What does it mean to be human? What is at the very core of this strange state? Are we an accumulation of our experiences or do we have a soul, some other part of ourselves connected to something greater? What happens when we die? What is love (baby don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me… no more)? These are the heady questions posed in Detroit: Become Human and over the ten or so hours it takes to play through the story, they will be explored to varying degrees of success and subtlety. Actually, considering this is a David Cage/Quantic Dream production subtlety is out the bloody window, but there’s still a lot here to like.
The story is essentially divided between three main characters. There’s Connor, a police investigator android – or “RoboCop”, if you will – tasked with hunting down deviants aka androids who’ve gone berko. There’s Markus, a caretaker android who looks after Lance bloody Henriksen (!) and develops sentience, and finally there’s Kara, a robo nanny who wants to get a particularly dull child, Alice, away from her abusive father. All three stories begin small in focus and scope, but expand rapidly and eventually intersect in unexpected ways. Or not, actually, because after all this is a Quantic Dream game (makers of Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls) so there are a variety of different paths the tale can take, some good, some bad, some just plain weird.
Gameplay in Detroit: Become Human is more hands off than totally interactive. Oh sure, you’ll move your character around the map, and indulge in light puzzle solving, but the bulk of the action is related to the choices you make on behalf of the character on screen. The game shines in these moments – far more than in the frequently eye rolling quicktime events – and having the agency to truly shape the destiny of these (mostly) likeable characters can feel like a heavy responsibility, in a good way. Presentation-wise the game is just gorgeous. Sumptuous graphics, beautiful audio, mostly solid voice acting (except for Alice) and a glossy sheen over everything, really selling the sci-fi conceit and near future setting. Writing-wise things are a little dicier, with David Cage never content to make a point just once (you’ll lose count of the times one of the android characters says some variation of “I’m a slave!”) and quieter moments are rarely given a chance to breathe. Still, Detroit: Become Human is meant to be a blockbuster, not an indie film, and while more nuanced moments would have been appreciated, the swinging for the fences technique works in a stirring albeit blunt sort of way.
Ultimately Detroit: Become Human is a solid, pretty, interactive movie with insanely good production values and a very solid cast. In terms of overall quality it’s less an early Ridley Scott movie and more a Netflix Original, but for all of that it’s still an engaging yarn.