Review by fernantendo
I AM ALIVE
I have played all kinds of games, from the latest God of War on PS4, to Mario Kart 8 on Switch, and of course, all of David Cage's interactive-storytelling games since Farenheit (Indigo Prophecy). And playing Detroit Become Human still blew me away. If you a fan of David Cage's games like Beyond Two Souls and Heavy Rain, you have to get this game. If you hate those kinds of games, as well as games like Telltale's and the like (Until Dawn, Life is Strange), I would still say to give this game a try, a rental at least.
Here are some details:
- 3 character viewpoints, with multiple possibilities of death for each before the end.
- Many choices matter, and change endings, chapter outcomes, later chapter beginnings, deaths of main characters or side characters, relationships and public views of NPCs, and even access to certain chapters.
- Flow chart - at the end of each chapter, you can see what you did and what choices you made, as well as see things that you missed and how other choices would have branched out to other endings and outcomes. It even marks what choices presented were based on previous chapter(s) decisions and which decisions made will also affect future chapters.
- 10-12 hours on a first play-through, more if exploring and talking with other characters as much as possible, less if taking certain paths and decisions (like a character dying early on, and all their later chapters and interactions with the other 2 characters being skipped). Game tracks how much you've seen in each chapter as a percentage.
- The meat of the game-play is on exploring small areas, interacting with the environment, making choices in dialogue or in reaction to events, and QTE's for combat, with the occasional scenario having a timer to complete certain goal(s).
- The purpose of the game is to tell a story that you, as the player, can greatly influence through decision making and succeeding (or failing) at events that happen throughout the game.
With that, let's take a look at the different aspects of the game.
Graphics - The game looks stunning. The animation, while not the best there is, is up there, with many characters showing a lot of expression of their faces, and their movements are very natural. The only thing that stands out is some of the walking animations, which can feel a bit weird as you move the characters around the environment. Otherwise, the lightning is fantastic, and Detroit looks great as a futuristic city that is in turn clean and full of screens, billboards, self-driving cars and buses, and on the other hand falling apart, with lots of construction, torn-down buildings and areas of beggars, and many dark and dirty places.
The game has many different locales, and great vistas, starting from the 1st chapter at the top of a tall building, to later chapters with a broken down ship, a deteriorating mansion, and a night club, just to name a few. There's also a good range of weather effects, including snow (and characters leaving footprints), and rain (making characters shiver and look wet).
There are a few characters or objects that look less detailed than others here and there, but for the most part, the graphical quality stays consistent throughout. Overall, its one of the best looking games this generation. Hard to find flaws here.
Sound and Voice - Nearly all the characters sound great, and you can tell the shift in tone as various android characters change the way they speak from formal and robotic, to more informal, human-like pronunciation and tone. The sound effects are great, from shots by guns, to the sound of footsteps in different surfaces, to the way voices sound when heard from far away, or muffled when your character's attention is shifted to something else. It also has some great robotic sound effects, from the sounds you hear when an android is hurt or damaged, to the way the androids freeze a scene as they are computing and analyzing data around them, and you can hear the sounds of data downloading or the rewinding of a tape as one of the androids is reconstructing a crime scene or figuring out a path of action.
The soundtrack is very well done, with each main character having their own take of melodies and tracks reflecting their journey and situation. The tracks are really fantastic during key moments, like tense fights, dramatic moments when lives are in danger, or even in the quiet and creepy moments, when you know that if the character doesn't do something, bad things will happen. The only flaw here is that, at times, if rushing through a scene faster than the developers intended, the tracks may change too suddenly as the scene changes. Its a minor flaw, and only likely to happen on replays, when you know what you are doing and where to go to get to the next scene or event quick.
Some of the dialogue itself can be uneven at times due to the script. While the line delivery is generally very good, occasionally it falls a bit flat following certain dialogue choices, where the tone should definitely be different based on the previous response. Its rare, but it is there.
