply as set dressing.
Detroit is a real triumph in the interactive drama genre and the best game Quantic Dream has made.