David Cage is a hack. He sells himself as some incredible visionary dragging videogames into a world of true art, but the reality is far different. His stories often start well and have moments of brilliance, or at least goodness now and then, but his handling of women, sensitive or heavy subjects like race, rape, child abuse, torture and homelessness (not to mention his gross, insulting approach to mental illness) is poor, often undermined by said stories collapsing under the weight of an ever-growing cache of supernatural bullshit. Anyway I could rant about the man and his games all day but that’s not at all productive, so instead I’ll narrow my focus to the upcoming Detroit: Become Human and its recently released demo.
The demo depicts a scene in which an android police hostage negotiator, Connor, arrives in a high rise apartment to talk down a “deviant” android named David, who’s taken a little girl named Emma hostage and killed her Father. Right off the bat the dialogue is really on the nose, as it was in the reveal trailer; Emma’s mother begs Connor to save her daughter until she realises what he is, at which point she yells, and I quote: “Why aren’t you sending a real person?” “Okay”, I thought, “That was awful, but it gets the point across, robots are treated as disposable, inhuman objects, it’s a slavery metaphor and-” “DON’T LET THAT THING NEAR MY DAUGHTER!” “Okay, that’s just getting annoying now-” “NO YOU DON’T GET IT, I DON’T LIKE ROBOTS PLEASE DON’T LET THAT INHUMAN TOOL NEAR MY DAUGHTER”. The other cops treat him with contempt and the best ending I got was talking David down only for police snipers to violently murder him after he had let Emma go and she was well clear of him. I get what they’re going for but it’s handled with all the grace of David Cage cracking a walnut with a sledgehammer. One could point out that a subject like this doesn’t need subtlety, but I would counter by saying that it at least deserves good writing, and this isn’t it. Fortunately the actual gameplay fares much better. Before you venture out onto the terrace to actually face David you’re encouraged to explore the apartment and examine what went down before you got here. Some of the information, like the fact that the weapon David has belonged to Emma’s Father, or that said Father was shot to death with it is largely inconsequential. On the other hand, you can find more useful things like a dead cop’s gun or a tablet on which the Father was ordering a replacement android, which unlocks a new dialogue option. Things like this instantly elevate it above, say, Beyond: Two Souls, which was peak low-interactivity “Cinematic” Cage bullshit. It’s nice to actually have some agency and effect on the environment, an effect repayed by new ways of playing the game. I managed three very different outcomes to the hostage situation without too much variation in my actions, and there were a whole lot more things to find and different choices I could have made, as evidenced by the flowchart shown at the end of the demo. Unfortunately however, it’s clear on repeat playthroughs that the actual confrontation is very stiff and segmented, so regardless of how well your negotiating goes, once you reach the last section if you haven’t found a certain piece of evidence the game suddenly gives you the option to rush forward and sacrifice your life for Emma’s, seemingly out of nowhere given everything that lead up to it. Still the variety in actions and outcomes did make me play through it three times in a row, which is something.
I must say I am, to a certain degree, pleasantly surprised. After Beyond and, to a lesser extent Heavy Rain and Fahrenheit, I was fully expecting this to be another railroad through poorly written nonsense with little influence over the outcome. The gameplay aspect has changed for the better; all it needs is to maintain this level of influence and response to the player’s actions for the whole game and not just limit it to certain set pieces dotted throughout the game. The other aspect, and the one that still worries me, is the subject matter. Cage hasn’t done anything to make me think he’s gotten any better at handling serious subjects, and now he’s doing a whole game about race, identity and throwing off shackles to “become human”, I could see this all going horribly wrong. But only time will tell, and I’ll be reviewing it anyway.
By James Lambert