Detroit: Become Human is a web of narrative permutations that sometimes feels too simple

There’s a moment just a few minutes into a new demo for Detroit: Become Human where Marcus, one of the three android protagonists in the game, has to make a rushed choice. A police vehicle is bearing down on the street he’s standing in the middle of, threatening his plan to liberate a nearby android store. He chooses to abort and run – a decision not appreciated by his rebel partner North. They have a heated altercation in a nearby alley before leaving the area for good.Their people remain in the windows of the retail square, their mission failed. And in this instance, a large chunk of potential gameplay has just been skipped entirely.

Quantic Dream is well known for their branching narrative adventures, but Detroit: Become Human seems to really push the envelope in terms of the number of permutations available to players. Getting a look at the same scene showcased during the PlayStation conference, it’s clear just how drastically the narrative can diverge from simple choices. Marcus fleeing the area immediately ended this particular stage, cutting out around twenty or so minutes or additional storytelling had he stayed put. A different choice in the heat of the moment has ramifications that are felt throughout the rest of your game, even if they’re telegraphed in a manner that makes them seem a little less than natural.

Those worried about the confusing control schemes Quantic Dream also cling onto might also be disappointed to know just how much Detroit doubles down on that. Simple interactions such as starting a car or interacting with a security system can become a mess of input commands. You’ll have to hold down various buttons in sequence, eventually mashing another to complete the action. Some interactions even require the further step of having to shake the controller violently down, which looked as ridiculous as it might sound in reality.

Yet despite the reliance on obscure control schemes, Detroit makes this somewhat easy to forgive thanks to its smooth movement and slick as hell interface. Everything about the UI screams elegance – be it the way objectives clearly appear contextually during conversations, button prompts appear and fade into the night, or entire screen overlays neatly map out your possible options in a given scenario. It fits in so delicately with the future aesthetic the game has and is really something that stands out amongst the equally gorgeous visuals.

Functionally, they arguably work even better too. Just like last year’s detective focused demo, Marcus was given ample opportunity to allow the player to look forward into how certain actions might play out after selection. In one section, as an example, Marcus is attempting to rid the area of a patrolling police drone. After analysing its flight pattern, the player can scrub through a timeline showing where the drone might be after a given set of movements take place. Marcus can map his traversal,  allowing you to see if said path would result in the possibility for hopping on top of the drone and taking it out for above.

Given its interactivity, these segments look and feel far more dynamic than they might actually be beneath the surface. Detroit might have a lot more permutations to sift through, but actual player interactions still seem to be grossly limited to just a handful of options. Given just how far even this small selection can branch out based on past events makes this an understandable concession, but it might be nice for many of the other scenes in the game to mask this a little better. Narrative games such as this need to hide the seams as best they can, and Detroit seems at odds with this while attempting to give players more control over how their actions play out.

Telltale’s approach to hidden data collection and character memories is a good example of how the game hides what actions might affect future events, and it’s not to say Detroit is entirely devoid of these such instances. It’s rather that it, right now, just telegraphs them in a manner that is far more obvious than previous work such as Heavy Rain. There was no point during the demo where an action resulted in a response that seemed too left field. The exact actions were met with seemingly expected response, which makes the entire stage feel just a little flat.

There’s space for interpersonal relationships and the over-arching narrative to act as suitable offsets to these gripes, even if at its surface it seems like pretty standard dystopian sci-fi fare. The real hooks come in the form of the three protagonists, and more specifically their side on the brewing war between humans and androids. Quantic choosing to have all of these characters as androids themselves is fascinating, begging imaginative theories on how these clashes of ideologies and perspectives on what makes someone human the most compelling narrative hook so far.

It’s certainly looking like a Quantic Dream game in every manner of speaking though. So if that’s always been a turn-off, don’t expect Detroit to change that.

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Last Updated: June 14, 2017

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