If the female protagonist in Detroit: Become Human looks familiar, it’s because you’ve seen her before. “Kara” was shown off as a PlayStation 3 tech demo back at GDC 2012. Quantic Dream showed off the high-tech hyper-realistic demo to show us what they were working on with their new engine… But nobody expected Kara to turn into one of three main protagonists in their new hit title. Even looking back at the tech demo now, Quantic Dream was far ahead of the curve in 2012, and still ended up ahead today, in 2018.
If you’re a fan of Quantic Dream’s past works like Indigo Prophecy, Heavy Rain, and Beyond: Two Souls, you know what you’re in for. A good story with frustrating controls (enough to make your fucking head explode. I’m looking right at you, Heavy Rain. The Butterfly had the most mind-boggling controls in the worst way possible), hit-or-miss voice acting, funny dialogue (press X to JaYYYYYssson), and okay gameplay graphics with far better cinematic ones.
Development for the game’s engine started in 2012, so Quantic Dream took the time to work through the technical kinks for Detroit, and the script took two years to complete, giving us truly beautiful strings of dialogue that remained consistent throughout the game, with a very organic feel (no ironic pun intended, I swear). While Detroit: Become Human isn’t a perfect game, it is hands down the best thing Quantic Dream has come out with to date.
While Heavy Rain had a true murder-mystery vibe, Detroit had more of a Westworld aesthetic: the overall goals of the protagonists are clear, while still maintaining some element of mystery (and eventually, some surprise) to keep the player reeled in. Nothing in the story necessarily came off as groundbreaking or super impactful, but the way the narrative thread through the entirety of the game remained very consistent.
This may just be because I only played one time, but there are some story arcs that felt lackluster, and incomplete. Much like the equally beloved and hated television series LOST, I would frequently ask myself, “wait a minute, whatever happened with ______?” A couple of those things came full circle with little to no impact, and others faded away, like the polar bears from LOST.
Some of these elements started off strong in the first few hours of the game, died off in the middle, and came back at the end with just enough power to remind you they were there, to begin with. Although I appreciate Quantic Dream completing the arcs, I would have preferred them being evenly distributed, for a lack of better terms, across the entirety of the story instead of putting on heavy at first and slowly dimming out.
Even though things felt weak at times (particularly in the middle of the game, and even more so with a specific protagonist), the pop culture and real-life references made up for it. In the game, you have the ability to pick up newspapers and read short articles. I highly recommend you try and collect (and read) them all, as there are clues for the story’s lore and interesting connections to our reality.
Without giving away too much, Detroit: Become Human does an excellent job supporting both sides of the narrative: pro-android and anti-android. The game, for the most part, does a good job in giving you interactions with secondary characters that feel with you or against you. This balance makes it very easy to become immersed in the experience, and become attached to all three protagonists for a variety of reasons.
My biggest issue with the story is albeit the game’s title is literally the name of one singular city, it doesn’t address how anything is affected in the rest of the world. By picking up newspaper articles scattered throughout the game, you learn there are androids in other countries. If a conflict amongst the androids the size of the one occurring in Detroit were to actually happen, it wouldn’t just be in one city in America. It would be an issue everywhere, and the game’s story fails to address that (or how it was contained if that were the case).
Thought God of War was the best looking PlayStation 4 game ever made? Sorry Santa Monica Studios, Quantic Dream really takes the cake with Detroit, pushing the console more than ever before. I gave Detroit a 90 in the graphics category: they’re not perfect, but let’s face it, nothing ever will be. There are some noticeable differences between cutscenes and gameplay, but the environments are the true star.
Quantic Dream actually went to the city of Detroit and did research and scans of buildings to ensure accuracy and a high sense of realism. Someone on my Instagram feed went to the city of Detroit, and posted some photos. Scrolling through my feed, I noticed a photo of a statue you see when walking around the city and automatically assumed it was a screenshot from the game. Upon reading the caption they had with the slideshow of photos, I realized they had taken photos of the “real” Detroit.
