“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race….It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.” – Stephen Hawking to the BBC
“I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I had to guess at what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful.” – Elon Musk
Artificial intelligence–and specifically our fears around highly advanced androids gaining sentience and rising up against their meatbag masters–is a pervasive concern in our popular culture. As we grow increasingly reliant on machine learning, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things to make our daily lives easier, we edge ever closer to a world in which humans exist alongside humanoid machines that are so lifelike that we would be hard-pressed to tell them apart from real living, breathing humans.
Set in a futuristic version of Detroit in the year 2038, Detroit: Become Human takes place in a world where androids are as commonplace as iPhones. The result is that people have an unhealthy reliance on these incredibly sophisticated machines for nearly every aspect of their lives. Since they don’t sleep, androids have taken over most menial jobs, putting some humans out of work and creating a growing anti-android sentiment amongst those who were unable to adapt with the times. From serving as live-in nannies to human children to fighting wars overseas to working in android sex clubs, no part of the human experience has gone untouched by these incredibly lifelike robots.
But are they just machines? Or are they something more? Are androids capable of developing a soul? Of feeling what we would describe as “human emotions?” And what would happen if they did? These are the core question that Detroit seeks to answer. Whether it does so satisfactorily enough for you may depend on how much you like writer-director David Cage’s style of storytelling, but for the most part Detroit felt like an addictive, engaging melange of Westworld, Deus Ex, and Blade Runner.
Detroit: Become Human is an engrossing, tense, thrilling, cyberpunk fever dream of a game that puts the player in the shoes of three different androids: Connor, a highly advanced police model android tasked with hunting down “deviant” androids who have gone rogue; Kara, a housekeeping model android who becomes self-aware; and Markus, a caretaker model android who gains sentience and begins trying to liberate his fellow androids from the shackles of servitude. As their storylines play out, they begin to intertwine, intersect, and affect one another in surprising ways. Decisions made while playing as Connor can have ripple effects across Kara and Markus’ narratives, creating a complex, branching web of decision-making that ensures you will need multiple play-throughs in order to experience the staggering breadth of Detroit‘s story.
Separating art from the artist is an increasingly difficult task in 2018, and the allegations of toxicity and racism leveled against Quantic Dream are worth considering when assessing if you want to play Detroit. This is compounded by the fact that David Cage has never been the most elegant creator in his handling of sensitive situations in-game, and there are plenty of moments in Detroit that run the gamut from questionable to very problematic. Subject matter like child abuse, domestic violence, drug abuse, racism, and bigotry–all of which are present in Detroit: Become Human–should not be automatically considered taboo and can be tackled by video games in a thoughtful manner. However, in the case of Detroit, some of its storytelling may leave you feeling more than a little bit icky in how it deploys these concepts to further the game’s narrative and use as character development. It’s not a problem purely endemic to Detroit; Westworld, for example, has been called problematic for its depiction of sexual violence and race too. It is, however, something worth of consideration before you play and, more importantly, while you play.
Detroit: Become Human drew me into its gorgeously rendered, provocative world, forcing me to make tough choices and wrestle with important subject matter. With terrific performances from the game’s incredibly talented cast–including Jesse Williams, Lance Henriksen, Clancy Brown, and Valorie Curry–you will find yourself drawn deeper and deeper into its twisting, turning story. It is by no means a perfect experience. I encountered framerate drops and significant slowdown if I left the PS4 running for a while and came back to it. They smoothed out after a few beats, but were genuinely jarring at first. The game’s controls, which employ Quantic Dream’s signature quick-time event style of rapid button inputs, oscillate wildly between feeling fluid and frustrating. However, as an ardent fan of adventure games that grant players a high degree of autonomy to meaningfully affect the arc of the story, Detroit is a game I’ll be playing again and again and again. At least until my PlayStation 4 gains sentience and decides whether or not it wants to comply with my button inputs.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 burritos
Detroit: Become Human is available May 25, 2018 on the PlayStation 4.
Images: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Editor’s note: This review was completed on a standard edition PlayStation 4 using a review code supplied by Sony Interactive Entertainment.
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Dan Casey is the senior editor of Nerdist and the author of books about Star Wars and the Avengers. Follow him on Twitter (@DanCasey).