Elon Musk has been telling us for quite some time that we need to be more worried about AI. I’ve always agreed with him, but never took the idea seriously. I know technology will advance, and the world will continue to change, but I’ve never had a clear mental image of what that could look like. In Detroit: Become Human, Quantic Dream presents a future filled with androids and AI that is both terrifying and exhilarating. It’s a future that we might already be headed towards, and if within the realm of possibility, it’s one we’re not ready for.
The Illusion of Control
The opening moments of Detroit: Become Human see an advanced-model android named Connor on his way to resolve a hostage situation. Conner is immediately met with hostility by everybody he encounters, and it sets the tone that androids are not regarded as equal to humans, despite how much more advanced they are in some cases. Connor, of course, isn’t alive and doesn’t have feelings, so he’s only concerned with completing his objective. However, the idea that androids are less than people, even as they become more human, is a central conflict that continues throughout the entire experience.
The prologue offers the perfect entrance into Detroit: Become Human. There’s a mix of free movement, searching for clues, inconsequential conversation, and dialog with severe consequences, topped off with some action-packed quick-time events (QTE) that can change how things play out from one run to the next. When it was all done there was a slick looking flowchart to show me the path I had taken, and about three dozen other paths with question marks to let me know I was only scratching the surface. I resisted the urge to replay that portion and pushed forward.
In hindsight, I was probably cockier going into the prologue than I should have been. I figured it would be a walk in the park, and for the most part it was. I never felt things were out of control until suddenly they were. It was terrifyingly realistic to make what I felt were good decisions and have everything go sideways. I didn’t miss a QTE, things just weren’t as cut and dry as I was expecting.
That was an important lesson for me; the entire narrative changed in an instant, and there was seemingly nothing I could have done to prevent it. My choices were intuitive. I checked all the boxes, but nothing worked out as I envisioned. It was at that moment I had to let go of achieving the best outcome. I shifted my focus from the illusion of beating Detroit: Become Human and accepted I was just here to experience it.
Letting go of control was part of the reason I experienced almost no frustration while playing. Normally, missing a QTE would be infuriating for someone who is always trying to achieve the best outcome, but it wasn’t; it felt like life. Sometimes the punch gets blocked and sometimes it sneaks through. Sometimes the door jams and sometimes it’s effortless. The moment I accepted that I was able to enjoy myself more.
It helps that the QTEs are much improved from what I recall in Heavy Rain. It feels as if the sweet spots for maneuvering the right and left sticks, or the motion detection when tilting the controller, have been improved. This is true in all situations except where the touch pad is used. That still feels awkward, but luckily it isn’t utilized in life or death situations. There was never a time where I felt cheated because my actions didn’t register as intended, even on the higher of the two difficulties.
A Good-Looking Android
Because Detroit: Become Human is more narrative driven than most games, the audio and visuals must be on point, and they are. I’m not someone who buys into the idea that any game looks amazing on a PS4. I’ve been spoiled by PC. I think recent PS4 exclusives look good, but Detroit: Become Human might be the best looking PS4 game I’ve played. It looks fantastic and doesn’t have the huge open spaces to deal with. That seems to have paid off with the detail and realism of character models, and it helps accomplish a crucial task for Quantic Dream: bringing the androids to life and making them feel more human.
As someone who appreciates quality audio, Detroit: Become Human didn’t disappoint. The soundtrack was used well to complement the emotional highs and lows, and gameplay felt more realistic because the detail in sound design helped to bring situations and environments to life. Whether it was footsteps getting closer or the thuds of punches and kicks, sounds landed with an impact that helped drive the narrative, regardless of the direction it was headed.
I’m getting used to well written and acted PS4 exclusives, but this could again be one of my favorites. Not all the performances are great, but most characters are played well, and I had no trouble believing them and caring about their journey’s. Valorie Curry (Kara) and Jesse Williams (Markus) are particularly strong as leads, but Clancy Brown and Lance Henriksen do an incredible job in supporting roles and help take the voice acting in Detroit: Become Human to an exceptional level.
A Lasting Impression
By all standard measurements, Detroit: Become Human is a good game. It looks, sounds, and plays better than most, and even when I finished it I didn’t feel done. I went through a couple dozen chapters to get to the end of the story, but it was clear to me that there were countless paths, both significant and minor, that I hadn’t been down. Unlike most games I play, the end didn’t feel like the end, it just felt like one piece of a larger world, and I was eager to experience more of it.
What makes Detroit: Become Human a great game, though, is that even after going back through alternate narrative branches and winding down my play time, I’m still invested. The world that Quantic Dream gave me to explore is only a short leap from the one we’re living in now, and the ideas presented have left me contemplating the role AI could play in our lives sooner rather than later. How would androids impact our personal lives, our economy, or our approach to global conflict? When Elon Musk said we should care about AI advancements I knew he was right, but Detroit: Become Human has shown me why.
This review is based on a PS4 download code provided by the publisher. Detroit: Become Human will be available in retail and digital stores on May 25th, 2018.