Detroit: Become Human Review (PS4)
Quantic Dream's latest slice of interactive narrative is rather heavy-handed as usual, but it's still the studio's best game so far
Droid RageGiven the astonishing rate at which technology continues to improve, it's not beyond the realms of possibility that androids as domestic commodities could well exist within a few lifetimes. But what happens when these human-shaped supercomputers one day wake up and realise they're being used? Well, that just happens to be the set-up for Detroit, the latest adventure game from David Cage and the Quantic Dream team, and it doesn't exactly paint the most optimistic picture of such a scenario. The story plays out from several very different viewpoints, just as it did in the studio's previous highlight Heavy Rain did. Here, the stars are all androids created for different purposes. Connor is a hi-tech prototype made to investigate cases of other androids going 'deviant' and rejecting their programming; Kara is a domestic help unit from an unpleasant household; Markus aids an elderly artist and exhibits more aptitude for art himself than any machine should be capable of. What happens next? Well, that's up to you... well, sort of.
What happens next? Well, that's up to you
If you've played any other Quantic Dream games (Fahrenheit, Heavy Rain or Beyond: Two Souls being the big three), Detroit will feel instantly familiar. If not, Telltale's modern adventure games are probably the most obvious touchstone – direct character control and interaction is limited with the emphasis instead placed on player choice through dialogue and quick decisions, while action sequences play out as rapid button sequences alongside some outstandingly choreographed scenes with success or failure determined by the accuracy of your inputs. But while Telltale's games have been coasting for a long time on the illusion of player choice that the studio perfected with its The Walking Dead tie-in way back in 2012, Quantic Dream has the budget behind it to push truly interactive narrative to a whole new level. In this regard, Detroit frequently astonishes – you need only discuss your playthrough with someone else afterwards to discover just how many actions (and indeed inactions) can impact the overall story in a meaningful way, or start a second run where you intentionally make different decisions and find yourself in completely different scenarios second time around.
Decisions, DecisionsTaken purely as an example of the medium of cinematic interactive narrative, Detroit is arguably best-in-class. Choice matters, and even most seemingly innocuous interactions cause ripples that can eventually become plot-jostling waves. It's also utterly stunning from a visual perspective, its scarily realistic character models and gorgeous backdrops only making it all the more amazing that so much work went into sequences that a lot of players will never even see.
While calling out any such scene directly would be recklessly spoilerific, there's a handy early moment that serves as a useful parallel – in Markus' first scene, there's a busker in the square who most players will probably stroll right by with barely a glance. Hang around, though, and an absurd amount of work has gone into this one little thing, from writing and recording a whole song to motion capturing and coordinating his entire digital performance. And that's just one NPC – just imagine how much effort went into the entire characters, scenes and areas that your decisions may preclude you from seeing on any given playthrough.
It's utterly stunning from a visual perspective
Scenes themselves, while hard to discuss in detail without ruining surprises, are generally really strong, so the handful of weaker ones really stick out like sore thumbs. One is such an old action movie cliché that we can't remember the last time we even saw it parodied, let alone used straight-faced in a modern piece of fiction. A couple don't offer quite enough player choice to avoid the painfully telegraphed peril that inevitably follows, making them feel like cheap shots and stripping them of impact.
Then there are those potentially problematic sequences that stroll a little too close for comfort to being direct allegory for real world events like the American civil rights movement – sure, you can write these off as troubling scenes of history repeating itself, but that doesn't stop them from being somewhat tone deaf as presented. Writing, while better than in Quantic Dream's previous titles, still isn't the game's strongest suit. It's good in its own cheesy 'straight-to-DVD sci-fi flick' kind of way, but certainly not strong enough for it to venture any closer to its politically charged reference material than it does without stepping on a lot more toes.
Behind The ScenesPerformances from the three main characters are uniformly excellent, even more so as you shape each hero into who you believe they should be and watch their personalities and interactions change. But there's a lot to be said for the supporting cast too, showcasing outstanding diversity and again with more or less everyone filling their respective characters with personality and even believability in some cases. Their lives are frequently put into your hands, making the relationships you foster (or neglect) with them even more important – dialogue and actions both affect your standing with others, and some routes and choices actually rely on being on good (or indeed bad) enough terms with a particular character. However you play, you're likely to see a lot of locked options on your way to the credits, but Detroit is a game unafraid to make its web of intrigue public. The timeline option available after each scene shows every branching point and while it won't explicitly tell you how to alter the outcome for a different result, it usually doesn't take a genius to work out a way to change things up significantly on subsequent playthroughs.
The three main characters are uniformly excellent
And that's the beauty of a game like Detroit. It stands up as a one-and-done experience for those who just want to see how their version of the story pans out and move on, but also for those who would rather play it their way first before tackling it in a more game-like manner and engineering choices to manipulate entirely different outcomes. The latter camp are looking at a better value-for-money proposition from a full-price game (although to be fair, the former option is probably runtime-to-cost equivalent to a few cinema trips, with the bonus of interactivity) but as the culmination of a determined studio's efforts in the field of interactive fiction, Detroit is certainly something we'd encourage people to play and discuss.
Video ReviewDetroit is Quantic Dream's strongest release so far
- Choices really do matter
- Astonishing visuals and soundtrack
- Strong performances all round
- Writing still poor in places
- Some questionable scenes and themes
- Minor control annoyances
Detroit: Become Human Review (PS4)There's no question that Detroit is Quantic Dream's strongest release so far, as Omikron and Fahrenheit have aged terribly, and it soars past both Heavy Rain and Beyond in every feasible regard. It's still not without its own share of issues, though – writing still needs to catch up to every other aspect of the presentation, control issues (like using the same stick for camera control as for gesture-based interactions) still frustrate, and it broaches a lot of difficult subjects without saying anything of note about any of them.
In all three regards, it's a marked improvement on previous games, though, and that coupled with the fact that the breadth and implementation of player choice here are second to none make this a must-play for anyone who likes the idea of sculpting the story they want to tell in a videogame.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £49.99
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