Detroit: Become Human serves as the next narrative driven adventure game by the team at Quantic Dream. It follows Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, the latter of which wasn’t quite so well received compared to the former but still delivered the same story-based experience. So, a lot is riding on Detroit being a hit, especially releasing after a critically acclaimed God of War. But does it captivate or alienate?
There is one underlying story that encompasses the narrative behind each character you either play as or even encounter along the way. I believe that there aren’t many games that successfully tell a main story so concisely, whilst able to dive into numerous others and make them all feel truly important and unique in their own way whilst following the same themes.
Androids have been created to benefit mankind, to serve under them and basically do all the labour orientated tasks that seemingly no-one wants to do. This of course creates a “they took our jobs” kind of mentality, especially for those who could only do those jobs to earn a living, and think these creations have come in and have negatively affected their lives, opposing the reason they were built for in the first place.
Of course, this creates a division with the working class utterly hating them, the richer just happy they have these androids to order around and then the third side that rears its head is of the Androids themselves. They begin to develop emotions and become what is called a ‘deviant’ something that deviates from its initial programming. The journey is to, without sounding cliché or cheesy, ‘become human’ but in terms of rites and equality. It’s an intensely fascinating narrative on a base level, before you take into account how the adventure takes drastic turns dependent on player choice.
Now, talking about choice, it is at the very essence of everything you do, some games state they have player driven story, this is that, but on steroids, not to disparage other similar games but I haven’t played any others that just absolutely brings it on that front. Dozens of forks in the road are presented to the player and in most cases that is just in one mission. I was stunned each time a section would end and show a flowchart of what I chose to do but then the many branches and routes I could have taken and does so without spoiling those other paths.
It doesn’t just boast replayability like a marketing term, you choose to replay missions whenever you want, but are recommended you don’t until after your first completion and I feel that is the right way to go. It makes your decisions matter and allows you to live with those until the very end but doesn’t force you if you wish not to.
What I find incredible is all the possibilities that can come about from just one decision, affecting reputation with others, potential character deaths, maybe characters never see each other because of something you did, or they become friends because of it. That one decision can come back and either bite you in the ass or pay dividends later on. There are almost tangible consequences to everything or as tangible as something can be in a video game at least.
The cast of characters, not just those that you play as provide depth and heart to what unfolds. Connor, Kara and Markus are the three playable characters all of which are different from the other in background, behaviour and look. But these aren’t the only ones you build a connection with, for me personally the ones met a long the way are essential and play key supporting roles in evoking emotion and putting a stamp on the circumstances and context encountered. Hank, Alice, Carl, North and so many more are not just interesting, but they’re memorable no matter the time spent with them.
Gameplay typically takes a backseat in games of this genre but that certainly is not the case here, in fact your input is vital, not just for choices but for exploration and quick time event style combat too. Moving around each area you can come across a bevy of interaction points that usually in some way unfold events and deliver more lore. Movement is slow and somewhat a little awkward at times especially when colliding with objects and the world but for me this didn’t dampen my love for it.
Another trope of these story-based adventures is a slow pace, but in the many combat sequences, you are faced with fast-paced button prompts that induce this feeling of urgency. It is a refreshing change of pace that is scattered plentiful throughout but in a way that comes across as methodically placed to stave off monotony. Mixed in with that is the transition from one story arch to another which is done so in a way that sets an easy to follow pace and helps build up each tale without it feeling disjointed.
The city of Detroit in 2038 shows a huge advancement in technology and has been displayed beautifully. It feels lived in and mirrors the real city in that aspect. From the mass of people that roam the streets, to the vehicles that occupy the roads and especially the bright lights of downtown. What I find as great design is the vast difference in moods and aesthetics between the many locations in the city, from being in the heart of the retail districts to the run-down docks and even the open snow-covered country side.
Level design is only half the wonder, character design is also where it’s at and boy are there some good-looking visuals on that front. The many faces look true to their real-life actor/actress likenesses and go a long way in immersing you in a world that feels, authentic. Because of this, every emotion the characters produced flooded out of the screen and triggered so many emotions inside me, I laughed, I scowled, I even teared up a little at times.
Sound goes hand in hand with the visuals to set the tone for each scene, location and characters. The soundtracks composed by Nima Fakhrara, Philip Sheppard, John Paesano and more are both stunning and varied, the three main protagonists each with their own theme, some having designated themes that play when with specific characters. My favourite of which being Kara’s theme, which shows up in many different forms, some to showcase tragedy and in other ways to display the glimmer of hope, the same tune but played in different tempo’s, pitch and sometimes accompanied by other instruments.
The final solidifying stamp for me on my appreciation for this magnificent piece of art would be the numerous set piece moments that don’t feel nonsensical but are well-earned climaxes to arch’s and scenes throughout. Once again, I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place, I don’t want to spoil anything for you but I also just want to talk about these breath-taking, awe-inspiring moments that are products of expert writing and design.
Detroit: Become Human was personally my dark horse pick of the year, I feel more talk surrounded the other Sony first party exclusives like God of War and Spider-Man but I always felt Detroit would be the one to really connect with me. I was right. It is an utter masterclass in pacing, writing, visual design, sound design, gameplay, acting and execution.
OVERALL: 9.8/10 – EXCELLENCE
Reviewed by Rhys Baldwin.