Detroit: Become Human is out now. In our review, we said “Though it comes off as heavy-handed at times, Detroit tells an endearing story that verges on the profound, diving deep into the nature of humanity itself. It proves that interactivity and focused storytelling aren’t mutually exclusive and that the two can enhance each other given a proper degree of talent behind the scenes.” We recently listed off five things that Detroit gets right, but there are some pitfalls to this complex player-driven narrative. Here we’re digging into some of those downsides, detailing three things Detroit missed the target on.
Detroit tells a complex story that can go thousands of different ways. Regardless of which direction your personal playthrough of Detroit takes, there are numerous touchstones that will impact it that cannot be avoided, most of which involve the playable character Markus. Early on in the game, Markus is on an errand to pick up and return painting supplies to his owner. On his way home, he has to sit in a compartment on the back of a bus reserved only for androids. It’s a clear and largely daft reference to African Americans being forced to sit in the back of busses during segregation. Later on, after being disassembled by the police and left to die in a dumpster of other destroyed androids, Markus must literally crawl out of his own grave and bring himself back to life, aligning himself as a reincarnated Jesus figure. Near the end of the game, Markus learns how to cause other androids to become deviant with a simple button press and he walks down the streets in protest and has them join him as either a savior or a reckoner. These parallels are laid on thick and they’re hard to accept at face value. That’s not to say that Markus isn’t an interesting character – in fact, his personality is hard to dislike regardless of which route you take. Unfortunately, being beaten over the head with these themes begins to get old by the end of the game.
The Control Scheme isn’t Always Intuitive
Quantic Dream has been refining their control schemes for quite some time now. With Heavy Rain, they began to make button input as contextual as possible, with right and left triggers often simulating grabbing and the joysticks matching body movements. Its successor Beyond: Two Souls did the same and it looks like they’ve kept this line of thinking intact with Detroit: Become Human. Luckily, they’ve improved upon their techniques with each entry and Detroit is the best implementation of this style of interaction they’ve come up with yet, with even quick time events feeling natural and tense. Unfortunately, it’s still far from perfect. The right stick inputs, motion gestures and touch screen interactions are still rough around the edges. The right stick controls the camera and sometimes trying to rotate it in quarter intervals just makes the camera do a little jig for a second instead of helping you interact with the environment, the motion gestures aren’t always clear and the touchscreen interactions sometimes require two or three attempts to stick. Luckily these are mostly reserved for less imperative moments, though when they show up in action sequences that can lead to character deaths, it’s harder to forgive. To balance this, it’s exceptionally difficult to fail quick time events – numerous incorrect inputs must be made before anything serious happens. It’s a balance Quantic Dream is sure to keep improving upon, because it remains far from perfect.
Detroit is more open than the last couple of Quantic Dream games, but it’s still generally linear in its world design. In any given area, particularly in public spaces, there are various streets that you can begin walking down only to get holographic signs popping up saying you can’t go any further and attempting to do so will automatically turn you around. With a game so centered around choice, it’s annoying that such cheap measures were implemented to keep you on track. It’s understandable why Quantic Dream keeps players in relatively contained spaces, as there are already an insane number of paths that players can take with the story, but these barriers didn’t have to be so artificial. Roadblocks, debris, impenetrable crowds and more could have been used as a logical way to keep characters confined to playable areas, but instead this tactic was used to keep things focused. Here’s to hoping that more rational barriers will be present in future Quantic Dream outings.