“Remember, you decide the fate of your characters. All of them can die. So… be careful.”
The affirming words of Chloe, the android who greets you on the menu screen, sum up Detroit: Become Human pretty well. This is a game where your quick thinking and composure in tense situations is tested. This is not a game where you run around being a bad-ass android killing humans. Instead, there’s a lot of walking. And watching people talk. And pushing buttons to do seemingly pointless actions that could have happened without a prompt. Detroit: Become Human is basically an interactive movie.
But it is a compelling one!
Detroit: Become Human is set in the near future, where you (the player) thread together a story of hope, freedom and equality. We see it pan out through the lives of three androids. Connor, a detective designed to hunt those who have deviated from their programming (aka deviants). Markus, a servant left for dead who rises up to lead his people to freedom. Kara, a housemaid who takes it upon herself to save a little girl who just wants to be loved. Together, these three create a narrative that explores different sides of a civil war: the people who fight for recognition, the people who don’t agree, and the people who flee for a better life.
One of the main worries I had coming into the game was that it wasn’t going to provide a lot of ‘gameplay.’ Now, I like story-driven games, but pushing buttons as characters open doors or put things down when a cutscene would have shown me the exact same image isn’t something I’d call riveting. However, Detroit: Become Human quelled any such fears. While there are cutscenes filled with meaningless button prompts, there are plenty of extravagant scenes that had me literally on the edge of my seat, yelling at the TV and rousing my sleepy flatmate as I tried my best to chase someone down, to escape death, to save a life.
I was surprised at how challenging and thrilling many a scene became, even though I was only supposed to be pressing triangle, or R1, I mean, L2. Wait, which way is left again?! But with games like Detroit: Become Human, you don’t play it for the gameplay. You play it for the story. And this story is one I greatly enjoyed. Your decisions affect what other characters think of you, what the public thinks of you. What you discover determines your success later in the game. All these little things feel like they matter and can alter the story entirely. Chloe is right when she says you should be careful. There is a real threat of death and failure at every turn. Your decisions and skill determine whether or not a character is violent or peaceful, if those actions are successful, and whether they help or undermine the deviants’ cause.
I became attached to several of the characters, but my favourite by far was Connor. An enemy of the deviants by design, Connor wrestles between doing right by his programming and doing right by those around him. Which way he swings is totally up to the player, and can really change things up at the endgame. But he also had the most appealing gameplay. As a detective, Connor goes to crime scenes and you try to figure out what went down. Kara, the android trying to escape to Canada, has the most stressful scenes. Just look at her game trailer for an idea of what you’ll be going through with her.
And then there’s Markus. It took me a while to warm up to Markus. But since he only took up a third of the game, I was very happy to continue playing. It wasn’t until he finally stepped into his role of leading the android revolt that he really began to shine. But whenever he came on-screen, I remembered how boring he was. So I was content to stop playing whenever one of his chapters came up. Fortunately for Detroit: Become Human, there was still Connor and Kara (and Luther! <3) to ensure I came back the next day.
One of the coolest things about Detroit: Become Human, is that you can replay any chapter at any point in time (and decide whether or not you want to keep your new choices!). The game highly recommends that you play once through and simply deal with your mistakes. Yes, even if a character dies by your clumsy hands. Okay, okay, maybe Connor died in my play-through and maybe I immediately replayed the chapter. So what?! It wasn’t my fault! Besides, I’m supposed to be reviewing this game anyway. How can I possibly review the game without one of its essential characters? But this mechanic is a Godsend for those who wish to see what they could have done differently at a certain point without having to play through half the game again (and for those who simply cannot stand it when a beloved character dies).
Apart from the strong parallels to the American Civil War, Detroit: Become Human wants to begin a conversation about technology. Littered throughout the game are magazines with articles that talk about AI in self-driving cars, mass unemployment due to androids stealing jobs, and whether sex is better with a real human being or not. At the end of each chapter you can see what percentage of players made the same decisions as you. Chloe even asks if you wish to partake in a survey. You’re given simple closed questions like, “Do you think androids could ever gain consciousness?” and “Would you consider having a relationship with an android?” And then it shows you how everyone else answered.
In essence, the game is asking: “Are these androids alive?”
How you play the game is your answer.