Life often comes down to the choices we make. Even the most minute actions can have drastic consequences, ones that we can’t always walk back. When it comes to the more difficult decisions, we’re forced to consider the paths we’ve chosen to take and the people we ultimately hope to become. This quandary is what drives Detroit: Become Human, the latest release from developer Quantic Dream that’s more a compelling choose-your-own-adventure sci-fi story than it is your next video game obsession.
Directed by Quantic Dream founder David Cage, Detroit sets its world around the titular city in the year 2038. It’s a time when fictional tech company CyberLife has made such advances in the field of artificial intelligence that an android is now just another household appliance. There are androids for cleaning, androids for running errands, androids for pleasure, and androids that even assist police investigations. Aside from the slightly more advanced transportation system, auto-piloted vehicles, and abundance of neon lights, this world is very much like our own (sorry, no hover cars here).
Much like the developer’s previous games — 2013’s Beyond: Two Souls for one — the action mostly plays out through quicktime events and control prompts as you weave between three different playable characters.
First there’s Connor (voiced by video game actor Bryan Dechart). As one of CyberLife’s most advanced models, he’s been tasked to aid police investigator Hank Anderson (Shawshank Redemption‘s Clancy Brown) with incidents involving “deviants,” androids who’ve broken free of their programming. But really CyberLife wants Connor to discreetly handle the situation before rumors of their malfunctioning products become public. You also play as Kara (The Tick‘s Valorie Curry), a household android who becomes a deviant when she sees her drug-addicted owner abusing his little girl. (The unsettling nature of this concept wasn’t lost on gamers and advocates against domestic abuse). Then there’s Markus (Grey’s Anatomy‘s Jesse Williams), a caregiver unit who ends up propelling the android uprising forward.
Other stars you might recognize as the game progresses are Friday Night Lights‘ Minka Kelly and Aliens‘ Lance Henriksen, and these actors help breathe life into this story about androids becoming the new marginalized race.
Cage seemed determined to build a fully immersive world. That determination, while ambitious, can be risky. At the start of each chapter, you find yourself living the life of one of the three main androids. You’re free to walk them around their respective settings, often times allowing you to discover something that could unlock story elements in the process, but everything else is a prompted action. The camera, even, is fairly set and doesn’t allow you a 360-degree rotation unless you’re using your android senses to pinpoint objectives (which can be annoying).
The gameplay model doesn’t lend itself to binge-playing, but instead seems better suited for a prolonged experience. I, for one, needed time to ingest it all because, while there are action pieces where you’re able to chase down perps and calculate the best maneuver to take out enemy drones, there are chapters that focus on the more mundane elements of life. Markus’ story begins with an errand into town (that’s it), while Kara’s sees the android washing dishes and making beds.
Each action you take — down to what you choose to say to other characters in the game — affects your trajectory. If you are unable to find a clue in a given timeframe, the scene might simply end there and you’ll walk away without having that element. When a chapter ends, you’re given a virtual map of all the choices you made, giving you a sense of the other paths you could’ve taken without giving you the opportunity to replay levels. Again, choices have consequences and, like in real life, we don’t always get do-overs.
But this mission becomes more complicated — and maybe even a little contradictory, at times — as it progresses. The premise is that you’re making choices as the androids and deciding the kind of person you want to become. As the three character paths begin to cross, your goal becomes tricky when you now have to make choices for more than one of these characters in the same scene. Are you making decisions for the androids, as you always have been, or are you making decisions to progress the story? Are you going to contradict the arcs you set forth for the characters since the beginning or are you going to contradict where the story seems to be leading?
Detroit feels more like a rich television miniseries with elements of Westworld, Ex Machina, and neo-noir mysteries mixed in. But the replay-ability factor is questionable. The game marks an intriguing experiment for a different kind of gameplay experience. I’m just not sure how many players will want to return to this world after everything is said and done.