Hold on just a little while longer, everything will be alright
Updated: Nov 6, 2021
—A Review of Detroit: Become Human
By Miles Stebens
Courtesy of Playstation via Facebook
Imagine a world where the ownership of androids has become the norm. What would happen if, one by one, those androids started to wake up and become sentient? In Detroit: Become Human, it is up to you to answer that fascinating question.
The game, released in 2018 by Quantic Dream, is available for PS4 and PC. During the game’s download, you’re already getting a feel for the world you’re about to dive into: your screen is filled with info about the different types of androids available for sale. The menu features an interactive hostess android (who makes some uncanny remarks), as well as an extra section containing unlockable concept artwork, promotional videos, and more.
Detroit: Become Human takes you to the not-so-distant future of 2038. Played from a third-person perspective, you follow the stories of three androids who take you through the game’s events from different points of view: Kara (Valorie Curry) is a widely spread commercialised housekeeper model, Markus (Jesse Williams) is a custom-made prototype android, and Connor (Bryan Dechart), CyberLife’s latest and most advanced prototype yet, joins the Detroit Police Department and teams up with (a rather reluctant) Lieutenant Hank Anderson (Clancy Brown) to hunt deviants (androids who have become sentient). What happens with these characters and how their stories end is entirely dependent on you. Will Kara escape her fate? Can Markus live up to the expectations? Is Connor going to accomplish his mission?
Detroit has quickly become one of my favourite games and the latest addition to my many obsessions. After playing it for the first time on a friend’s console, I just had to get it myself so I could play it again. And again. Detroit is a ‘choices matter’ game with many wildly different possible endings. As in real life, it’s often difficult to know the impact of every decision, and the game uses this interactive, story-driven approach to pull you in from the very beginning, keep you on the edge of your seat throughout, and stay with you long after you’ve finished.
Emotional attachment to the characters is a guarantee – that’s true for our three protagonists as well as the people they meet along their journey. One of my favourite things in the game is that you get to see how your relationships progress with the side characters, allowing you to discover their tragic backstories. Even some of the minor characters that only have a couple of scenes manage to weasel their way into your heart. There’s also a massive gentle giant of a dog (what’s not to love?). Be prepared for gasps, tears, and maybe even some screams – the game can get pretty intense.
After every chapter, you get a massive flowchart which shows you all the different decisions you could have made. However, you will only be able to see each path once you’ve played it through. Replays are, therefore, highly encouraged if you want to know all the different endings. After 7 playthroughs, I’ve managed to accumulate every trophy in the game, yet I am still miles away from filling up the flowchart. This task is as time-consuming as it is traumatising (you’ll understand).
As much as I enjoy replaying the game, I have to acknowledge a downside: it’s impossible to skip any dialogue. You can replay single chapters after finishing the game, but you can only have one active story at a time. So, if you want to get different paths in later chapters (which are only available through certain decisions you made earlier in the story), you’ll have to sit through repetitive scenes. Don’t let this discourage you though; nobody forces you to be an obsessive perfectionist like me who absolutely has to get every single path, no matter how much it emotionally wrecks them.
Through the use of motion capture suits and extensive filming, the game looks fabulously realistic, with its three protagonists looking particularly life-like. The graphics are stunning and the futuristic world the developers built is a fascinating glimpse into our potential future.
The city of Detroit is the perfect setting for this game, what with it becoming an industrial magnate after the Civil War and the automobile capital of the world through Henry Ford’s introduction of the assembly line. Because of this, Detroit attracted a large number of migrants, and is today the American city with the highest percentage of Black and African American people.
Without wanting to give too much away, the similarities between androids and marginalised groups becomes abundantly clear throughout the story. Choosing a city whose percentage of Black and African American people amounts to roughly 80% of the population is therefore hardly a coincidence. Perhaps even more so after the social movements in 2020, Detroit remains incredibly relevant and captivating. The game plays with your comfort levels by drawing close connections to human history in terms of oppression against marginalised groups. By taking the reins yourself, it asks you what side of history you want to find yourself on. Will you stand with the androids, or will you oppose them and prevent progress?
Equally, it provokes conversations and reflections on our future, and how we will engage with machines when the time comes. At the rapid rate at which our machines and artificial intelligence evolve, maybe this future is not so distant; after all, the first android in Detroit was ‘born’ in 2021 and passed the Turing Test in 2022. With the new Tesla Bot announced, maybe Elon Musk will become this reality’s Elijah Kamski.
In essence, if you like characters that beg for your emotional attachment and compelling narrative games in which your choices actually matter, give Detroit: Become Human a chance. You won’t regret it. In the meantime, you’ll catch me doing my eighth (ninth? tenth?) replay.