Detroit: Become Human, a review

(Disclaimer: The following is a non-profit unprofessional blog post written by an unprofessional blog poster. All purported facts and statement are little more than the subjective, biased opinion of said blog poster. In other words, don't take anything I say too seriously.

Just the facts 'Cause you're in a Hurry!

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP): 59.99 USD

How much I paid: 82.12 USD (I pre-ordered and asked for a Day 1 delivery from Gamestop).

Rated: Mature for Blood, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language and Use of Drugs

How long I played: 10 Hours to complete the game on Experienced Mode, the game's highest difficulty. Additional 3 or 4 hours to see alternate scenarios. (Experienced Mode uses alternative prompts such as commands that require circling the right analog stick and allows character deaths. Casual Mode gives easier command prompts but limits and can sometimes prevent characters dying.

Microtransactions: Pre-order bonuses such as downloadable themes.

What I played on: A regular PS4, not a PS4 Pro.

Performance Issues: Say what you will about David Cage's clich?d and sometimes nonsensical writing, the game is gorgeous to look at. The rendering and lighting effects look perfect with little to no pixilation. One instance of the game's framerate slowing down when heavy snow is present.

My Personal Biases: I've Pressed X to Jason and Shaun in Heavy Rain. I've used Aiden to choke people out in Beyond: Two Souls. And I fought whatever the fuck the Purple Clan was in Indigo Prophecy. The only game I haven't played in David Cage's work is Omnikron: The Nomad Soul.

My Verdict: Despite the at times awkward storytelling, the quick escalation of events and the some of the most laughable dialogue you'll ever hear, David Cage's Detroit: Become Human might be the best interactive movie he's ever done (Though that's a pretty low bar). Beautiful graphics, a haunting soundtrack and the ability to get characters permanently killed without hindering story progression might show the best Cage has ever done. However, I do wonder if his best will ever reach beyond a Syfy Original Movie.

Warning: The game contains SPOILERS. You have been warned.

Detroit: Become Human, a review

David Cage has become infamous in the video games industry for his brand of interactive movies. Whereas regular video games allow large player agency and exploration, David Cage specializes in a field of interactive film, a genre where the emphasis is on the story and decision making to allow branching paths. Way back in 2006, he hit the scene with his directorial debut of Indigo Prophecy, a hardboiled detective novel in which you play as a criminal on the run and the cops chasing him. The game was met with high game sales but met with criticism of the game's latter half.

But David Cage can't help but get in David Cage's own way. While his games offer huge, branching paths to explore, his writing and direction usually leave something to be desired. With Indigo Prophecy devolving into nonsense by the latter end, Heavy Rain's acting rivaling the worst of Community Theater and Beyond: Two Souls nearly incomprehensible plotlines, his studio Quantic Dream feels less like the works of Steven Spielberg and more like the works of Tommy Wiseau.

And since then, other game developers have come along to put Cage in his place. Yes, Japanese Visual Novels have been around since the beginning of the industry but even Wester developers have caught the interactive film bug. Telltale games offer economic models that allow player agency and good storytelling (depending on the game). Dontnod Entertainment explores teenage angst through the perspective of a female artist. Even Supermassive Games has outdone Cage with titles such as Until Dawn that allow story progression with characters possibly dying.

This is why Heavy Rain, even with his maudlin performances, its contrived scenarios and its French actors trying to emulate American accents, is often regarded as his best work. The game continues and allows fail states and permanent deaths of major characters not to hinder the narrative's progression.

Can David Cage step up to the plate? Let's find out in this review of Detroit: Become Human.

Set in 2038, Androids, machines resembling humans but forced to obey actual humans, have become a permanent fixture in daily lives. As tensions rise with Androids replacing manual labor jobs, and seen as abominations by religious fundamentalists, Androids are treated as second hand citizens. But Deviants, Androids who have broken their programming and developed free will, are sprouting up more and more in the city of Detroit. Players control 3 Androids: Kara, a maid who has begun developing a familial bond with a little girl name Alice, Connor, an Android sent by Cyberlife to chase down Deviants with an alcoholic police officer Lieutenant Hank Anderson, and Markus, an Android who might lead his people to Revolution or die trying.

Much like Heavy Rain, Cage is finally able to take all of his wild ideas but form them around something cohesive.

This might be Cage's best work, though one will realize that he borrows heavily from other, better artists such as Isaac Asimov, Phillip K. Dick, James Cameron and, of course, Ridley Scott. All the tropes and clich?s are there; body parts horror, allegories to mechanization replacing physical, human labor, robots being treated as second class citizens, and androids developing free will are all ideas that have been explored and done before, but thanks to the interactive medium of video games, allow things like stakes and variation of scenes to play out.

By Using Androids, Cage has managed to solve several problems his works have always had. See, despite his attempts at photorealism, Cage's characters do and act in certain ways that don't resemble human behavior both visually and audibly. When Ethan Mars or Norman Jayden start to talk, the spell is quickly broken as Cage's player avatars have slight variations that put the Uncanny Valley Effect on Full Display. Just the same, whenever player agency attempts to do something outside of the story's intentions, players can't help but feel limited by the scope with invisible walls.

Cage's solution is to use Androids with strict directions. He purposefully limits character exploration with giant red walls, pointing them in the right direction. At the same time, the usage of motion capture allows the awkward facial animations and odd dialogue a reason to make sense. Connor's movements and speech sound like someone with Autism or someone who hasn't quite caught the ticks of human behavior and comes off just as not quite right. (I get that Androids look awkward, but what's the reason humans established not to be robots look and act like machines?)

What's also helpful is the use of a UI interface. By holding on the R2 Button, the game will pause, show the objectives and see various yellow markers showing interactable objects in the game and various routes the player can take.

