Game review: Androids go rogue in Detroit: Become Human

Jeeves de Veyra

Posted at Jun 11 2018 09:31 PM | Updated as of Jun 11 2018 09:39 PM

Detroit Become Human is set in 2038. Screengrab

Detroit: Become Human is the latest game from French developer Quantic Dream, known for titles like Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls that are more like interactive stories than what is commonly accepted as a computer game. The story takes centerstage over gameplay such that the player spends a lot more time watching than “playing.” 

For fans of science fiction and longform storytelling, Detroit: Become Human draws you in with its cautionary tale of near future technology gone rogue. It’s sci-fi with a sometimes heavy-handed allegory to current issues such as slavery, discrimination, racism and inequality. While some may cite parallels between this and HBO’s "Westworld," I think it is more similar to the sleeper Swedish sci-fi series “Akta Manniskor” (Real Humans) or its BBC adaptation “Humans.” 

Stories about artificial intelligence and technology going berserk is prevalent these days and Detroit: Become Human fits right in. These human-like robots can be thought of as long-term upgrades to current technology. Take the Amazon-connected refrigerator that scans your ref and automatically orders items that are out of stock. The upgraded version is an android that cleans the house, is intelligent enough to connect to the internet, and automatically orders anything that it thinks the household needs.

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No doubt about it, Detroit: Become Human has that polished sheen only a triple-A game can have. Even supplementary YouTube videos that give some background to the game are well-produced and give a glimpse of the world within the game.

This is apparent with the three androids the gamer plays. First, there’s Connor, a police prototype sent to investigate seemingly unrelated crimes that involve androids. Voice actor Brian Dechart from "True Blood" seems to be channeling a mechanical unemotional Keanu Reeves here. 

Kara, voiced by Valorie Curry from the "Twilight" saga, is a housekeeper unit that breaks free after her young charge is threatened by an alchoholic drug-addled father. 

"Grey’s Anatomy" actor Jesse Williams gives Markus enough angst and anger as the android transforms from a caring personal assistant model to an elderly accomplished painter to a soldier and focal point of the android revolution. 

Markus crawls out of an android junkyard. Screengrab

The cast is rounded out with Lance Henriksen, Minka Kelly and voice actor veteran Clancy Brown playing supporting characters.

The technology used to create the characters of the game rivals the motion and facial capture technology used in big CGI blockbusters like "Avatar." It’s actually amazing how much the in-game characters look like their voice actors down to distinctive tics and quirks. 

Besides this, the game is at its best when the player as either Connor, Markus, and Kara is bouncing off the supporting cast. There is a certain connection and poignancy that probably couldn’t have been achieved with computer graphics of the past console generation. There are some moments where the character’s eyes seemed dead. But under the right in-game lighting conditions, the characters creep out of the uncanny valley and seem like real human actors. Check out the Quantic Dream website to see some of the motion capture behind the scenes footage.

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Production design on the varied environments which include sunny Detroit exteriors to hellish junkyards to futuristic buildings are first-rate. Near-future vehicles, user interfaces, equipment are grounded on reality. 

The sound design is another immersive element that makes this game shine. Heavy rain, stepping outside a car to a blizzard, the sound of weapon fire, the claustrophobic metallic echoing inside an abandoned ship are some sounds that will draw you in if you play this with high-end speakers or headphones.

It is respectful of its sci-fi heritage as nudges to "The Terminator," "Ex Machina," and "A.I." are scattered throughout the game. It pokes fun at the current tech world as characters patterned after Elon Musk, and emerging trends like the Hyperloop, Space Tourism, and electric cars.

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Detroit: Become Human follows the fine tradition of grand old adventure games where story advancement is the main focus. This is done by conversing with other characters and some light puzzle solving. They do use periodic prompts to get players involved using PS4 controller’s buttons and touchpad to simulate actions. There is criticism that Quantic Dream games are QTE (quick time events) centric but it seems to work here. Using the touchpad to swipe to change pages is a nice touch.

The difference is that in the past, there is a right and wrong answer or action. In this case, Quantic Dream has shot different permutations of the story that can lead to multiple endings. It took me around 12 hours to get through my first playthrough that took the characters through some really dark paths. It is one thing to look at YouTube for the endings but finding the story branches to get there is the fun part of this game. 

Repeated walkthroughs are made easier by the in-game flowcharts. After each chapter, players are shown a flowchart that indicate alternative, even story-changing, branches. Players can then choose to do some other thing in subsequent playthroughs.

There are some minor bugs like this missing cart. But these don't really detract from the gameplay. Screengrab

The one thing that may turn players away is that in this game, humans are the bad guys. Detroit: Become Human has a lot to say about current events. In this world, a big chunk of the human workforce has been replaced by the androids causing societal rifts. 

Some scenes like putting androids behind the bus and having “No Androids Allowed” stickers on establishments are reminiscent of the civil rights movement in the US and anti-Semitic Nazis pre-world War II. However, I thought that when the game was about to say something relevant that will ground it in the real world, it pulls its punches. 

The other part of Detroit: Become Human’s cautionary tale is how dependent we are on technology and just how much of our lives we entrust to it. Disturbing news reports like the Cambridge Analytica Facebook data theft and news about emerging technology such as the Google Duplex AI make the technology and ethical dilemmas seen in Detroit: Become Human seem more plausible than mere horror sci-fi.

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In the local context where certain condominiums force household help to ride the service elevators and levy fines to their “amos” if they’re caught on the regular elevator, the message of discrimination is still relevant. Quantic Dream follows the footsteps of the great sci-fi authors like Heinlein, Orwell, and Asimov used science fiction to comment on society and its ills.

The gameplay is not for everybody. If you’re looking for the fast-paced gameplay of DOTA, Call of Duty or PUBG, Detroit: Become Human might bore you as even the twitch-oriented parts of the game are just short sequences of button pushing. 

However, if you’re the type of person who can binge-watch an entire season of a TV series in a couple of evenings or a fan of speculative science-fiction, then give this masterpiece of Quantic Dream a shot.

Detroit: Become Human is an exclusive release for the Sony PlayStation 4 and is now available at your favorite games retailer with an SRP of P2,799 for the standard edition and P3,199 for the collector’s edition.