Quantic Dreams has always striven to fuse video games with cinema: to find where the two mediums meet, and amplify the values of the other. With each game they release, Quantic has been getting closer to fusing the mediums; their games have presented rich and interactive stories, capturing the imaginations of players. It’s in the developer’s fifth title, Detroit: Become Human, where they make their biggest impact upon gaming.
The game takes place in a future where mankind has invented a great variety of technology, specifically androids. The main focus is the androids beginning to make decisions for themselves and realizing their own power and right to freedom. The player takes control of three different characters: Connor (an android trained to hunt deviant androids); Kara (an android who has become conscious and looks to protect a child); and Markus (another conscious android who ends up leading a revolution for android rights).
The game jumps around in perspective, giving players equal time in the shoes of each character. We see Connor hunt down deviants (conscious androids) who rebel against their orders, and how he interacts with human police officers. We watch as Kara’s relationship with the child grows overtime, and we witness Markus struggle with how to lead his android followers.
From this synopsis, one may draw parallels to such works like Westworld, and while the two do share similarities, Detroit does a much better job exploring its themes. This is not only in thanks to the terrific writing throughout Detroit, but also thanks to how the mechanics and choices the player makes help immerse them into the plot. Like past Quantic Dreams titles, Detroit plays out more like an interactive movie. You, as the player, have the ability to move about environments, but for the most part, you focus on button prompts that lead to specific dialogue choices. These choices then lead to specific moral actions of each character, shifting the narrative of the story.
It helps that the plot is fascinating and the dialogue is satisfying. There are very rare moments where the emotion of a dialogue option may clash with another character’s reaction (in regard to realistic reaction), but these moments aren’t that frequent. The majority of the time you take part in intense conversations that allow you to learn more about those around you, and the android in focus.
What also helps Detroit is how the player’s choices make a sincere effect upon the flow of the narrative. After completing a sequence/level with a character, the game brings up a “tree” with numerous branches; this tree shows you the choices you made, and the direction the story progressed in. You may see a tree that starts with one major decision, with that decision breaking off into three separate branches. Depending on what you chose, your progression flows in that direction, with all the other possible choices gone untouched.
During my first run of the game, I was blown away with how many choices and changes could take place in just one part of the story. In many cases you can make different decisions that will lead to one specific action; but, there are numerous endings to each sequence, and that’s where your decisions matter. Because in Detroit it’s possible to end things for a specific character sooner than expected. In my first run, I came up to a segment with Connor that, before I knew it, he was killed. When the sequence ended, the tree appeared to show my progression with him for that part of the game; I discovered that had I made a different decision, I could have taken Connor much further than I did. But now he was dead, and I could not bring him back until I started a new game.
And thanks to the phenomenal graphic power of the Playstation 4, you can sincerely forget you are playing a video game. There were multiple occasions where I was watching a dramatic scene play out, and didn’t realize control was returned to me. The transition between these moments is seamless.
There’s a thin line that games can take when it comes to that balance of merging video games with film. Sometimes the result can end up being a straight forward story where your choices don’t make much of an emotional impact. In other cases, it can feel like you just paid for an overly priced movie, and you lose out on the experience of a traditional video game. For video game formalists, Detroit may not work for them, but for those who love the power of storytelling, Detroit is a must-play. The game allows the player to sit back and take in the story, absorbing all its themes, while also allowing them to shape out each character’s development. It’s a fascinating approach to a happy medium between the two art forms.
Video game stories are making more efforts to involve intricate webs of plot and character development. Detroit opens the door for gaming’s potential in merging with film. The fluid integration of mechanics, along with the cinematic motion capture and enthralling story, prove how elements of film can enhance gaming experiences. If Quantic Dreams were to simply throw together a story and toss some button prompts on the screen, then you’d have a straightforward game that may be fun at best. What makes Detroit fascinating is the amount of choices the player has, and how they actually effect the direction of each character.
Gaming is evolving, and in particular, the way we play and observe games is changing. Detroit’s cinematic interface and direction come together with a semi traditional gaming mechanic, creating a story that pulls the player in. Detroit is the strongest game Quantic Dreams has ever made, and a superior combination of video game blending with film. But beyond the excellent use of the company’s iconic combination of the mediums, Detroit: Become Human stands as a testament for what video games could become.
Michael Pementel is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago's Creative Writing Program. When he isn't writing for Film Daddy, he writes full time for Metal Injection and New Noise Magazine. He has also written for Alternative Press, Film Inquiry, and The Curator. He's the Social Media Manager for death metal record label Ultimate Massacre Productions. When not writing, he enjoys a hot cup of black coffee, a good book/video game/film, and to cuddle with his fiancée and cat.
Follow Michael on Twitter @pementelm.