Game-play - The way you control the characters is somewhat natural, pushing the stick towards where you want to go in relation to the camera. Most of the time, the camera follows closely behind you, making is easy to move the character, but difficult to see what exactly is in front of you, often covering up things you can interact with. Camera changes depending on position of the scene, and you almost always have two possible camera choices to toggle between to get a good look of an area. Its still a limited view most of the time, and occasionally are bound to press the wrong direction, especially at the start of a chapter. But its something easy to get used to. The areas you move around are usually small and limited, and very hard to get lost in.
Almost always you have the option to scan your environment, which freezes the action, lets you move the camera freely, and highlights nearby people or objects you can interact with. When you let go of the scan, the camera readjusts back to behind the character, but in a smooth movement that makes it easy to know the relation between your character and the last thing you looked at.
Aside from movement and scanning, the rest of the game-play consists of interactions with the world and characters by way of controller inputs. Dialogue options use the four face buttons, with some dialogue options locked/unlocked depending on previous dialogue and event choices, as well as information gathered. Interacting with the environment and other characters, including combat, can also include certain analog movements (up, down, up and rotate right, etc...), holding a button or the analog stick in a specific direction, mashing a single button many times, using one or multiple of the trigger buttons, moving the whole controller in a direction or tilting it in a direction, and on slower moments, using the touch pad as a press or swipe. Some of these will just appear next to the object or person to interact with, while in other scenarios, like combat, these buttons will appear briefly and suddenly, and if you hit these prompts in time you succeed, otherwise you fail. Dialogue also sometimes has a timer, shown as a disappearing line underneath the choices. If you fail to make a selection in that time, depending on the event, the character may remain silent as a fifth option, though more frequently the game defaults to one set choice.
The way the combat and event QTEs play out matches the action, with the game taking into consideration the number of failures you have versus successes before determining the outcome of said event or combat. For example, a fight between Connor and a criminal android may have 12 different QTEs, and failure may be determined by failing six or more of them. In some cases, it requires more failures or less, and in some very rare cases, one specific failure or two can lead to a failed outcome, which the game processes as a choice made. Its important to remember that choices matter, so even a failed QTE might not necessarily mean a failed event, since for example, a choice made from a previous chapter might lead to a secondary character coming to the rescue after your QTE failure. And this is just a small glimpse of how things can turn out. In order to see everything in the game, including all endings and chapter conclusions, failure is required, and while some of these could simply lead to a main or side character death, others lead to completely new chapters that you'd otherwise wouldn't see if you always succeeded.
And this is the key to this game: choices. While the game does have segments where you have to do certain things otherwise the game doesn't advance, the game also has many more moments where the game is always advancing, and not making any choices is in itself a choice. The game keeps moving as does the plot regardless of what you do, as such it can feel like a speeding train, but one where you can change tracks constantly, so that the destination, and journey, can be quite different. The final segment of the game (its last 3-4 chapters) varies wildly, with characters present or missing, events that happen (or don't happen), entire story lines found or missed, and locations and events that are seen or completely missed, all based on choices in game before and during these moments.
The flow chart here is key, because since the game can vary a lot, replay-ability is very strong here, especially if you fall in love with the characters and their world. One playthrough misses a lot of the game. In fact, choices that seem good may lead to bad outcomes, so unless following a guide, is extremely difficult to keep your main characters and most side characters alive by its conclusion, and as such, there can be a strong desire to replay the game, possibly multiple times, to see how different things turn out after certain choices. For those of you familiar with Heavy Rain, you can take that game's core choice driven game-play, and multiply it by 10 to get a sense of how varied this game gets later on. The flow chart helps to point this out. One look at the first chapter's flow chart tells you that there are six possible endings for it, and a few can lead to the main character's death, or to the death of the character its trying to save.
Having said that, there are a number of chapters in the first half of the game which remain mostly the same no matter what choices you make. An android revolution will start no matter what, for example. And there are certain segments, even in the middle of the game, where you have close to no choice but to do only what the game wants you to do, with some insignificant variance here and there. And none of it is skip-able, though occasionally there are shortcuts, and these scenes, once you know what you have to do, move very quick, and before you know it, you are again faced with a dramatic choice. Plus, its not a problem on your first play-through, when everything is new.
Overall, is a very unique type of game, whose drawbacks are easily overcome by its novelty to focus on something that most games don't. Choice is key here, and this game does it better than all other games in the industry.
