What does it mean to be human? Is it self-awareness? Self-preservation? The willingness to sacrifice oneself for another? Can something we create non-biologically be considered alive? Does that mean it has a soul? Does that allow it the same rights as humans?
These are all heady philosophical questions that we love to explore as the topic of technology becomes more prevalent. We are quickly barreling towards artificial intelligence and all the top minds in the field believe that singularity is inevitable. Developer Quantic Dream is the latest to take on this subject.
Detroit: Become Human is structured around three main protagonists, all cybernetic, and grapple with different aspects of the issue.
Kara is by far the most intimate storyline. She is placed in an abusive home and has to protect a small child from harm despite her restrictive programming. Markus is an android thrusted up as the figurehead of an insurgent android group, fighting for their freedom and basic right to exist. Connor is a specialized law enforcement unit who is placed in direct opposition to Markus and his own kin.
While the game doesn’t dive as deeply into the questions as I’d want, it goes a great job of creating stakes and empowering the user with agency and investment through a diverse set of paths guided by the player’s decisions. I felt a strong attachment to most of the characters because I was the one choosing what they’d do. The fact that the characters could’ve easily permanently died at several points in the story weighed heavily on my decision-making. By the end, I was mournful of the ones I’d lost and relieved for the ones I’d managed to save.
The core of the gameplay is structured similar to Telltale style games but on a whole other level. I criticize Telltale often for their binary choices which always seem to lead back to the same outcomes. Yet Quantic Dream has managed to craft a plot that branches wildly throughout the experience of Detroit: Become Human. There are entire scenes, locations, and characters that you might never see depending on your choices.
Next, the fidelity of the graphics is awe-inspiring. Even coming after God of War, I was wowed by how much sharp detail was visible on the characters. The subjects are mostly androids so a certain amount of uncanny valley is to be expected. Yet skin imperfections and cloth textures were as good as I’ve ever seen in a game. Add that to the motion-capture acting and the amazing amount of emotive expressions that the characters had, it was easily convincing that I was watching real people rather than a video game. Little quirks of the actors like a crooked smile are things that Pixar has been capturing for years, but never to this level of realism.
Again, the game seemed less focused on pondering questions and more propelling the plot. And while developments seemed to happen at an unbelievably fast pace, I was still enthralled enough to go along for the ride. I liked that the game explored different levels of scope, from the high androids vs humans to the very personal one on one. But honestly, I would’ve been happier to spend more of my time in those intimate encounters..
Even though the choose-your-path style games aren’t exactly new, I think Detroit: Become Human manages to rise above the rest. The past couple of days has been filled with me trading stories with others of our playthroughs and marveling at how drastically different the outcomes were. That’s an incredible achievement that not many games have been able to deliver on. Even the Mass Effect trilogy couldn’t compete with this.
I highly encourage everyone to give this game a shot and see what kind of story you craft.