Available on PS4 | Windows
Unlocking the Souls of Androids, or Keeping Them As Slaves Are Choices You Have To Make In This Compelling Adventure
As a reflection on our choices, empathy, and humanity, Quantic Dream’s narrative adventure game, Detroit: Become Human, tells a human tale with non-human characters. Their plights, their enslavements, and their rebellions all echo the problems we as humans face today. Socioeconomic struggles, freedom of expression, battles for the soul of our nations and for our identities – Detroit: Become Human taps into each of these as the main characters fight for their rights to live among mankind as full citizens.
Set in Detroit in the year 2038, this is a near-future where androids are part of our everyday lives – for better or for worse. Created by a megacorporation called CyberLife, these are androids based on the first model to pass the Turing test in the game’s fictional universe. They look exactly like humans, aside from a few details: the glowing LED on their right temple; their stylized clothing marking them with their model numbers; and an eerie, mechanical deadness in their eyes, showing that they’ve yet to ‘awaken.’
The three main protagonists – Connor, Markus, and Kara – can all awaken, but what they do with their newfound self-awareness depends on your choices. Detroit: Become Human features a groundbreaking system of branching narrative decisions, unrivaled in scale, scope, and detail.
You begin the game as Connor, an android created by CyberLife to assist human detectives and police in tracking down deviants, or androids gone rogue. As you explore your environments, you can have Connor investigate clues and analyze data. He can recreate scenes to gather important evidence and information, showing you remnants of what happened before, during, or after a crime took place. The clues that Connor gathers for the first gameplay section leads him through a gripping opening chapter that has the potential to play out in half a dozen ways.
Markus starts the game as a caretaker for an elderly, wealthy artist. His life drastically changes one day, pushing him to become a freedom fighter, pursuing better rights for the androids who blindly serve humans. His gameplay sections gradually become more focused on action. Whether he’s shooting his way through a high-stakes situation, or he’s running to save his comrades, Markus’ sections tend to be more involved than the others. The QTEs show up more as his story progresses, with some intense, on-the-spot decision-making that result in major characters living or dying.
Meanwhile, Kara is a mother-like figure focused on protecting Alice, a little girl whom she grows attached to early on in the story. Her gameplay is more thoughtful and measured, showing her interacting with Alice while they’re on the run, and inevitably getting caught up in the war between humans and androids. There are some heart-wrenching scenes where the clock is ticking and you need to find a way to save Alice, Kara, or their allies from danger.
Dialog choices are shortened to the tone you want for your responses. Whether you’re playing as Connor, Kara, or Markus, you can also investigate clues to unlock additional dialog options and narrative outcomes. Some of these paths open up much later on in the game, well after you find the relevant clues in earlier chapters. Detroit: Become Human does an excellent job of rewarding you for exploration, as even the most insignificant things can have a big impact down the line.
As for the controls, they’re strong in some areas and weak in others. Walking around has a nice, organic feeling. Turning your character around and making them walk in any given direction is about as realistic as it can get. With that realism comes the jarring disconnect when the rest of your actions are simple button presses or QTEs. There’s a silliness in reacting to button prompts for action scenes or during the game’s – at times – bombastic political moments. That silliness can elevate your experience and keep you entertained, or it can pollute your time with the game and turn you off.
Outside of decision-making, Detroit: Become Human’s shallow controls can make you feel like a spectator watching an interactive film. There are difficulty options to help with this, but if you’re an experienced player, you likely won’t notice any difference between the easiest and hardest settings.
But even if you play the game poorly, there no fail-states or game-overs. If Connor dies, for example, then the rest of the story continues without him. So, your first playthrough will probably be vary quite a bit from someone else’s. The perpetual plot and branching choices encourage you to replay individual chapters or the entire game, letting you see what you missed the first time around.
The structure of Detroit: Become Human’s narrative branches is unparalleled. Each time you finish a story chapter, you’re presented with a long, winding flowchart of each decision you made. You also get to see empty slots for decisions you didn’t make and branches you didn’t unlock. Aside from the few linear chapters, every story section has at least two vastly different outcomes at the end.
Connor’s arc is incredible, as it shows the morally gray issue of him working alongside humans who are against the androids fighting for their freedom. The one who hates androids the most is his detective partner, Lieutenant Hank. Though Hank starts off as the typical hardboiled drunkard, he can grow to change his mind about androids or hate them even more, depending on how Connor behaves, all based on your choices.
Kara’s story as a mother to Alice is touching and inspiring. You get to see just how far Kara will go to protect a little girl who is not biologically hers. But her plot doesn’t deviate from this theme, and she and Alice don’t necessarily grow as characters in the way that Connor is able to. The hook is truly Kara’s mentality of keeping Alice safe no matter the cost. The beginning of her story, however, falls flat, as she initially saves Alice from her violent and abusive father. The domestic violence is heavy-handed and predictable, with amateurish drama that has little build-up. As the story moves past this, though, there are some unforgettable moments that will shock you, as the writers chose to really go there.
