Saturday, June 16, 2018

Detroit: Become Human review

    I've got mixed feelings toward David Cage's video games. I generally like that someone is creating adult based storytelling-focused adventure games. It's nice to have someone working to elevate the medium and I consider Heavy Rain to be a classic. I also liked Fahrenheit (a.k.a Indigo Prophecy). Unfortunately, his games are ones which suffer for the fact they're not at all that much fun to play. Still, I was interested in the subject matter of Detroit: Beyond Human since I'm a huge fan of robot-related fiction and social issues as related to them. So, is it any good? Well, yes, but it's not great.

    The premise is that in the year 2038, we've successfully created intelligent androids that have been mass-produced and sold in the United States. I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen but props to David Cage for thinking big. Unfortunately, the androids are receiving so much abuse at the hands of their creators that some awaken, become deviants, and attack their owners or attempt to flee to Canada.

Kara is an intensely likable character. Sadly, she's a guest star.
    Already, there's some uncomfortable confusion as to just how sentient the androids are supposed to be since if they're rebelling, you can put that off as malfunctioning, but if they're fleeing to Canada to live as refugees then that's a pretty clear sign they're sentient. One would think we'd see more signs of people advocating for android rights in that situation or, at least, acknowledging they're people.

    Become Human has three perspectives to follow with Kara, Connor, and Markus. Kara and Markus are domestic servants attached to humans who have polar-opposite views on how to treat them. Markus is an android police man very obviously inspired by Deckard and Joe from the Blade Runner movies. It is his job to deal with his kind's malfunctions. It seems like the game draws heavily from the TV series Humans, which focused on android domestics, as well as the aforementioned pair of movies. This isn't a bad thing but the influences can be a bit too spot on if you've seen both.

I like this guy is the only outright evil android in the game.
    The game does an excellent job of world-building, establishing how androids work with humans as well as their role in the universe. I like they are primarily helpers of the elderly and designed for supporting people rather than a pure slave labor force. I felt the game overdid the allusions to Nazis, slavery, and other real-life atrocities, though. It also feels very derivative as android-and-android-hating buddy cop duo (Almost Human), sex club murder (Humans), and meeting the creator of the androids who is obsessed with their potential (the Blade Runner films) have all been done in ways that David Cage doesn't add much of a spin on.

    There's a lot more choice and consequence in this game than normal with the benefits as well as drawbacks all clearly shown on a dialogue tree. This actually spoils things a bit but does allow you to explore all the various options available without difficulty. Are you a violent murderous robot revolutionary or a peaceful demonstrator? Do you beat up the drug dealer trying to hurt you or let yourself get beaten up? How do you respond to the pleas of other androids?

Shall you free Cortana or not?
    I feel like there's more that could have been done with this premise. I was very interested in the difference between androids who were "awoke" and those who were "asleep." Are the latter really nonsentient? If so, does that mean enslaving them isn't wrong? What is the diminished capacity of these machines really entail? Sadly, it seems to have gone very strongly with the idea the androids are an enslaved working class with them even forced to sit on the back of the bus.

    Gameplay-wise there's nothing really to write home about. David Cage games are all about people doing laundry, asking questions, and making choices. This isn't a bad thing but this isn't the kind of game which you enjoy for anything but the story. My favorite parts of the game were the Kara and Connor section with Marcus losing much of his appeal as soon as he was no longer with his benevolent "owner." The graphics are beautiful but that's to expected in the days of Triple A gaming's ascendance.

The faces genuinely confuse me.
    I should note I'm not averse to a sci-fi game about addressing civil rights, peaceful resistance, and disenfranchised working classes. The word "robot" comes from the Czec word  for "forced labor" just like the word slave comes from the "Slav." Robots have traditionally been used as representations for all minorities everywhere. I, myself, have used the metaphor in my Lucifer's Star books. I do think they could have done something a bit more original with it, though.

    In the end, Become Human is...okay. There's some stand-out performances like Lance Henriksen (the original helpful android in sci-fi) and Clancy Brown as the android-hating cop. However, the story I was most interested in with Kara was the least relevant to the main story. I think they could have easily had her as the messianic figure instead of Marcus and it would have been a more interesting story by far. This is also the first David Cage game without a shower scene! Shame!


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