I'll give credit to David Cage for one thing: the game's opening might be the best he's ever done since Indigo Prophecy. When Connor must negotiate with a Deviant to save a child from falling off a building rooftop, a number of scenarios can occur: Connor can negotiate the safe release of the hostage. He can fail to negotiate and have the child and the android die. He can grab a gun and shoot the deviant cold blooded or fail and have the deviant shoot him and have the girl fall.

Then Cage pulls the rug out under you and reveals the trick: Connor cannot die until the game's ending. Or rather, Connor can die multiple times in a robot body but Cyberlife, the major corporation that produces Androids, will upload his memories to another body and Connor will reappear in the next scene ready to go.

However, Cage allows the deaths of Markus and Kara early on. Much like in Heavy Rain, should Kara and Markus make a wrong decision or take too long to do something or fail the numerous quick time events in the game, they can see themselves written out of the story. The best part is that the game will continue without them. It just skips to the next scene which really impresses me.

Kara, should she survive the incidents that lead to her rebellion, will run away with Alice and attempt to find a new home. Where Ethan Mars' story in Heavy Rain shows how far a Father is willing to go to save his son, Kara shows how far she's willing to go to be a mother to Alice. It's really heavy handed and manipulative but I caught myself tearing up at certain scenes. However, I do wonder how many older adult figure with younger child depictions that the Western Video game industry is willing to show just to get more BAFTA awards.

(I regret to inform veteran David Cage fans that there is not one shower scene with Kara in the game.)

Markus, is the key to the Androids rebelling. His is the most sloppy as events seem to progress quickly. First, he's living in poverty only for him to perform heists with such precision and accuracy, they rival heists found in GTA V. He somehow gains the ability to convert other Androids to his cause and depending on what he chooses can either become another Martin Luther King Jr and lead peaceful protests or go full Antifa and cause a violent uprising to rival that of Malcom X and the Black Panther Party (And I don't mean the mellow Antifa. I mean full on Berkeley riots because Milo is speaking leading to citywide destruction Antifa). Public Opinion heavily relies on Markus. Should he take nonviolent approaches, the public will be more sympathetic to his cause. But if he should become violent, the Public will turn on him.

Connor's plotline is the focus throughout the game. He and Hank Anderson will investigate rogue deviants. Connor has the ability to look at clues and reconstruct crime scenes to show how the various murders happened.

If there's one star that shines brightly through the game, it's Clancy Brown as Lieutenant Hank Anderson. Don't get me wrong; Hank's dialogue is just as hokey and awkward sounding as the rest of the cast's, but Brown sells the Hell out of the performance, His depiction as well as motion capture work rivals the best of the business and his interaction with Connor (again, while clich? as hell) really does work.

Cage has been no stranger to cop duo depictions such as in Indigo Prophecy with Carla and Tyler and Heavy Rain with Norman Jayden and Carter Blake. But whereas Tyler became peripheral by Indigo Prophecy's end and Carter and Norman's relationship was antagonistic, you can really see the bond or lack of bond with Connor and Hank. It might be Connor who's the asshole of the group while Hank being the heart. And their ending scene shows Brown at his finest performance.

See, David Cage realizes the temptation to go back and re-do certain scenarios to see that happens next. So, what he does is use meters such as relationship statuses and Public Opinion Polls to lock or unlock certain scenes. For example, throughout the game, Connor interacts with Hank and depending on his choices can gain his friendship or have Hank become downright hostile to him. At the same time, should Connor show more human emotions or fail to do his duty, his software will become more and more unstable. Certain story paths and options will be completely locked because of previous interactions or because a meter isn't high enough, thus requiring the player to go back and redo entire scenes to see the outcome.

At the same time, Connor's investigation into the Deviants and how through he investigates each crime scene can come into play. Should Connor gloss over a clue or lack certain testimonies or witnesses, certain paths can become locked for him and he won't be able to progress through the story.

Obviously, the game wants you to replay certain scenes to fill out the flowchart, a chart found during pausing the game to show the branching paths players can take in each chapter. While you can replay scenarios to see different endings and results with a Save mode and a no save mode. If you choose No Save mode, the game will not fill out the flowchart and your progression will be lost when you exit the game. Keep in mind, the game only allows 1 save slot so you must replay the game again to fill out the flowchart.

Filling out the flowchart earns you Bonus Points, a currency to unlock extras in the game such as artwork, promotional and behind the scenes videos and other things.

CAVEAT: Look, I understand people aren't willing to pay 60 USD for what amounts to an interactive movie in the age of Telltale Games, Life is Strange, and Until Dawn and especially with cheaper indie visual novels available. At the same time, I'm not going to fault social progressives for finding fault for David Cage co-opting social movements and using allegories to comment on them. I have disposable income and a higher tolerance for David Cage's brand of philosophical bullshit than most people. But, thanks to some great performances, solid production values and the return of the Heavy Rain mechanic of Character Deaths not resulting in game overs, Cage has finally outdone himself. There are a plethora of scenarios, each hugely different and various in their outcomes. And for me, that's good enough. Now, if only he can get himself more editors to tell him which story ideas are good and which ideas are flat out stupid.

This is Antifa and #BlacklivesMatter (#Androidlivesmatter?) as viewed through the lens of a French Madman with too much production money and one who has watched way too much Original SyFy channel movies.

I don't know if David Cage will ever become the storyteller he wishes he could be. Even at its best, Detroit: Become Human plays out as an amusing cable B-movie. But the allowance for fail states, bad endings and the changing relationships allows the player the agency and freedom to see multiple endings.

I enjoyed the hell out of it, but it's not going to be for everyone.

Verdict: Rent it at Redbox or Watch the cutscenes on Youtube before buying.

 

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