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'Detroit: Become Human' review: Strong characters make your choices matter

Reading Time: 5 minutes

“Detroit: Become Human” is a game that wants all of your choices to matter. And while that’s something video games have promised for years, “Detroit” might be the first to deliver on that goal.

From how you reply to other characters, to the split-second decisions you make during a scuffle, to whether you peer into an open doorway, nearly every action you make in “Detroit” feels as though it would impact the game’s narrative and, eventually, its final outcome.

That’s an impressive feat on its own, but this PlayStation 4 (SNE) exclusive also packs a story that at times punches you square in the gut and at others sends your heart racing. It’s not a perfect game — I had problems with the controls at times and quick-time events that felt overwhelming— but this is easily the best title to date from developer Quantic Dream.

Choose wisely

“Detroit” tells a story of how the creation of androids impacts the world through the eyes of three different android protagonists: Connor, a negotiator; Kara, a housekeeper, and Markus a companion. It does this using a branching narrative system connected by a flowchart.

The flowchart shows you all of the decisions you made in a chapter along with those you could have.

But the flowchart is only visible after you complete each game chapter, so it won’t influence your decision-making while playing. The choices you ended up making are shown on the chart, while those you could have made are greyed out, incentivizing you to go back and replay so you can discover every outcome possible.

A movie you play

Like previous Quantic Dream offerings, “Detroit” is more of an interactive story than a traditional video game, so you won’t be able to freely explore your world. Instead, you more or less guide your character to different points and interact with objects like doors, televisions, humans and other androids.

“Detroit” also brings back quick-time events, moments when you have to quickly press a button to perform a certain movement. I’m not a huge fan of quick-time events, which isn’t exactly controversial considering they largely went out of fashion in gaming a few years ago. But it’s not a huge problem in “Detroit,” since it’s designed to be less of a free-form game.

Kara’s story takes a look at domestic violence and loss.

What is an issue is how many individual buttons you have to press to perform certain tasks. At one point I found myself pressing three different buttons and then having to physically flick my controller upward to get my character to do something. It doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, it feels onerous.

“Detroit’s” controls also felt clunky at times, especially when I was racing around an area trying to locate a missing android. Movement isn’t very fluid — unless you’re playing as Markus, who can occasionally sprint. But if you’re playing as Kara or Connor, you’ll feel like your legs are slabs of concrete.

A compelling story with some bumps

“Detroit’s” story covers heavy topics ranging from domestic violence to murder to prostitution — you name it, it’s in there. You’ll spend time investigating androids that have lost their minds and attack their owners, androids that want to seek freedom and androids that simply want to live a normal life.

Connor is investigating instances of android deviance throughout Detroit.

Connor, an experimental prototype, spends his time investigating deviant androids who have to break free of their original programming and become sentient. In some cases, though, they attack their owners who treated them like disposable objects. Deviants in “Detroit” are a new occurrence, so your job is to uncover the reason some androids seem to go off the rails, while others don’t.

Kara is a housekeeper on the run with a young girl whose father was abusing her, while Markus is a companion to an elderly artist. Kara’s story in particular is controversial as it actually shows domestic violence in action. But it’s not something used for shock value, rather its purpose is to move the story forward and inform Kara’s character.

Naturally, “Detroit” tries to draw some parallels to real-world instances of slavery and discrimination. Androids are only allowed to ride in the backs of buses, are bought and sold like property, have no civil rights and are beaten and killed with little consequence.

The message, however, feels too in the nose when an African American character compares the androids’ suffering to the experiences of African Americans. It’s not exactly subtle is what I’m saying.

Androids are used as stand-ins for minorities in ‘Detroit’s world, with little subtlety.

That said, “Detroit” made me genuinely care about its three main characters enough to where I felt compelled to keep playing to find out what the end of their journeys. It’s also one of the reasons why I wanted to return to previous chapters to replay them.

Should you get it?

“Detroit: Become Human” tells a dramatic story about androids seeking to find their own way of living with and among humans. Yes, it’s a well-worn sci-fi trope, but the characters in Detroit are compelling enough to make it feel interesting again. There are some issues with controls at times and some story beats that miss the mark, but if you’re looking for a impressive story that can be played out in a multitude of ways, dig into “Detroit.”

What’s hot: Intriguing characters; Plenty of replayability; Compelling story

What’s not: Controls can feel clunky; Requires you to press several buttons to perform tasks; Some odd story beats

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