Detroit: Become Human made a splash at the recent Paris Games Week with a new trailer that put a heart-rending display of domestic abuse centre stage. While previously-released footage has painted the deviant androids as threatening to human life, Kara’s narrative debut flipped the established norms and cast her as the guardian angel of a young girl. The scene acts as a counterpoint to those already revealed, highlighting the thematic depth and variety that Quantic Dream is aiming to explore within the context of the android rebellion.
With the game scheduled for release early next year, OnlySP had the chance to go hands-on, playing through the scene first shown at E3 2016, as the police android Connor aims to placate a deviant that has taken a young girl hostage.
The snippet opens quietly, with Connor in the entrance hall of the house a seemingly well-off family. As he walks forward, Connor notices a fish flopping on the ground, and players are introduced to the intuitive context-based control scheme lifted from Beyond: Two Souls. Saving the animal by dumping it back into the aquarium lining the walls is not necessary, but the interaction illuminates the human-scale concerns within the game and how different it promises to be from most large productions. However, the silence cannot last, and Connor soon meets with the histrionic mother and businesslike police chief.
Players interact with these two only briefly, but the strength of the portrayals and level of genuine emotion reveals an authenticity that most games cannot match, even after a dozen hours. These opening moments place an emphasis on the situation’s stressfulness, successfully keeping the stakes low-key and, therefore, relatable. However, the scene’s inconsistency in maintaining tension results in a slight unevenness. Nevertheless, the emotional break arising from the investigation sequence is a reprieve that helps to heighten the final act.
Connor’s forensic examination of the home will be immediately familiar to anyone who played Heavy Rain and Beyond, as the mechanics offer a blend of the two. Interaction methods are drawn from the simple directional prompts in the latter game, while Connor has access to an augmented reality interface resembling Norman Jayden’s ARI from the former. As well as helping to highlight points of interest, this mechanic enables Connor to recombine the events that led to crisis to learn more about the family and the rogue android. Use of this ability is intuitive, and it is accompanied by a meter indicating the chances of defusing the hostage situation successfully, inviting players to find more clues to reach 100%.
In a wonderful example of pacing, the tension begins to build again as Connor steps out onto the open rooftop area to confront the deviant, David. The abductor is unstable, and the player must use the information gathered inside the house to determine the best approach to pacify him. Doing so is a straightforward exercise in trust building, but sticking to the script is not encouraged. The player is free to antagonise David if they so wish, but a negative outcome becomes far more likely. Furthermore, the presence of the police is a wildcard that raises David’s instability, and any untoward move by Connor can pitch him over the edge. As such, no matter how close to success the player may be, it can be snatched away in a moment. This lack of predictability lends the scene an engrossing quality that demands the full attention of the user and a keen display of analytical thinking.
Taken as a whole, the scene is heartrending, and the array of possible conclusions forces the player to think about every action they make. This quality was lacking—though not entirely missing—from the rabble-rousing seen in the E3 trailer earlier this year, but the newest footage featuring Kara reflects the way that weighty moral choices can be built up to by a series of apparently inconsequential actions.
Whereas most games challenge the reflexes, Detroit: Become Human will test the mind. Quantic Dream’s previous games have made choices matter on a macro scale, with endings based on player actions, but Detroit promises to go beyond that. If even a fraction of the scenes in the final game carry the weight of Connor’s confrontation with the deviant, and make the tiniest choices matter to the outcome, then David Cage’s latest could be the masterpiece so long awaited by his fans.
Detroit: Become Human is scheduled for release in early 2018, exclusively on PlayStation 4.