The following contains SPOILERS
So I reviewed Detroit Become Human (it’ll be the article directly below this one if you want to have a look), and while avoiding spoilers I basically said that it has flaws, but in spite of those I really enjoyed it, and that it’s David Cage and Quantic Dream’s only good game. It’s been on my mind since I finished it, and I’m currently partway through my second playthrough, planning to write a piece going into more detail about what I do and don’t like about it specifically, with no restraint on spoilers. I’m compelled to write it now (or at least start writing it) upon being reminded of a specific moment in the story. It was around two in the morning, I was drunk, Markus’ entirely peaceful, pacifistic revolution had been cornered and had erected barricades outside an Android death camp, because they’re a thing that pop up at the end of the game. Soldiers close in on the four main members of Jericho, whom I had kept alive all this time, and just as things look bleak the game gave me two options: sacrifice self, or sing. I chose sing, and the resulting scene was Markus, then North, then everyone else singing “Hold on just a little while longer” (hence the title of this piece) which, to my relief, isn’t a spiritual. It’s a beautiful, sombre moment, acted wonderfully by Jesse Williams as Markus, in which he simultaneously embodies a last flicker of hope and a weary resignation regarding his own seemingly imminent death. The game is full of moments like this, memorable set pieces that manage to draw out an emotional response. Markus’ entire nightmarish slog through the Android dumping pit; the way the sound is muffled and the primary sound is a rising, harsh tone that peters out when you find a new auditory unit. Kara, Luther and the Jerrys giving Alice a ride on the merry-go-’round. Speaking of which, the Jerrys themselves are easily one of the most interesting parts of the game; a sort of hive-mind controlling a large group of one Android model, all of them dedicated to entertaining children. Connor and Hank’s developing Father and Son relationship, and the noticeable effect it has on Connor if your choices favour bucking his programming and showing compassion. Kara’s scenes are the closest the game gets to Cage bullshit, but manages to pull it back from the brink. Everything with Todd is mercifully brief (and the QTE “Avoid being domestically abused” scene can be completely avoided), and his violent mood swings are explained as the effects of medication rather than being an example of David Cage’s insulting depiction of mental illness. The scene in Zlatko’s house is dumb, almost entirely superfluous to the story at large except for bringing Luther in, and has one of the most on the nose, groan-inducing lines of Cage’s writing career, but Zlatko experimenting on and cobbling together robots is quite effective as a source of horror, plus there’s a robot bear. While I’m on the subject, the game’s biggest issues: Firstly, the two plot twists. Alice turning out to be an Android is clearly a twist that’s included for its own sake, because it doesn’t make sense and the game lies to you about it. Alice doesn’t eat, complains about the cold and rain and doesn’t have an LED or the identifying symbols purely so that the player doesn’t realise she’s an Android, and I’m not sure what the intended pay-off is. Kara’s story is about a mother and child fleeing through a country full of people that hate them, and it’s a good story. Why does the game need to lie to me about it? The other twist occurred right at the end of the game, back in the early hours of the morning when I was drunk: Connor’s A.I handler Amanda planned for him to go Deviant, and plans for him to assassinate Markus now he’s ingratiated himself with the revolution. For one thing, that’s a really stupid time to have him do it; on a stage in front of hundreds if not thousands of Androids Connor himself brought there, especially considering he was going to shoot Markus when he was alone and isolated back at Jericho. It also looks really goofy when you overcome it and Connor awkwardly tucks his gun back into his belt. The weirdest thing for me was how quickly it came and went: Connor pulls his gun, you have to stumble around the Zen Garden then touch that weird stone thing, and doing so magically makes everything alright. The only clue to what’s happening is an audio flashback to Android creator Kamski saying “I always leave a backdoor in my programs”, but that just raises more questions, and there were enough left unanswered as it is. I’d quite like to see a sequel to this actually, I think there’s enough here to go on. The other major problem is the much talked about, and infamous, references to real life Civil Rights Movement/Jim Crow slogans and events. Now I am a member of a minority, but I’m not black, I don’t know anyone who was around for segregation, and I would never claim to speak for those who were. I do think a lot the references made here are poorly handled, and some of them are inappropriate. The big one, “We have a dream”, is like Cage wanted a tie to real life to get people on the Android’s side, and was either too lazy or too stupid to pick something more subtle. I don’t know why he wouldn’t think people are on the side of the Androids though, given how he made humans in this game treat androids like utter shite. They beat them, verbally abuse them and torture them; the whole “The Androids are an abused group who deserve to be treated better” message is being yelled through a megaphone from a rooftop. What’s more the game doesn’t need it. The android compartment at the back of the bus, the segregated escalators and “NO ANDROIDS ALLOWED” signs on businesses just distract from the subject at hand, they elicit a snort and an exasperated “…what?” rather than making the player solemnly nod and think, which I imagine is the intended reaction. I get it, Cage; racism, in this case institutionalised, legalised and accepted racism, is awful. You don’t need to keep telling me that. It’s weird because, like I said in my review, the game does approach one aspect of real life oppression with surprising subtlety, and that’s the glowing blue triangle and armband Androids are legally required to wear. It’s a reference to Holocaust imagery, but no one ever mentions it, if you don’t know what it is then it just works as a sign of oppression in-game, and their design fits in with everything really well, especially Connor’s ones.
