tue 16/10/2018

Detroit: Become Human review – a robot story with real heart | reviews, news & interviews

Detroit: Become Human review – a robot story with real heart

Detroit: Become Human review – a robot story with real heart

A big budget interactive story where your decisions can flip the script

Interactive stories are a tricky proposition. Make the on-screen action too passive and your audience feels like they’re watching a succession of cut-scenes. Tip the balance the other way and it’s just a game with pretensions of cinematic story telling. The idea that every decision you make in-game, whether it’s a dialogue choice or an action, will ultimately affect the outcome of the story is a bold ambition.

How can you really tell if your choices actually make a difference to the narrative, apart from replaying the scene continuously? In the past, with two notable previous interactive stories namely Heavy Rain in 2010 and Beyond: Two Souls in 2013 there was no real way of telling how you’re navigating the story. But Detroit: Become Human presents a flowchart for each completed chapter, showing exactly where narrative branches take the action in a different direction, allowing you to replay chapters (of which I counted 32) and ultimately change the outcome of the game.

We’re taking a walk 20 years into the future. It’s 2038 and Detroit, the once thriving motor city has bounced from its double decade-long recession and has rejuvenated itself through the invention and introduction of androids into everyday life.

From childcare to plumbers via soldiers and doctors, Cyberlife, the robot equivalent of General Motors, dominates the global droid market. But when their products start behaving as if they are alive, events begin to spin out of control quicker than a fidget spinner in the hands of a middle-aged man.

You approach this android awakening plot from three distinctly different character perspectives. Kara is a domestic droid who realises a strong nurturing instinct. Markus is a reluctant revolutionary and Connor is a cop, programmed to track down Deviants and who partners with a gruff, troubled, human detective straight out of central casting.

Detroit: Become HumanOne of Detroit’s many delights is the plot pacing and narrative flow. The beats, hooks and crescendos ebb and flow through a tightly woven story that comes alive through the well-written script and solid, believable performances. The writing is bolstered by beautiful character depiction that waves the flag for how close a videogame comes to emulating film.

But where film gets left behind is through the element of audience participation – i.e 'playing' this 50-quid PS4 exclusive. And this is where the whole interactive story shtick turns to Marmite. If you’re happy with the challenge essentiality boiling down to Quick Time Events – i.e pressing certain buttons within a short time frame when given on-screen prompts, such as a fight scene, then fine.

While this process sounds pretty dull, the reality is that it’s highly engaging, especially when the time is short and the number of options or controller movements are many. But understand this – all the action is essentially simulated. You won’t be driving or shooting, instead you’ll activate the prompt that enables your character to undertake that task on your behalf. It’s this ‘one step removed’ approach that people either accept or reject when it comes to this type of gaming experience.

There are plenty of other interactive points too. Analysing crime scenes and recreating what occurred through a wireframe animation tool is a neat visual trick. The dialogue paths offer real character-relationship variety and then there’s the moral dilemmas that tap into the thematic depth of violence over pacifism and compassion over cynicism.  

After completing and then replaying the game making different decisions there was a surprisingly large amount of scenes and plot branches that revealed themselves, ultimately creating an entirely different ending.

There’s a lot going on in this layered sci-fi drama and if you submit to the process and settle in for a gaming experience that brings you to the edge of your seat via a different route, then there’s plenty to be enjoyed – especially on a second screening.  

@wordsbysteve

The beats, hooks and crescendos ebb and flow through a tightly woven story

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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