Gaming editor Christopher Hall reviews Detroit: Become Human, a game with a very interesting premise that unfortunately doesn’t reach its full potential
David Cage has generally been considered to be ambitious, but has always been held back by his writing. He would have some interesting ideas but never quite deliver due to weak writing. So now we have his latest game, Detroit: Become Human. The question is, is it worth your time?
Sure. However, worth your time plus £50? Probably not. It definitely should be considered to be picked up on sale as it takes some interesting concepts and creates something unique with a decent enough quality in an increasing sea of AAA mediocrity. But with some side-stepping, pacing problems and writing that, while not awful, is certainly flawed, the notion that it deserves the full £50 is questionable.
So, this game is about androids and you play three characters: A prototype detective Connor, an android investigating defects; Kara, a maid android for an abusive father and his daughter; and Markus, an android who takes care of an older man who, unlike many people cares about Markus and wants him to think for himself. The androids look almost exactly like humans and this is the part where I’m debating whether the game would be more effective in its message if this was about something like racism. Obviously the script would have had to change but a lot of the themes Cage dives into replicate the reasons such as fear that would cause some people to wrongly reject others or treat them badly. In the most cynical perspective the whole reason why the game is about androids is because it’s easier to deal with. There’s going to be less controversy and if they mess up the script then people are going to start to be offended if they do the other premises I’ve discussed, whereas with androids there is less pressure as people are not androids.
There is one other major cynical reason why androids were chosen and one I’ve only thought about after discussing it with a certain person, getting away from video gamey elements. One of the biggest mechanics in this game is the detective vision or the scan similar to the detective vision in the rebooted Tomb Raider series. Now, I initially thought of this idea to be somewhat immersion-breaking, however I judged it to be fine in this case because you’re an android so it makes sense. If sometime said you have 10 minutes to do something then it makes sense that you would know exactly how much you have left as you would think an android could start some sort of countdown. The vision also makes sense since you would think that an android is capable of such things. However this positive can quickly turn into a negative. Because they are androids, Qunatic Dream don’t need to be as clever or put in more effort for the immersion not to break. Whether or not you believe the reason for it being androids is cynical or not, there’s no escaping that there are missed opportunities in the story and that they could have been far cleverer on trying to avoid immersion breaking.
Now, with the script for the story it is not prefect but for the most part it is a decent attempt for what David Cage is trying to do, at least when it comes to trying to send some message. The overall story mostly makes sense and conveys a message about prejudice against the androids having freedom. The reasons provided in the story are reasonably human, although a few plot details don’t make sense.
When it comes to the graphics, it looks great, from facial animations to the world in general. The music is very well suited to each of the scenes but performance does unfortunately take a hit with frame-rate dipping in some areas. It is nothing close to deal breaking, however, especially considering the genre of game and perhaps for once due to the game being an adventure game, the frame-rate dips are worth it for the graphics.
As far as gameplay goes its mostly button prompts, scanning for clues and quick-time events (QTEs). There are other gameplay gimmicks throughout, but they still do fit into one of the three categories. There are additional books that are used for world building which are nice touches. When it comes to QTE moments you can fail some of the QTEs but there are consequences to failing a certain number of them. The QTEs do work nicely in each of the situations they’re placed in. The events are at least entertaining enough in looks, even if the gameplay itself isn’t as engaging because of the context in which the QTEs are placed. That being said, some of the QTEs prompts are done quite badly, like waggling the Dualshock 4 to one side because the controller simply isn’t responsive enough and had I had to prefect situations to get the desired outcome I would have been a lot more critical on this.
One aspect the game does really well with is how your choices affect the story. With this game there is a flowchart at the end of each chapter to show which paths you had taken and it gives you an idea of what events were affected based on your actions. It’s impressive with how many options you get dependent on your actions. As well as that, you can also see the percentage of people worldwide or friends who took each route even if you can’t see what the route itself is, simply knowing it exists. There are also entire sections that can only be done if you did certain actions in the story which is fine because even if you complete the story while not doing some of the optional chapters you still clock in 10 hours with a solid amount of replay value which should increase that initial 10 hours by a few more hours.
However there are some pacing issues in the story. While I enjoyed most of the game, one section I didn’t enjoy was (I think) the result of a bunch of setup plus filler which together resulted in a slow, tedious part that tarnished the experience. This lasted for about an hour although it certainly felt longer.
That being said there were some really impressive sections that show what the game is capable of, and if the rest of the game were just as impressive then it could have been Game of the Year potential. There weren’t that many times when the writing was awful but the awful sections of the game were not helped by some mediocre writing choices, and there were particular parts near the end of the game where, while those parts were enjoyable, the poor writing had me question parts of those chapters and not in a good way.
Overall Detroit Become Human isn’t a complete failure but it isn’t entirely successful either. It’s a game where the more you think about it the less you will like it and when you see what it could have been if the team were a bit more talented and brave you will end up at least a bit disappointed at the end result. Quantic Dream had the ingredients to make something fantastic, but they end up making something mostly enjoyable that isn’t without occasional excellent sections, but overall it’s not good enough to recommend at full price.