Ruth's Diary


About time I played 'Detroit: Become Human'. Yes indeed, Quantic Dream has come out with another game, of course I was going to play it. It was never a question of if, but when. David Cage's games are always interesting, even when they fail at their goals. After all, there is always something more endearing about an ambitious failure over a bland success.

Now, I had quite fallen out of gamer culture, by the time it had come out in May 2018, so I wasn't pumped for its release like I was with 'Heavy Rain', nor did I buy it the week it came out like with 'Beyond: Two Souls'. I think I saw Detroit's game box during Summer of that year but I didn't feel too inclined to buy it immediately. Basically, 'Detroit: Become Human' was the game that resulted from the massive critical acclaim and adulation of the 'Kara' tech demo Quantic Dream had produced prior to 'Beyond'. Now the short is still beautiful, but I remember thinking I did not want it made into a full game...

Well, this could either be very good or very bad.

(It's neither.)

Now this is David Cage's first foray into science fiction as a genre. He is clearly not in his most comfortable element. Why do I say this? Well, throughout the game you can pick up and read magazines, which sometimes comment on how the media reacts to events in the game, while also (crucially) providing world-building elements and insight into the world of Detroit in the year 2038. These magazines look like actual magazines, but when you pick them up, you're sliding your finger (PS4 controller has a trackpad) like you're handling a tablet. So what are these magazines? Are they printed magazines or abandoned tablets? I ask this because many sci fi works have dabbled with the idea of 'no one reads newspapers any more', however, within Detroit, you see police reports being printed in hardcopy and hell, people are still reading newspapers NOW. Despite the proliferation of smartphones. Oh wait, nevermind, you can read newspapers and magazines on your smartphones now. So far, only Star Trek has got it right: yes people normally read poems and literature on PADDs but they still print and read books. Sorry about the tangent, but while it is fun to play with the idea of no more cash, or no more books, or no more newspapers in the have to make it consistent. A good example is 'Batman Beyond' (no paper anything and they stuck to it!). Detroit is not one such example, there is still paper money, paper reports, a few where the hell is the consistency??? What are these things? Why are there magazine-only tablets when people are probably reading this stuff on holographic projections from their smart-watches?

Now if I had this much to say regarding something as daft as optional magazines to read, imagine what I have to say about the rest of this game.

So yeah, first criticism: it's a beautifully realised future Detroit, but there are far too many elements that break one's sense of immersion. Including some big ones.

I might as well go over the good parts, especially the bits that critics agreed were good:

1) Looks really good. I agree. (Although the unfortunate instances of mouths slipping and sliding like liquid over people's teeth are still too high - seems like a graphics hazard of Quantic Dream at this point.)
2) Gameplay is excellent - probably the best Quantic Dream gameplay in any of their games. In fact, I like the fact that you're playing as 3 androids, so whenever you press R2 you can see your current mission objective. Very clever way of merging gameplay and character perspective. Bravo!
3) Kara - the character - probably has the most expansive set of story directions and possible endings. Also, she takes care of Alice, who is adorable.
4) Connor. Just Connor. (And Hank)

So I won't be too hard on Detroit because no, it's not a bad game, unfortunately, it has a lot of promise it doesn't live up to. Also, the setting...............

Admittedly, I can't think of that many works that involve looking at the changes to both society and economy should androids be introduced to a society on a massive scale, so I fully understand why the game has the dedicated fanbase that it does, because it took a science fiction idea and made it feel fresh. The thing is, androids are not just introduced into science fiction in a vacuum, they are supposed to explore something. So, what ideas are being explored in Detroit? Well, before that, is the setting realistic?


Within the game's own timeline, the first ever android sentient enough to pass the Turing Test is revealed to the world in the 2020s. Um...David Cage? Did you not get the memo on how stupid robots are??? There are so many things an AI has to learn before it can even reach sentience and express context-based thinking. Now I know I'm missing a lot of detail here, but...suffice to say, I find it wholly realistic that an android like Data only barely managed to be invented and to live in the 24th Century - yes I'm using Star Trek again; we will need centuries in order to create any form of sentient artificial life! Not to mention one obvious problem - why hasn't the presence of an android passing the Turing Test not put the whole scientific and ethics communities in complete uproar over the fact that...we've created new life? Sentient, self-aware life. There is nothing in any of the 'Detroit: Become Human' in-game or supplemental materials that suggests that it had occurred to ANYONE that these...pieces of merchandise could actually be a new people. Really? No one?

Yes, give an idiot an obedient android, sell them a free slave that will do everything you tell them to and guarantee they will never harm you, then sure, those kinds of people will basically treat an android as such. But not everyone. I mean, as pointed out by many people, where are the inevitable android owners who befriend the android or even call them various android names and act out their sci fi fan fantasies? I still remember how much of a collective fangasm tech junkies had over the release of the iPad and Dad and I joked how so many people just wanted their own Star Trek PADD.

