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August 26, 2019

Detroit: Become Human is ambitious and feels like a film, interrupted from time to time with gameplay: review

May 29, 2018
‘Detroit: Become Human’ (Sony Interactive Entertainment)

As a video game, it is a technical marvel, so graphically beautiful and smooth that you can’t help but confuse it for a film, with just the right amount of button-pressing to immerse you further in its world. This is the closest that a game has ever come to being a film, reaching a new level for game storytelling mechanics.

And as a film? It shows that video game storytelling still needs a little work.

Welcome to Detroit: Become Human, the most ambitious game yet from game director David Cage. The mind behind Beyond: Two Souls and Heavy Rain is at it again with Detroit: Become Human, continuing his quest to edge the video game genre that much closer to film.

And Cage’s Detroit feels positively film-like, with polished gameplay that rarely interrupts the experience, and just enough environmental variety to further the immersion. It is not a perfect ride, but that has nothing to do with technical prowess; Detroit: Become Human’s gameplay is a joy, especially when you’re playing through the sequences of Connor, the robot detective.

With Detroit, Cage cracks the play-watch code, finding strong balance between the time you spend as a viewer and the time you spend doing tasks. You play as three different androids – Connor, caretaker bot Markus and housekeeper bot Kara – in the somewhat near future, the year 2038.

'Detroit: Become Human'
‘Detroit: Become Human’ (Sony Interactive Entertainment)

You’ll spend plenty of time walking around rooms and areas as each character, interacting with your environment and NPCs via thumbstick rotations and light button-pressing. An action game this is not, but Detroit still finds ways to make many of these moments meaningful, especially certain tense junctures where you just make a decision, via multiple-choice button-press, quickly and under duress.

And while mundane moments are less fun, at least the control prompts for such things as washing dishes feel intuitive enough that you may smile just a little. (Quantic Dream is also the only developer out there that understands how to be creative with the Dualshock’s touchpad.)

Detroit has surprisingly good pacing, partly because it’s parceled out over the three storylines. Connor’s tale delivers the most exciting gameplay, a cop drama starring an android. It’s familiar territory these days (we’ve seen films like “I, Robot”, after all), but it’s well-constructed, and the gameplay is exciting here.

The stories of Kara and Markus are where Cage tries to push gaming out of its comfort zone. Markus’ tale apes “I, Robot” in some ways, then treads into civil disobedience and protest. It’s certainly a story worth telling, and it’s relevant to these times, but, like many video game stories, there’s too much melodrama. That combines with a lack of proper back story to leave Markus’ narrative flat, and, in many ways, Kara’s story, which also veers into unique territory, struggles in much the same way.

'Detroit: Become Human'
‘Detroit: Become Human’ (Sony Interactive Entertainment)

Kara’s story is the most interesting of the three tales overall, with a few interesting twists and turns, but overall, no story feels truly unique, especially if you’re a sci-fi junkie. This 2038 isn’t filled with any truly interesting or futuristic ideas beyond its androids; the lone place you get a non-android vision of the future is within the tablet magazines that you’ll occasionally pick up and read. Check these out at every opportunity.

And appreciate Detroit for the unique blend of narrative and gameplay that it is. No, it doesn’t tell an earth-shattering story. But boy, does it know how to tell the story that it tells.

Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4 

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