In addition to replicating as much of the city as possible, Quantic Dream did a phenomenal job of making the environments seem lived in. A big issue in a lot of games is big, open environments seem sterile. You see the same three NPCs walking around, and the cities seem too clean. Detroit has a large variety of human NPCs (in this story, there are different android models that have different functions – salesperson, housekeeper, construction worker, etc – and have very few variants), and the city actually has wear and tear, and environmental elements.
In your first mission with Markus, the android portrayed by Grey’s Anatomy’s Jesse Williams, you go downtown to pick up paint from a paint store. Looking on the ground, you can tell that it recently rained, as puddles covered the surface, along with leaves from nearby trees, showing it was windy, too. The small details in the environment are endless – chipped paint on benches, dried up condensation on house windows, dirt on building exteriors – making Detroit all the more realistic.
The character models are the best character models I have ever seen. Mouth movements are flawless, skin looks real (not everyone looked like they did a three-hour skincare routine every night), and the detail of each character’s eyes is impeccable. If you’re looking for a graphically stunning game to show your PlayStation 4’s capabilities, look no further.
This is really the only area I personally felt the game lacked a substantial amount. The controls, while aimed to immerse the player, can still be incredibly frustrating at times. As you play through Detroit, you may find yourself wondering if it really is necessary to do some strange straight-up-into-a-half-circle move with the right joystick to open a damn door. Just like with any previous Quantic Dream title, you can’t help but ask yourself if you’re really that bad at handling a Dualshock controller, or if the controls weren’t developed to be as smooth as they should be.
In a couple scenes where you play Markus, you have the option to play the piano. To “play” the piano, you tap the touchpad on the Dualshock 4 controller, and the music plays. Sounds easy enough, right? Well, if you don’t find just the right rhythm, it just ends up sounding fucking stupid. In the first piano scene, I couldn’t find the right tempo – I was either tapping the damn thing too quickly or not quick enough. Any time I felt I found the right speed to tap, it wouldn’t register and I sounded like a dumbass playing Guitar Hero with 35% accuracy. This pissed me off more than it should have if I’m being honest.
There are also a few optional story arcs that include driving. Remember Grand Theft Auto IV and how terrible those driving mechanics were? Now think about taking those horrible driving mechanics and TURNING INTO A QUICK TIME EVENT. Nothing about driving in this game made any sense whatsoever, and should not exist. If it were me, I’d honestly release a patch to take that crap out. It was unnecessary; the camera angles were nauseating, and there wasn’t really an explanation of what parts you had control, and what parts you didn’t. The driving should have honestly just been part of a cutscene.
These things that interrupted the fluidity of the gameplay were incredibly frustrating. So frustrating, in fact, it felt like I was snapped out of the deep, immersive experience I was meant to play. Anytime I got frustrated with something, it was related to the controls, or difficulty navigating certain camera angles (anyone who wants to talk spoilers can reach out, as there is a very specific scene I had to redo – no joke – five times).
If you have not watched extended trailers or played the Detroit demos, there is some footage in this video that could be considered a spoiler.
The soundtrack for Detroit is unique for a very special reason: there are actually three soundtracks for the game, composed by three different people. Kara, Connor, and Markus all have their own soundtracks accompanying their gameplay. Going into the game, I actually did not know each android had a different composer, however, I did notice the music was so harmonious and fitting for each character and scene. If you’re a sucker for orchestral soundtracks like me, you’ll thoroughly enjoy the music Detroit has to offer.
Kara, Connor and Markus’ soundtracks are composed by Philip Sheppard, Nima Fakhrara, and John Paesano, respectively. Philip Sheppard composed the music for the 2015 San Diego Comic Con trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and used elements of his surroundings and Kara’s name to create a multi-layered theme for her. Nima Fakhara composed the soundtrack for Resident Evil: Relevations 2, and created custom instruments to compose Connor’s soundtrack, adding different rhythmic elements to capture the robotic side of Connor’s personality. John Paesano did the composing for Marvel’s The Defenders and Mass Effect: Andromeda (hate the game all you want, the soundtrack was still fantastic). Paesano studied Markus’ character and used elements of his story to contribute to his music.
