Detroit: Become Human has good intentions. It aims to use a slightly futuristic setting to make players take a step back and examine the problems that we face in our society today. Whether or not that will occur in those that purchase the PlayStation 4 exclusive remains to be seen, but after completing several endings of its branching narrative I haven't seen any reason to believe that there's anything interesting enough here to really force anyone to reassess their own prejudice.
Sadly, good intentions don't exactly equate to a great story. While director and writer David Cage clearly wanted to drive home the point that racism is bad, he never presents anything more than a rather obvious observation. Detroit: Become Human uses androids as a catch-all to represent the oppressed: minorities, women, those who don't conform to societal norms, and the LGBTQ+ community. However, there's little in the story beyond banging a shovel over the player's head time and time again that they're being treated similarly to slaves were in the 1800s.
On one hand, it's great to see that a triple-A title makes such a clear defined statement. Nobody can play through Detroit without understanding that Quantic Dream is against racism, but it's all done with such little nuance that the game never has the chance to force the player to deal with or even consider their own shortcomings as a person. If the androids weren't constantly shown as being blatantly segregated and degraded from the very opening moments of the game to the end, perhaps it would have had a chance to get players to think something beyond "Wow. Humans kind of suck, huh?"
Detroit: Become Human's portrayal of an android civil rights movement actually winds up being quite troubling especially when high-profile celebrities like Kanye West are talking about how slavery was a choice rather than a forced situation by abusive monsters of men. Because the game quite literally boils the issue down as a choice of the androids at one point, asking them if they want to continue to be slaves or start to speak up. Detroit has an optimistic view towards change, one that just isn't realistic when you look at real oppression.
Detroit: Become Human is an Interactive Letdown
The story of Detroit is the focus but there is plenty of interaction and player choice plays a key part in how the narrative of Become Human unfolds. The game features several drastically different endings depending on what the player decides, ranging from potentially heartbreaking to an illogically happy ending for all parties involved.
Players who have played past Quantic Dream titles, such as Heavy Rain or Beyond: Two Souls, will know what to expect from a gameplay perspective. Players explore various locations ranging from parks in Detroit to homes that are both literally and figuratively broken and can interact with some objects by making specific motions (such as an upward swipe or a quarter circle clockwise) with the right analog stick. It's more than a little clumsy, as the right analog stick also controls the camera, and it's confusing as to why the developer has stuck with more or less the same controls in all of their titles since 2010's Heavy Rain.
Some of the better gameplay moments involve police missions as Connor and Hank who typically have a homicide that they're investigating. Here, players use the special skills of an android to scan the crime scene, analyze data (which means disgustingly putting every substance you find in Connor's mouth in order to analyze blood types), and even recreate the crime scenes. These moments are reminiscent to the investigation segments in the Batman: Arkham games, and they're one of the few cool moments that players have control over.
While the majority of the gameplay is more of a go at your own pace adventure game, there are more action-packed sequences that look like something right out of a budget action flick. These combat encounters and acts of athleticism typically require the player to stare intently at the television screen waiting for command prompts to appear and pressing the corresponding button on their controller. These types of quick-time events grew old over a decade ago, and they're just as dull here. They do wind up determining how players fare in these sequences (which can potentially lead to deaths), but I found it difficult to fail out of them. It's a boring, non-challenging way to add in some action.
The Story of Three Androids
While the macro-level story of Detroit: Become Human has serious issues, it actually does a great job in crafting likable characters. The game features three protagonists with distinct personalities, from the overly serious android detective Connor to Markus' free spirit that was brought by due to the mentorship of his artistic owner. Despite being robots, the characters have real personalities and range.
Kara stands out especially though, a maid robot that is quickly shown to be the subject of abuse by a drug-addicted owner. Making matters worse is that Kara isn't the only victim, as Alice, the young child Kara is meant to care for is also being physically and emotionally tormented by a father that simply isn't worthy of the role. The duo eventually attempt to run away for a brighter future together, and there's a lovely mother-daughter connection between the two.
Other character relationships aren't quite as sweet, but they are just as interesting. There's a fun odd cop pairing of the overly serious Connor with Hank, a down on his luck Lieutenant that drowns his sorrow in booze. It's a rough working relationship from the very beginning as Hank is shown to be against androids, even going as far to seek out bars that don't allow the robots to enter. However, a lot of personal growth is shown throughout and the contrasting personalities of the two shine as they have some of the funniest dialogue exchanges in the entire story.
Meanwhile, the caretaker Markus has a more formless personality. I felt as though he was meant to be a true representation of the player, as they ostensibly create his traits via their actions. This works out logically in-game as he's owned by an artist named Carl, who spends his final days trying to teach Markus to think for himself.
Close, But Not Quite There
Detroit: Become Human features a branching narrative that can be completed in around 14 hours, but seeing all of the various story beats will take upwards of 40 hours. If a player just wants to see the main endings then they can do it in just a few additional hours thanks to the chapter select functionality. A lot of the differences are rather mundane however, and have little impact on the actual story.
Some of the best choice-driven narratives in games have been found in adventure games by Telltale, and their strengths lie in crafting decisions that really tear at the player emotionally. That never really happens during Detroit. It once asked me if I was willing to sacrifice a random character I barely had a recollection of in order to ensure another character lives, and while I didn't feel good about losing an android life, it certainly beat the alternative of seeing one of the main characters die. There aren't decisions offered that will leave players questioning themselves.
Ultimately, Detroit: Become Human is an uneven game. Some of the dialogue is fantastically written while it struggles with the greater plot at hand. It isn't Quantic Dream's best work, but it does show some of their best potential within what is overall a disappointment. Hopefully next time they'll capitalize on all of their talents since they clearly have the skill to do something special within the gaming medium, but this clearly isn't it.
Screen Rant played the PlayStation 4 version of Detroit: Become Human as provided by Sony.