Detroit: Become Human Review
Detroit: Become Human Cover Art
System: PS4
Dev: Quantic Dream
Pub: Sony
Release: May 25, 2018
Players: 1 Player
Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p Blood, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs
Exploring the Human Side of Artificial Life
by Jenni Lada

As a developer, Quantic Dream is known for being controversial and polarizing. This is due to allegations being applied to its leaders, like David Cage. Sometimes, this bleeds over into their games, with Heavy Rain criticized for its sexism and Beyond: Two Souls for its use of stereotypes. Like its predecessors, Detroit: Become Human does not shy away from serious, touchy subjects. This may impact some people’s enjoyment or even act as triggers for unpleasant memories. For others who find themselves prepared for this game, they will find an experience that mostly learns from Quantic Dream’s prior pitfalls.

Detroit: Become Human is a story that questions the validity and authenticity of artificial life by watching critical moments in the lives of three androids. One is Connor, one of the most advanced androids in the world, working alongside a human detective, Lt. Hank Anderson, to investigate androids that are defying their programming and engaging in criminal acts. Kara is a household android owned by a drug addict who is, at the very least, verbally abusing his daughter Alice and has attacked Kara before. Markus is another android caretaker who acts as an aid for a disabled, famous artist. These stories can overlap and intertwine, with Connor, Kara, and Markus’ actions determining the way those important to them and society sees them and androids in general.

In terms of storytelling, I felt like Detroit: Become Human could be rather inconsistent. It was almost like one person wrote the Connor and Markus routes, which are compelling, have genuinely interesting twists, and depict relationships that I actually cared about, while someone less capable tackled Kara’s story. I was more regularly seeing how my decisions impacted not only these androids’ lives, but the lives of those around them with Connor and Markus. Meanwhile, Kara’s storyline seems very stereotypical and contrived. It was uninteresting, and I was able to pick up on one of its biggest plot twists long before another character foreshadowed it. There is a subtleness and lack of momentum there that seems inconsistent with the things I was learning and doing with Connor and Markus.

This extended to Detroit: Become Human’s more scandalous moments. The plight of the androids is a heavy-handed parallel to slavery in North America. But while the more extreme moments of assault, enslavement, racism, and sexual abuse are employed in ways that make sense or are occasionally approached with some degree of tact in Connor and Markus’ routes, Kara’s instances seem executed as a cheap emotional pull or for shock value. They feel forced. It was like Kara and Alice were floating along from one terrible situation to another as emotional exploitation, to the point where it had the opposite of the intended effect on me as I played. I cared more about similar situations in Connor and Markus’ stories and had more empathy for the victims there.

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It also carries over to the acting. There are some great performances in Detroit: Become Human. Jesse Williams and Bryan Dechart knock it out of the park as Markus and Connor, with each one showing their characters evolving as a result of encounters and choices people make. Clancy Brown plays the grizzled, depressed Lt. Anderson well. There are times when Minka Kelly’s disgust, as North, is palpable. But for me, others fell short. Valorie Curry, as Kara, came across as very bland and unmemorable. Her performance struck me as robotic, which is ironic considering the push to make her seem so human in marketing materials.

Detroit: Become Human Screenshot

What I will say is that the representation is much better in Detroit: Become Human. While some characters in Kara’s route hold stereotypical roles, I was pleased to see how diverse this game is. We see people of all different skin tones and races, regardless of whether they are human or android. It is quite a change from Beyond: Two Souls and Heavy Rain, which were filled with Caucasian characters. As a result, Detroit: Become Human feels more realistic and plausible, like this could be happening in our world. This is important, given how futuristic its premise is.

Detroit: Become Human Screenshot

As uneven as the storytelling may be, Detroit: Become Human learns from past Quantic Dreams by offering more genuine choices. There are lots of varying factors in each story, with characters doing or learning things that do impact the plot. Characters will return at different points, remembering what you have or haven’t done. Things that you have noticed open up dialogue options and story paths. Even more beneficial is a flowchart that unlocks after each segment. You can see what you did, comparing those actions to the responses of your friends and the world. It lets you see the element of choice in action, even if some segments only have one possible outcome, and know that there will definitely be major variations depending on what has occurred.

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