So lack of realistic human-wide reaction to the presence of an android aside...I suppose I could file the 'unrealistically advanced AI on legs' item to the side, since every speculative fiction story ever is allowed one key cheat. Here, once you focus on the actual plots that the 3 protagonists experience, is where the frustration sets in on all the lost potential. Like I said before, androids are best used when made to explore a facet of the human condition: questions on self identity, culture, trans-humanism, maturity and growth, hell even racism allegories if you want to go there. Detroit...does not know what it wants to say. About any of this. People have spotted a recurring theme of family and parenthood (nice) but everyone has spotted the various allusions to racism past and present: androids have nearly no rights, they are forced to wear uniforms and logos to identify them as androids, they stand in their own compartments in buses, every android has to be registered or owned by someone, people are angry androids steal their

Truth be told, I wasn't surprised when I learned that David Cage did not intend to make any statement on racism and race relations with these androids and their stories because THAT WAS FUCKING OBVIOUS! You cannot just relate things, you have to explore why they are grievances. Why is it a problem that androids have their own bus compartments? It's not like they get tired and have to sit down. Wouldn't the problem be if an elderly person needs their android assistant to stay with them? What about the androids taking the family dog for a walk? Why are humans not allowed to use stairs? I can see quite a few people just using stairs because they can and who's really going to stop them. Also, whenever people accuse another group of people of 'taking their jobs' there's normally little basis in reality...yeah, in Detroit, androids are literally taking people's jobs, because the employers do not want to pay their employees. This isn't a baseless accusation in this world.

Now Yahtzee Croshaw isn't a critic I agree with most of the time, but he was bang on the money when he asked why Detroit didn't bother using these androids to explore the nature of big business and their impact on the economy. There are lots of examples and clues about this littered throughout the game. Do they address any of it? What do you think?

So like I said, there are 3 characters. Kara I've mentioned; she is a domestic droid owned by an abusive drug addict, who 'goes deviant' in order to protect his daughter, Alice, then escapes the house and goes on the run. Depending on your choices, you either just escape or straight up kill the abuser. I killed him on my first playthrough, so the next few moments spent with Kara have you experience life on the run with literally no resources trying to survive. This was pretty compelling - I've never experienced finding myself in the middle of nowhere with nothing and almost everything shut. Now, in my head, I thought - wow, this could be a really compelling story about the exploitation and abuse of an unrecognised class and minority (similar to modern slavery), wrapped around a crime that is not straight forward, I really hope there is an exploration of the legal ramifications of this whole crazy situation. NOPE. Kara just experiences one threat after another, surviving long enough to either get shot, caught, or escape to Canada. Goddammit.

The second character is Markus. Now he could have been an interesting one, he starts out being a carer to artist Carl Manfred (played by Lars Henriksen) but it's clear he is loved and doted on - like a son. He is taught philosophy, art, history...maybe his story could explore how the rich have the resources and time for pondering these questions, while the poor only see their lives stalling and live in fear of the androids' presence as they live check-to-check? NOPE. His story is the well-worn, has big tragedy, then leads a revolution plot...zzzz. Shame really, as he has some of the most entertaining missions in the game. Unfortunately, if the very predictable plot of: tragedy means he must leave home, he finds other escaped androids, then leads revolution is dull, then his crappy support cast is worse. No I don't mean Carl. When he starts his revolutionary antics, the setup is: Markus is the Kirk, North is the McCoy and Josh is the Spock, while Simon is the very defensive and cautious Scotty. But they have no character of their own - it's like they were written based on standard archetypes. Even some of their lines sound like game prompts, as opposed to natural conversation. I was amused to read various critics agree that his 'inspirational' speeches are a dull turn-off.

Therefore, I leave for last Connor. The best character. The MASSIVE amount of adulation, fanart and fanfics for this character is no surprise. So why is Connor so good? Here's the weird part...Kara and Markus are...too human. I know, an ironic criticism for a game with "Become Human" in its title. Connor though, he acts like an android. More than that, he acts like a very advanced android who picks and chooses the best response in any social situation to further his goals. His subtle shift in mannerisms seems to reveal when he's following a program or his own intuition. So what is Connor's story? He's a detective android, loaned to the Detroit Police Department by the company CyberLife to hunt down 'deviant' androids. Essentially, these androids are no longer obedient and following orders. So you know, they're just being alive. Now Connor prides himself on not being a deviant, so you can either choose to keep him as a machine the whole way through, or, you can make him deviate at key moments. When his preconceptions are challenged...oh boy, the responses you can choose make him suitably conflicted and uncertain.

Connor is fun to watch, fun to play as, and perfectly exemplifies the best representation of the game's ideas. He is a suitably complex but charming character in a tense and tricky situation. Bryan Dechart did such a great job playing as him - a revelation in acting. Plus he's taken to streaming since he had worked on this game and the facts and tidbits he revealed about working on this game, all the preparation he did for the role as Connor, what informed his acting style...fantastic! Also, Bryan is acting opposite Clancy Brown, who plays Hank. People LOVE the relationship between Connor and Hank - winning Hank's approval and support is the best thing in the world. It's when interacting with Hank that Connor learns the values of recognising the grey areas in ethical divides, reacting spontaneously, the importance of getting to know a person. Even the value of questioning what you know. Also, a lot of people picked up on his denial of being a 'deviant' being very similar to the story of a gay man coming out. David Cage acknowledged his story could be read like this. Plus, Connor has that sweet jacket.

Final point of criticism: why is the music so weak and unmemorable? Unfortunately, it feels like I'm the only one with this problem. But 2/3s of my first play through of this game and I realised...I recognised and remembered absolutely no music. I recognise some now by watching Bryan's streams and replaying it but...that's a mark of a failed soundtrack in my opinion. The only track I like is 'Deviant'.

So what's my conclusion? 'Detroit: Become Human' is baby's first android-based science fiction story, with no idea what it wants to say other than...androids are people (duh) and blessed the world with Connor. Along with endless Youtube compilations of things like: every possible method of killing North, or, every dialogue option outside the chicken feed, or, every outcome when you cross into Canada by boat. I really wanted to like this one, but, after I get my platinum trophy I really don't see myself ever playing this one again.

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