PSX SEA – Hands-on with Detroit: Become Human
I’ll admit: I’m a sucker for David Cage’s games, which is why I made trying out Detroit: Become Human at PlayStation Experience 2017 SEA a priority. Aside from being in love with contemporary noir and the game’s subject matter, i.e. androids, I was curious to see how Quantic Dream would make a comeback from the hallucinogenic tour that was Beyond: Two Souls.
For anyone who’s seen the videos, this demo was for the hostage negotation featuring Connor, an android himself and one of Detroit‘s three protagonists. There’s a brief cinematic of him in an elevator idly toying with a coin, a distinctly human habit, before the doors open and the game relinquishes control.
One thing that’s immediately apparent is how bizarre the controls and camera feel, by now an ongoing trend for the studio. I’m sure that standing mere inches from the the television set didn’t help (the controller’s cable lock was terribly short) but it certainly felt more “floaty” than is the norm; if it’s anything like Beyond then a brief detour to the settings menu helps. That or risk reacquainting your lunch from the wrong end.
Move past that initial hurdle and you’ll find plenty that’s familiar. Key objects are scattered throughout the level and interaction requires some fancy analog stick twirling. Given Connor’s circumstances, most of it revolves around gathering clues and information for the crisis at hand. That being said, there’s an early moment where he can choose to plonk a fish back into its aquarium or to, presumably, watch it wriggle its last. It’s a clear-cut morality event though what the long-term consequences are, if any, remain to be seen.
The game soon suggests that androids aren’t seen in the best of light. The hostage’s mother was clearly distraught at learning the negotiator wasn’t human, and the on-site commander clearly had no amity for Connor either, yet both of these could just as easily have alternate explanations — the hostage-taker in question is a ‘Deviant Android’ while the commander may simply see negotiation as a risky gamble for everyone involved.
Now, there’s most likely a humans-versus-androids narrative in Detroit: Become Human but Cage and company are blessed with the opportunity to try something new. As Quantic Dream aren’t bound by the same gameplay expectations as with many other developers, say Obsidian or Eidos Montréal, they’re free to approach the subject from unique angles. I would love if Detroit could use their setting to make us question whether we’ll ever be able to view Apple Siri or Amazon Echo as equals half a century from now.
Then again, these are the same guys who gave us ghost tentacles in an underwater Chinese research facility so what do I know?
While bumbling around the living room a gun shot suddenly rang out from the scene, forcing me to cut short my investigation — there was a time limit for the demo and I didn’t want to fail prematurely.
This is where Detroit: Become Human is at its most rewarding, as the game lets you put all that newly-learned information to good use. A thorough player would have gone in knowing all the essentials, from the Deviant’s name to why he murdered the hostage’s father (it doesn’t outright say so but we’re given enough to infer from), making the negotations start on a smooth note. On the flip side, someone who sauntered over right after leaving the elevator would probably have a vastly different opening.
Attempting to defuse the situation by talking alone thrills the Dungeons & Dragons player in me, though what I found infuriating was how Detroit: Become Human suffers from choice ambiguity. We’ve all seen it thanks to recent Electronic Arts titles, those single-word dialogue options that end up being the exact opposite of what you wanted to say. Now imagine that in a hostage negotiation scenario. Honestly, I’m surprised that my version of Connor hadn’t already been shot for his scattershot tactic of empathy, rationality, and threat of violence.
I didn’t get to see the outcome of that encounter due to time, though my last probability of success wound up being at seventy percent or so. In many ways, I walked away from that demo feeling the same way I did with past Quantic Dream games: tired. It was a rollercoaster of curiosity, emotional investment, drama, and frustration, yet I never find myself angry or regretful. David Cage’s games are always a unique experience, and they remain some of the most entertaining out there when it comes to crime and investigation. I’m just hoping that Detroit sticks with a more conventional timeline this time around, and that they fix the god-awful blight that is single-word dialogue options.
Detroit: Become Human releases exclusively for PlayStation 4 in 2018.