Story and Characters - While dwelling on spoilers, the important takeaway here is that the game is both a slow build-up and a world that takes inspiration from history and other works of fiction. In terms of the characters, we start knowing very little about them, and their initial chapters can be a hit-or-miss in terms of the player getting to care for them. This especially makes sense with Markus and Kara, who start out being quite robotic, which makes sense for the plot, but even then the secondary characters stand out, helping the player get immersed in the world. Sooner or later, you will also start caring for the main characters as their struggles play out (if they survive long enough, that is). Washing dishes and serving breakfast may not be the best way to bond with these characters to start with, but it makes their origin understandable, and the game gets through these scenes quick enough.
In terms of the plot, you got plenty of themes, ranging from people becoming dependent on technology for everything, to computers taking away jobs from thousands, to racism, to machines having real emotions, to ending slavery, etc... The game clearly takes inspiration from a lot of sources, like Martin Luther King, Blade Runner, and World War II Nazi camps, but never quite glorifies the negative side of those origins, instead focusing on the reality of the world: that nothing is fair. Androids are treated like slaves, and its not fair, so they have to fight back. Humans are losing jobs to androids, so its not fair, so they blame the androids, and so on and so forth. Everyone blames someone or something for their current state of living, and only the wealthy get off easy, with a type of power struggle where the only winners seem to be those enriching themselves off the androids, namely the top of the government chain (which based on some texts you find, could also be in danger of being replaced by androids) and the company that creates said androids.
All these themes, while playing out in the large scheme of things, don't matter as much as the game makes it seem. Its focus remains on the tale of the three main characters, that have secondary goals on top of staying alive. Kara wants to protect the person closest to her, Connor wants to solve the deviant (aka androids with free will) crisis, and Markus just wants to improve the life of androids. The way they go about it is the plot, with many scenes reacting to what the other playable characters have done or been involved in. It all comes to a head beautifully, with main characters crossing paths, and helping or hampering each other (based on your choices), and ultimately trying to fulfill this secondary goal. Along the way, you'll discover the weaknesses, doubts and worries of these characters, even while the whole world is against them, making the final chapter decisions a culmination of all they have chosen and done throughout. This is definitely worth experiencing, even if none of it is fundamentally original.
Here I also want to note that, if you have played Heavy Rain, some of the story beats and characters may feel very familiar. This may take away some of the shock and surprise of certain chapters, with possibly a feeling of deja vu, but stick with it, since the later beats of the story are much more refreshing and new, and it does choice much better than Heavy Rain, both as a whole and by its individual chapters.
Conclusion and Rating - Its hard to explain how incredible it is finishing the game, and looking at the final chapters flow charts, how gigantic they are. There were even some chapters completely empty on the flow chart, because I missed something, or succeeded too often to see ramifications from both success and failure at multiple points throughout the game. Its an incredible journey that should be experienced by all but those who just hate the concept of stories in games. True, the gameplay here is minimal, but that is not the point. This a choice-driven, point-and-click adventure that you play with a controller and no mouse cursor. There is no inventory here, and everything is intuitive. If you have something, you can use at the right contextual moment. If you learned a key piece of information, you can bring it up in the conversation as an option that unlocks. And in the heat of battle, choosing between trying to disarm a guard, or covering another character has ramifications that can surprise you, among dozens of other examples.
This is an interactive experience, and your enjoyment will totally depend on your willingness to let the game be what it is, and not focus on what it is not. It is flawed, but the competition in this genre is meager, and quite frankly, pathetic in comparison. It takes itself more seriously than Until Dawn, has better animation and dialogue than Heavy Rain, its better directed than Beyond Two Souls, and its choices and consequences are much more complex and deep than, well, any other game I've played. It runs really well too, and even has an interactive main menu which is a bit of a surprise.
It was a long time waiting, and in the hopes that it inspires studios to do similar games, and not rely on the same tired big budget genres, who focus on multiplayer, shooters, open worlds, and action games, I give the game the highest praise possible. Its a single-player game, which is narrative-driven, but with a AAA-budget. And currently, I think there's nothing better in the market that falls in that category.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Detroit: Become Human (US, 05/25/18)
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