Let me begin by just outright saying that I don’t like David Cage. As a writer, I find him pretty damn terrible and every time he talks about his work he comes across as either a pathological liar, someone with his head so far up his own ass he’s getting his food back before it can digest or both. Now, you might wonder why I’m going to talk about one of the games he wrote if I think so little of him. Well, it’s because I have a lot of problems with this game and it’s been out long enough that I think I can vent about them without all the rabid fans going mad. Plus I don’t do game reviews often so, when I do, it’s always a game that’s been out for a while. I’ll warn you before we get into the gritty details, there will be spoilers.
The set up is old hat for science fiction. Androids are an accepted part of daily life but some are gaining emotions, breaking free from their programming and starting to demand rights. We follow three different androids, Markus, Connor and Kara, on their separate but connected paths. Markus starts out serving an elderly artist before becoming robot Jesus. Connor is tasked with finding these deviants and putting a stop to them before they start voting, getting involved sexually with our flesh and blood women and shopping at our organics only stores. Kara is a house keeping android who runs off with a small child to stop her being abused. But it turns out the child is also an android so don’t worry about any “can an android love a human as its own?” story lines. That might have been interesting, if it were written by someone with writing skills.
My first big issue with the game’s story is just how trite the whole narrative is. We’ve seen the “what if AI was sapient” question addressed in a billion different works of media. And every single one of those has done a better job with it than this game. Some big examples have been, but aren’t limited to, Star Trek: Next Generation, The Stories of Ibis, Eve no Jikan, DC’s Metal Men, Astro Boy, The Hitchiker’s Guide, Doctor Who, Red Dwarf, Xenosaga, Transformers, Voyages of the Cerberus, The Twilight Zone, Marvel’s Vision, Blake’s Seven, Steel Angel Kurumi 2, Overwatch, Megaman and so many others I could put together an absurdly long list but I’ve made my point.
What especially annoys me about Detroit in this regard isn’t just that it uses a major story element that’s been done, it’s that David Cage talks about it like he did something completely new and absolutely unheard of. And not just because he deals with sapient machines but because they’re the good guys, for once. You know, if you ignore literally everything I just listed.
Another aspect of the game that annoys me is the heavy-handed slavery metaphor that immediately falls apart if you put ten seconds of thought into it. Because white people did not build black people in a factory nor have black people ever been emotionless. Frankly, it’s a pretty insulting comparison. David Cage also likes to push this idea that the “proper” way to strike back against an oppressive group in power is through non-violent protest. The only way to save all the named characters you’re supposed to care about is to be non-violent. Which is nonsense. Peaceful protest has its place, but it isn’t easy or relatively painless by any means.
Another annoyance is the Public Opinion system. Throughout the game what you do impacts public opinion but it barely matters to the story. There are all of two characters who will act differently based on public opinion and you don’t see any other impact from it. The story is also full of things that are just stupid. For example, the androids have LEDs in their necks that basically serve to show when they’re getting distressed. Almost like this was an old B-movie where the lead actor can’t emote so they come up with some plot device to do it for them. What’s even dumber is that we find out androids can remove these lights and change their hair colours in order to better pass as human. So, why doesn’t every deviant android do that immediately? Seriously, these things are supposed to be smart but they can’t be bothered to take some simple, obvious steps that would help keep them safe? They deserve to get caught and deactivated.
The only narrative thing I’ll give Detroit some credit for is that it actually has choices that matter. Which does give it something when compared to, for example, a Telltale game. Although you probably won’t want to take more paths cause they’re all badly written.
Like the narrative itself, the characters are based off of old, boring stereotypes without anything to make them interesting. Markus is the “saviour” who gains the mysterious power to awaken other androids and has to lead his people to… Silicon heaven, I assume. Where they can hang out with all the calculators. Connor is the eager young recruit. Kara is the motherly woman. Hank is the grizzled old officer and so on. I’ve felt more of an emotional connection to the plastic toys I’ve found in kinder eggs.
Like most Quantic Dream games, the gameplay is very minimal. You go to places, examine things, do busy work (like laundry), make decisions and there are some shitty quick time events. It’s like Cage wanted to make an animated film but didn’t want every single Razzie so he begrudgingly made a game instead. So, it’s exactly what you expect from Quantic.
Here’s the one element I can give some actual praise. The artwork in this game is very well done. It uses a realistic, motion-captured style and, unlike any other aspect of the game, actual effort went into making the animation flow smoothly, putting in nice backgrounds and just making it visually appealing. If you paired this artwork with a narrative that wasn’t complete trash and compelling gameplay, you could have a real winner.
The music is decent enough. In terms of acting, you can tell that the actors are trying. I can’t say their performances are good. If they had characters with some level of depth to them, they might be able to display emotions and have strong performances instead of an emotion and having kind of sub-par performances. I’m sure part of that is David Cage’s directing since he’s awful at that too.
Areas of Improvement:
Now comes the time where I list three ways the work could be improved, and I am spoiled for choice here because there are so many awful aspects to go after.
- Tone down the message for some subtlety and nuance. I know that those are two terms David Cage will never comprehend, but for an example of what I’m talking about watch the Next Generation episode, Measure of a Man. In which Data’s rights are at stake and Picard defends those rights as well as his status as a sentient being.
- Alter the gameplay. As it is, Detroit is basically a shite visual novel with QTEs thrown in. I would say either throw out the busy work & QTEs and make it a straight up VN since those gameplay elements are just obnoxious or put in some gameplay that can fit with a story that has branching paths. Maybe an action RPG since several of those do have choices that matter. And get rid of the QTEs and busy work while you’re at it.
- Develop the characters beyond stereotypes. As the game is, we’ve seen all of these characters. We’ve also seen them all used as a base for complex characters. Which Cage might’ve done, if he wasn’t a complete hack.
Ultimately, Detroit: Become Human is tripe. The story is a complete mess riddled with clichés on one end and idiotic nonsense on the other. The gameplay is horrid. The characters have nothing to them and it’s just a generally bad experience. A bad experience that looks quite nice but looking nice kind of becomes meaningless when that’s all you have working in your favour. I give it a 3/10. And the only reason I’m going that high is because of the art. If the graphics weren’t so nice, I’d take two points off of that.