So now that’s the out the way, a list of things in the game I really like:
The fact that most androids only have a certain number of faces. Kara, Jerry, North, Simon, David and Ralph are not unique models, nor are they unique to functions
That the Androids’ physical superiority to humans comes not from greater physical strength but their minds, and their ability to “preconstruct” events to see outcomes, as well as adapt. Connor in particular decimates any human foe he faces because his literal computer brain tells him exactly what he needs to do to put people on their arses, channelling John Wick while doing so
That it saves each playthrough chapter by chapter via the flowchart, so you can restart from different checkpoints depending on your decisions, and change things accordingly
The android dumping pit- that whole scene
The merry go round and the Jerrys
All of Connor’s scenes with Hank. Bryan Dechart is adorable, and I love his chemistry with Clancy Brown
The game’s art style, particularly Connor’s armband and triangle; futuristic elements standing out among the desolate, grim locales he investigates.
Connor in general really. He’s the best.
Markus’ badass pacifist revolution. Jericho showing that they’re superior to the humans who oppress them not with force, but with compassion and by staying true to their principles. North’s viewpoint, “Humans will never listen to us so we need to fight them” being so thoroughly shown up by Markus’ viewpoint of “Let’s show the humans who hate us just how wrong they are” that by the end North is completely behind a pacifist Markus. I’m planning a violent revolution this time around and part of me wants to call it off now before it’s too late. It just seems wrong somehow, after the way my pacifist run ended. In the time it’s taken me to write the rest of this and read back through it I’m seriously considering being peaceful again.
Kara getting across that road with Alice, dodging traffic.
Kara getting across the boarder into Canada without sacrificing Luther or Jerry, because Jericho is peaceful, public opinion is good and the immigration officer does her a solid
That the game’s down time is enjoyable, and rather than have you bumble around a preposterously huge apartment waiting for the story to continue, every scene moves at a good pace, and the whole thing has a consistent level of player interaction
Each character having their own composer and soundtrack, all of which are great
The impact the choices have: we’ve come a long way since that bit in heavy rain where, if Ethan refuses to cut his finger off then a police officer will shoot at him and somehow blow off that same section of finger (that’s real, YouTube it): choices matter here. Kara can die early on, Markus can die well before the end for his beliefs, and dying as Connor can make things more difficult later on, particularly when you take into account smaller, less drastic choices. Saying the wrong things, missing things in the environment and failing to act on certain things opens up dramatically different paths, as does keeping your eye on the ball, being proactive and saying the right things. Depending on what you do the game can be drastically different, and that’s a new step for Quantic Dream. The story they’ve written is no longer a sacred cow, with the player’s input being largely flavour, maybe killing someone either David Cage didn’t care about, or at a point where he wanted them dead anyway. There is a certain degree of railroading now and then, to keep things moving and set up certain scenes, but it’s surprising how much of an impact the player can have
Like I said, Detroit is a flawed game. But having said that I still really like it, it’s firmly on my potential game of the year list, and I’m sure it’ll stick with me for a long time to come. I’m genuinely surprised they pulled it off, but credit where it’s due, Detroit is great.
By James Lambert