Recently, I had the chance to play the first two hours or so of Detroit: Become Human by Quantic Dream. This was quite the change from previous showings of the game. While I saw a hands-off session at Paris Games Week of the controversial scene depicting Kara as she protects Alice from Todd, for the first time I was able to play something different from the Hostage sequent that has been showcased at pretty much every event for years.
As a matter of fact, I could play a lot of different scenes much before and after those, including the first time stepping in the shoes of Markus. I won’t tell much more about the story besides a general outline, because this is a game that appears worth experiencing without spoilers, small as they can be.
We’re in a near-future Detroit, where androids have replaced a large part of the workforce. This had beneficial effects, like a large increase of free time for those who can afford it. Yet, it also shook society to the core, with increasing areas of the population becoming unemployed, replaced in their jobs by androids.
The game’s society appears to be a bomb about to explode, with humans disgruntled by unemployment, taking their frustrations out on what they think to be soulless machines. Yet, some androids have started to show signs of irregular behavior, including reactions that appear to be caused by something akin to feelings. Being targeted by discrimination and abuse, this adds to the overall tension.
The story follows three different androids: Kara and Markus are both models dedicated to taking care of humans, but their reaction to their situation appears to be the geometrical opposite. Connor is an outlier, as he is a special and super-advanced model created to hunt down other androids showing irregular behavior.
While this is all you’re gonna hear from me today about the story: this is a Quantic Dream game, so you can definitely expect a deep and moving narrative. In the two hours I played — and it was just the beginning — the feelings were quite intense, with scenes that punched me right in the stomach, contrasting with others that felt calmer but still building up a brooding tension that appears to be extremely promising.
The depiction of characters was absolutely fantastic thanks to top-notch performance capture and writing. I found myself caring deeply not only for the three protagonists but also for many of the secondary characters that played their roles in front of my eyes. As for Kara and Marku, I cared about them for different reasons. Yet, surprisingly, I felt a connection even with the cold and calculating Connor, which I really did not expect. In Detroit: Become Human the line between heroes and villains is very much blurred, and there might actually be no heroes or villains at all, even if I didn’t play long enough to know for sure.
Yet, there is one more protagonist in the game, and that’s the city itself. While it’s far from an open world (it’s a Quantic Dream game, after all), it feels more alive and “lived in” than most I’ve seen in gaming. The development team went above and beyond the call of duty to include an enormous density of small details that make the setting interesting and very much believable. I won’t describe them further, because I believe that you should explore and experience them on your own, but the game’s Detroit and its society are two more elements I found myself caring about.
While the level of detail and the human (and android) interactions are deeply emotional and charming, I felt an impending sense of building tension. It was like society was rotting to the core gradually right in front of my eyes. It felt almost terrifying, even more than the violent and impactful domestic abuse scene that you have already seen last year.
The gameplay is mostly what you could expect from a Quantic Dream game. It’s very similar to old-school point-and-click adventures (without the pointing), as you’ll navigate the levels searching for clues and elements you can interact with to progress the story. Yet, there is definitely enough interaction to make it feel like a game, so spare me the “interactive movie” scorn. It really isn’t. If The Secret of Monkey Island, Kings’ Quest, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, and Leisure Suit Larry can be defined full-fledged games — and they can — so can Detroit: Become Human.
The one aspect of gameplay I am conflicted about is the reliance on a considerable amount of quicktime events during some combat moments. While those moments were rare in the two hours I played, especially in one occasion they seemed a bit too prominent which will inevitably result in failures for those among us who aren’t quick with their reflexes and muscle memory. That being said, there are some factors that make me second-guess my initial negative impression.
First of all, there are levels of difficulty: I was playing on normal, but there is an easier one that might possibly make quicktime events less challenging for those who simply want to enjoy the story. Secondly, the specific scene in which the density of quicktime events felt a bit excessive was the one you probably already saw between Kara and Todd. In this specific scene, Kara faces someone who is considerably stronger physically, without having any kind of combat training, so it makes sense that it would be an uphill struggle.
Third, and perhaps more important, is the fact that in this game all three main characters can die, permanently. You’re consistently at a risk of losing one or more of them. This does not lead to a game over, but simply to the story coping with their death and progressing organically. This sensation of realistic tension is definitely another element that feels a bit terrifying, especially until you come to terms with it. On the flipside, it makes you care about the characters a lot more and gives the narrative a sense of gravity that is absent in other games where the risk of loss is much less clear and present.
The real core of the game is the branching narrative that doesn’t just deal with the possible death of characters, but with many facets of the story that will change depending on your choices. While the scenes I tried didn’t have a million outcomes on their own, the way I got there had a very large range of potential variation, and I just scratched the surface on how much choices in a specific scene can change the events in those that come after.
After each scene, you’re shown a branching diagram that displays the route you took, and how you got there, also giving you a good idea of what you have missed. There is a lot to explore, and a ton of room for potential replayability.
Personally, I have never been a massive Quantic Dream fan. I enjoyed part of their production, while the rest left me rather cold. Yet, Detroit: Become Human feels different. While I played only two hours, they felt tenser and more believable than any previous game by the studio, even thanks to the acting and performance capture that definitely was kicked up a notch or many.
Ultimately, it felt more human, which is ironic considering that we’re playing androids.
This is a game that comes with an extremely strong presentation and absolutely fantastic graphics, but there is a lot more behind that glossy surface: great writing, an engrossing story, a deep, rich, and complex setting, and characters you really care for are mixed into an amalgam that feels just right and creates the potential for a classic. Time will tell whether this potential will be carried on all the way through the game or not, but for now, color me intrigued (and still a bit terrified, but in a good way).
If you want to see more of the game, you can also enjoy a large batch of new screenshots, and read about the story directly from its Lead Writer, while you wait to play the demo tomorrow.
Detroit: Become Human will release exclusively for PS4 on May 25th, 2018. You still have time to pre-order the game before its launch, and you can reserve your copy via Amazon.
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