The main driving force behind the story is Markus as the revolutionary, but his is the weakest arc. He has a straight path from caretaker to freedom fighter, with no time for him to grow into his role. He simply steps up as a leader of the group of rebellious androids because no one else does. Though there are some amazing set pieces and memorable scenes with Markus leading the revolution, there is little that he has to offer as a character. He is an avatar carrying out your decisions, as his personal connection to the movement isn’t well-established. His choices to be peaceful or violent will either please or displease his group’s lieutenants in binary ways. While you can pursue a romance with North, the lieutenant who favors violence, she has a lot of wasted potential as a character. She and the other members of Markus’ group are mostly underdeveloped, black-and-white morality meters.
Moreover, Markus’ fight to free the androids draws on the civil rights movement in America, though not in a good way. The story pays lip service to phrases like “I have a dream” without getting into the historical context of where these sentiments came from, or how exactly they could apply to the androids. The game simply assumes that you will have the real-world context for Markus’ idealism, and skips out on developing his newfound views in a more meaningful way. This makes for a pallid, watered-down revolution that doesn’t come anywhere near the history that it borrows so heavily from.
Graphics and Visuals
Detroit: Become Human is stunning. The way it brings Detroit and its inhabitants to life is a sight to behold. Right as you load up the game, you’re greeted by Chloe, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed android who looks incredibly life-like. She is your companion as you browse the start menu, giving explanations for the various options you can select. You can see the multitude of red colorations of her pores over her fair skin, and a few other darkened imperfections of her forehead. The level of detail in her eyes is amazing, as you can spot every crystal-like shard within her irises if you look closely enough.
This level of detail carries over to the full game as well. The impeccable quality of Connor’s exacting haircut, the razor bumps on the back of his neck, and the sleekness of his clothes are eye-catching. The three main characters all have this handcrafted quality in their models as well. While the side characters don’t have that same photorealism, they’re still great to look at.
The city of Detroit in 2038 is gritty and realistic; technologically-advanced in some areas, and less well-off in others. Each spec of rain or snow falling down on the ground, or the sunlight or moonlight shining down on the city feels authentic and real. The contrast between the run-down residential areas and the hi-tech city hubs reflects Detroit’s resilience and history.
Detroit: Become Human’s polished feel is never too polished or unbelievable. Everything seems like it’s well within the realm of possibilities. This could easily be our future someday.
Music and Sound
With three different composers for the three main characters, the soundtrack maintains a distinct feel without sounding disjointed.
Composer Nima Fakhrara uses a selection of vintage synthesizers, custom-made strings, and unplugged electronic instruments to mimic Connor’s emotionless, methodical personality. There’s an innocent curiosity to Connor as well, and you can often hear the clicking and scratches of the instruments reflecting Connor’s thoughts in any given scene. Connor’s scores can grow to become more emotional if the player’s choices lead him down that path of self-discovery, showing his range as a character.
John Paesano brings a sweeping, orchestral sound to Markus’ story. This is a more cinematic sound, much like the cinematic experience of the game itself. He does a fantastic job at capturing the dark feelings of prejudice with the light of hope and freedom. At the same time, Markus’ songs don’t feel personal to him as a character. They’re fitting for the revolution, but not him as an individual. Some of his tracks are forgettable and generic because of that disconnect, no matter how great they sound.
Philip Sheppard captures Kara’s heartfelt arc with intensity and urgency. The repeating sounds as leitmotifs in Kara’s soundtrack reinforce her goals and her mission to protect Alice at all costs. The standout is the prominent cello in many of her tracks, carrying Kara through and strumming her determination as high as it can go. The composer drew on his own feelings as a father to his daughter, giving Kara her own selfless soul as a mother to a child who needs her so desperately. Kara’s main theme is the star of the soundtrack, illustrating her character and her motivations through the cello, piano, and violins all working to show her love and resolve.
Beyond the soundtrack, the voice acting is professional and well-executed. You may recognize real-world actors as the characters they play, like Jesse Williams as Markus and Clancy Brown as Hank. Even when the actual writing falls short, the actors give their performances with such heart and meaning. Sometimes it hard to separate the weaker scenes from the strong voice acting, making it easier to accept the story’s faults.
Detroit: Become Human sacrifices a lot in terms of gameplay in order for its ambitious narrative to succeed. But the gameplay offers such unique experiences as you play through sequences with each of the main characters. The uniqueness is less about the variety and depth of the controls, and more about how the game compels you to make impactful narrative decisions. The sheer variety in outcomes makes it so that everyone can experience wildly different playthroughs.
For the most part, this is a game that shows the possibilities in our near-future. We may very well create androids to become our servants, as automation is heading in that direction. The trope of the created rising up against their creators could also come true. How exactly that conflict will play out is up in the air, as Detroit: Become Human doesn’t make a convincing argument on that front.
Equating discrimination against androids with real-world racism is a hard sell. Detroit: Become Human doesn’t pull it off, because it avoids diving into the civil rights movement for what it was. Portraying uper-powered androids as systematically oppressed, powerless minorities is a ridiculous false equivalence.
The game is better when it shows how androids have integrated with humans and changed the course of civilization. It’s stronger when it shows Connor and Hank’s banter together during their chapters, or Kara thinking on her feet to save Alice, or Markus’ pacifist or violent actions influencing public opinion about the androids. And it’s strongest when the three characters’ lives intersect in ways that feel natural, allowing you to see just how much your decisions shape the outcome of the story.