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E3 2016: Detroit: Become Human is a Sci-Fi Thriller About Humanity

Sony’s behind closed doors demo of Detroit: Become Human was a half-hour long piece of evidence of how Quantic Dream creates things that are interesting, but deeply flawed. It opens in the same place as the E3 2016 press conference trailer, inside an apartment during a difficult hostage situation involving a disgruntled android and the little girl of the family he served.

The main character in this demo was Connor, a fellow android who appears to be in service of law enforcement. As he enters the room, Connor is greeted with disdain from the girl’s mother, who loudly insists on knowing why the police department would send—gasp!—an android to negotiate for her daughter.

In this moment, I recognized exactly what kind of game we were witnessing. It’s a Quantic Dream game through and through, with all the stilted dialog and ham-fisted emotional “lessons” coming through from the start. The moment we see this exchange, we’re immediately meant to sympathize with Connor, to feel bad for this poor android because of the bigotry he’s surrounded by. Everyone around him is skeptical, everyone around him is irredeemably insufferable, despite this being a futuristic world with android tech advanced enough it would have to have subsisted for several years, or at least long enough to see people begin to relax and accept him.

He brushes off the encounter, coolly walking into the room and taking stock of the situation. He goes into a batman-like “detective mode,” investigating the crime scene through a lens feeding him information about how all of the events were carried out. He sees the downed police officer who was the first responder to the rogue android’s freak-out. He sees the dead father, who was caught attempting to purchase a new android for the family and thus caused the rogue android to go into a jealous fit of rage.

Once he sees this, he steps onto the balcony, where the rogue android is standing on the edge of the roof, a gun pressed to the little girl’s head. He starts demanding things of Connor, who is in turn trying desperately to help the fellow android relax and see reason. Meanwhile, the rogue android launches into a heavy-handed speech about how he sees himself as part of the family and wants to be appreciated and hates how he doesn’t have any choice for himself. Basically, an exploration of what it means to be “human” and where machines could potentially fall.

It starts off okay, but the more the rogue talks, the more cringe worthy it becomes. By the end, Detroit practically bludgeons the viewer with its moral quandaries, asking so many questions that all subtlety is practically absent.

During this, Connor is able to exercise a handful of choices that will ultimately determine the outcome of the scenario. He can choose to arm himself, despite androids being restricted by law to carry a gun. He can investigate the girl’s room and learn more about the rogue android and his connection to the family. The more Connor investigates, the more he’s able to successfully navigate the situation, with several different outcomes based on how Connor conducts himself.

It utilizes a system I have always enjoyed; using percentages and a slight bit of chance to tempt a player to make a mistake and completely botch a situation. Having multiple outcomes makes it especially interesting, particularly because there are chances for the player to experiment with varied outcomes based on how thorough they choose to be. The writing and presentation is a tad egregious, but it’s possible they were curtailed to showcase a piece of everything in one small demo. I suppose we’ll find out for sure when Detroit: Become Human launches on PS4. 

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