We recently went hands-on with the opening hours of Detroit: Become Human.
The latest from David Cage – Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls – Detroit: Become Human is a PS4 exclusive set in Detroit, Michigan 20 years in the future. Androids are commonplace in society, whether they’re providing community services such as waste disposal or helping families or individuals around the home.
Having played only around 15 minutes just prior to PAX Aus last year, we were keen to see more of the game, and thankfully got the chance recently at Sony’s Melbourne offices. We had just over two hours with the game, allowing us to play through all three androids’ point of view, and get a better handle on the story as well as game mechanics.
Straight off the bat, Detroit: Become Human (DBH) is easily the most thought-provoking game in recent memory. Our inner sci-fi nerd loved all the questions the game raises about humanity, its perception, and artificial intelligence. What makes someone ‘alive’? What is a soul? What does it mean to have one? Nature vs nurture. What is humanity? Do you have to be a human to experience it? If your head hurts, you’re almost on the same level we were when playing.
DBH looks stunning. The likenesses of the AI are almost indistinguishable from humans, and the whole game is beautiful, from the landscapes to the level and UI design. The first thing you see when you boot up the game is a kind of ‘host’ (sorry Westworld) AI that gives you idle thoughts as you select to start the game or go to settings.
The first part of the game is the short playthrough that we had previously experienced – and is also currently available as a demo on the PlayStation store. You are Connor – an android sent to help with a negotiation involving a ‘deviant’ android and a young female hostage. As Connor, you need to collect evidence and persuade the deviant to come to an agreement.
It’s here that you’re first introduced to the simple-yet-effective control scheme of DBH. There’s a focus on the right thumbstick, which you’ll use to interact with objects, and your face buttons are usually used as alternate conversation choices. The touchpad, too, comes into play a little later, whether you’re tapping or sliding it, or even moving the entire controller. When you encounter particular events you can analyse clues and ‘reconstruct’ the scene, allowing you to fast-forward and rewind key events.
You’re not really ‘babied’, or given obvious clues as to where to go or what to do next, which is nice. Pressing R2 lets you consult your objectives – both necessary and optional – and that’s about all the guidance you’re given. There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way to do things. Because there are so many conversational choices and optional objectives in each level – which are known as ‘scenes’ – you get a flowchart that shows you your progression path alongside all the other choices you made – or chose not to make. Completionists beware.
You’re introduced to 2038 Detroit as a city populated by androids – whether the locals like it or not. It would seem that quite a few people’s jobs are being lost to the robots, and they’re none too happy about it either, with unemployment and homelessness rates on the rise.
We then meet Kara – who you’ll remember was the beginning of Detroit: Become Human in the first place. She’s had to be reset, and is now a housekeeping android for a man and his young daughter. As Kara, you clean up the house, and do other odd jobs, while trying to get to know the family a little better. Some of the tasks feel a bit menial – but that’s the whole point isn’t it? You’re meant to feel a bit like an underappreciated slave. It’s all a part of the immersion. This android especially has quite the number of environmental interactions, so we’ll leave you to discover her story for yourself.
Finally, we are introduced to Markus. As he wanders through a park on an errand, we are shown that some androids have more personality than others. You see protesters out in the city, and graffiti reinstating the fact that perhaps androids aren’t welcomed by all. Markus is an android assistant that helps out a wealthy, disabled artist, doing his errands and making his meals.
Further down the line, you find out a little more about why androids have started going ‘deviant’ in the first place, and who’s behind it all – which we will also let you find out for yourself. How will it all be stopped? Much like you, we can ‘t wait to find out.
Of course, an overarching theme of Cage’s work is the prejudice against androids – would that be Androidism? Completing scenes with each of your three androids shows you in real-time how both the general population and individuals perceive androids; whether they’re indifferent, they like you, or they’re not huge fans. We’re keen to see how much this societal perception will come into play as the story unfolds further, and what kind of socio-political commentaries the game will make.
Detroit: Become Human has so far managed to be a highly personal tale that doesn’t involve real people, and a touching narrative the likes of which you would expect from David Cage. It’s impactful, emotional, and honestly quite a timely release alongside that of Westworld S2 (which you should definitely be watching by the way). It switches between its three stories fluently, and you never feel too bogged down in one arc. I, for one, am completely enraptured, and can’t wait to experience the game properly when it launches May 25. If nothing else, we can only hope it will answer the age old question; are we human, or are we dancer?