The opening to “Detroit: Become Human” is intense.
The game takes place in Metro Detroit in 2038 and opens at a high-rise penthouse apartment in Greektown where a young girl has been taken hostage by an android that is operating outside of its programming. You play in the first level as Connor, a prototype android who has been brought in to the Detroit Police Department as a negotiator and a homicide detective. Neither the police nor the young girl's mother are happy you’re there.
It’s your job to analyze the crime scene, take as much information in as possible and negotiate with the android for the hostage’s release.
The android held a gun to the little girl’s head as he stood precariously on the edge of the patio 70 stories above the streets below.
I spent close to an hour analyzing every detail, every clue, reconstructing what happened so I could handle the situation as safely and effectively as possible to save the little girl. Once I gained the android's trust and was able to get close to him, I hockey checked him off the roof. I saved the little girl.
Here is what makes this game great: every person playing will have a different ending -- a different story with a different outcome. There are six different endings to that first level. Minor choices have a ripple effect, dramatically altering how the story will pan out.
There are three main characters you play as – Connor, Markus and Kara. If you make a mistake and kill a character, there is no game over and there are no extra lives. The story adapts to the world you’ve created. In one level, I ignored the main objectives to explore a little and discovered something that ultimately saved that characters life three levels later after I pressed the wrong button in an action sequence. It came out of left field and I genuinely cursed outloud in shock that I hadn't killed one of the main characters. At that point, I made sure that, moving forward, I would be more careful and not lose any of the main characters.
At the next level, I immediately killed one of the main characters and removed them from the story. I played too carefully, and that inability to fully commit ultimately did me in. I cursed outloud again.
Almost no one will have the same experience and same story as you. David Cage, the writer and director of the game, described the game’s story as a Rubik’s cube. Any action affects everything else on the cube. This isn’t a normal game. It’s an engaging drama. There is no dragon to kill. There are no zombies to shoot. It’s a drama that places its story first. Yet “Detroit” feels more like a game than Quantic Dream’s prior games which used a similar story and gameplay structure.
Each level ends with a flowchart showing all possible outcomes of a given level with only the choices you’ve made shown. All the others are grayed out. Players can see what percentage of players chose each choice. For example, the first thing you come across in the game is a fish flopping on the floor, next to a fish tank. At the time of this writing, 65 percent of players picked up the fish and placed it back into the tank and 35 percent of players are monsters.
Since the game uses Detroit as its backdrop, its themes allude to Detroit’s storied history. Racial issues are brought up through the treatment of androids as second class-citizens. Blue-collar jobs in manufacturing, coal, lumber or any industry that has lost jobs due to automation are touched on by having the androids literally taking the jobs of Detroiters. There are even references to Detroit’s place on the Underground Railroad.
Unlike most media, “Detroit: Become Human” treats Detroit respectfully. It’s not a punching bag. It’s a believable depiction of what Detroit could look like in 20 years. In the first level, when Connor steps out of the apartment to negotiate, the skyline has the Renaissance Center, One Detroit Center and the Penobscot Building, and the player can see the Fisher Building in the distance. Small details, such as a family owning a 2018 top-of-the-line vehicle to show their financial struggles because that car is 20-years-old, make this game great. Characters say “you guys” and eat Coney dogs. The Spirit of Detroit is shown in one level wearing what is identifiable as a Red Wings jersey while being different for legal reasons. Even what feels like filler or busywork actively helps you connect and care about the characters in the story. There is an extraordinary amount of detail in the game's depiction of Detroit, which makes its major flaw even more glaring.
There is a level in that takes place in Ferndale, which, in the game, is an industrialized area with a seaport on Detroit River. The People Mover has been expanded into Ferndale, and at its stop, the player can see a map of the train system list Ferndale on the Green Line with the Sterling Heights and Warren stops. Characters call it Ferndale, but it is clearly not Ferndale. I’m under the assumption Quantic Dream preferred the name Ferndale for a level over something more believable like River Rouge, but the creative choice took me out of the story and broke my immersion.
“Detroit: Become Human” is an engaging and beautiful game that elevates the medium to a new high due to a fascinating story, local flare and respect toward a storied and controversial American city. The story and the way it unfolds can only be done in this medium. Lead writer Adam Williams said there are more than 1,000 different ways the game can end. It’s one of the few games that I have wanted to start again as soon as I beat it to see where else the story can go.
Hopefully, something this unique and different can sell. It's really good.