To have three completely different composers with completely different styles come together to create a cohesive orchestral experience is a huge accomplishment. Taking this approach was a huge risk on Quantic Dream’s part, and could have honestly ended terribly. The fact it was successful and worked so well truly shows the amazing talent these composers possess, and should not be overlooked.
In past titles, Quantic Dream has always seemed to struggle with voice acting. Sometimes it was all bad, and other times it seemed very 50/50. If I were to judge this game solely based on the voice acting performances, Detroit would have a perfect 10/10. With Jesse Williams, Valorie Curry (The Following) and Bryan Dechart (Jane By Design), you can absolutely count on phenomenal performances. The cast features a lot of big names, like Clancy Brown, who voiced Surtur in Thor: Ragnarok. All the acting was spot-on, and the voices seemed to match their characters well, which isn’t always the case in video game voice acting.
Detroit: Become Human holds a lot of replay and overall value across the board. With the ability to see the flowchart for each chapter you play (and seeing locked flowcharts of story arcs you may not have unlocked), the game keeps you wondering and constantly yearning for more. Being able to see what everyone has chosen (it will tell you what percentage of players or folks on your friends’ list chose the same options you did), for me at least, makes the overall experience really interesting. Maybe only 11% of people noticed something you considered very difficult to miss, or maybe you accomplished something that seemed really difficult, only to find out 95% of the player base did it just fine.
If you’re clumsy and slightly dyslexic like me, you have probably run into the obnoxious obstacle of mixing up your L2s an R2s while screaming “DAMN YOU, DAVID CAGE!”, and having to live with the unfortunate consequences of royally fucking up the perfect storyline you’ve worked so hard to craft up until that point. Well, you don’t have to worry about that anymore. Detroit allows the player to restart a chapter (once it’s been completed) and replace the previous save completion file to undo your mistakes and move on with your new choices in place.
Once you complete your first play through, you can go back to any checkpoint anywhere in the story to replay little bits and pieces to uncover some information you may have missed. Since you can choose to start from literally any checkpoint, this has its benefits for two big reasons: If you choose to start from a random checkpoint where you feel like you fucked up, you can, and overwrite a save file and continue from there without necessarily having to start over. Secondly, if you’re like me and work a lot and don’t have time to start a new save file, you can choose not to overwrite the save and see what you may have missed. By just replaying a checkpoint without overwriting the save, however, you do not get any trophies or physically unlock more things on your flowchart.
I finished the game real early Wednesday morning, and honestly, it’s the only thing that has been on my mind ever since. The characters are so well written that I truly did feel empathetic for them. Just like any David Cage game, you start off the game by doing mundane, boring ass bullshit for three hours. Do the dishes, pick up the paint, go clean other shit up, serve dinner – in Heavy Rain, it was frustrating. Why the fuck do I need to set the table and do shit in the backyard? However, in this game, it actually felt meaningful in some weird way.
You had to do the mundane, boring ass bullshit to really understand what it is like to be an android, and truly understand the troubles they faced. We as humans always joke about artificial intelligence… How robots are going to take over, how they’ll get mad at us because we treat them like shit, but hey, wait a minute… Didn’t we create them with the goal of them being as close to human as possible without actually feeling emotions? That doesn’t even make any sense.
If we want artificial intelligence to be truly helpful, and want them to help sustain and supplement human life, we can’t be abusive towards them and expect them to sit there and continue with their “lives” without putting up some sort of defense mechanism. When your computer has a virus, it uses a program to find it, and get rid of it. If your laptop overheats, it shuts down to protect itself from further increasing its temperature. Why wouldn’t humans expect something as powerful as an android to do the same thing?
Detroit: Become Human really gets you thinking about the future of technology, and how it will impact us and our society. It’s got me thinking about how I would treat an android if I had one, or which side I would take if all the androids became deviant and asked for equal rights or the ability to unshackle themselves from their programming. The game really makes you think: what if everyone (and I’m talking about just humans now) treated each other the way they wished to be treated?
This review was based on a physical review copy of Detroit: Become Human for the PlayStation 4 provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment.