History repeats itself in a futuristic Detroit. The year is 2038, and among other innovations, humanity has managed to create the most advanced humanoid robots we’ve ever seen. It’s not just that they’re visually indistinguishable from actual humans, either — these robots move and talk just like us.
That’s the backdrop for “Detroit: Become Human,” a game that challenges you to look into your soul and do what you feel is right. That challenge comes from experiencing the uprising of robotics artificial intelligence (AI) so advanced that they’ve achieved what humanity has always feared: sentience.
In “Detroit: Become Human,” you’re dropped into a stunning reimagining of the Motor City to follow the stories of three androids who are suddenly self-aware and learning that there’s more to their existence than what essentially amounts to slavery. You’ll find your perspective continually changing between these three as you bear witness to their trials and tribulations. Markus is an assistant robot who cares for an elderly artist. Kara plays the nanny role for a troubled young girl living with her abusive drunk father. And Connor was deployed by the Detroit Police Department as a specialist who helps track down “deviants,” the name given to any hunk of metal who dares to do anything but follow their pre-programmed instructions.
“Detroit” masterfully takes three individual stories and threads them together toward one splashy conclusion. The common theme is that all these androids are finally finding themselves, and they all have aspirations to live free as independent people.
You won’t just be spectating the revolution. You’ll guide all three characters through their various dealings by making every single decision they have to make. Whether it’s deciding how to attack a facility or whether someone lives or dies, shaping the outcome of the story is mostly your responsibility.
It’s in this area where Quantic Dream’s genius is most apparent. There are as many as five different conclusions for each character, multiple possible endings for the story at large, and many more small details that could change what you see at various points throughout the game. Some of it comes down to making tough choices, while others come in the form of action-driving, quick-time events where mistiming your button presses can be the difference between escaping a hairy situation and losing a life.
The gameplay isn’t so involved that player skill will be a barrier to making the choices you want to make. “Detroit” is more of an interactive film than a game, after all, and you can play it in a mode that significantly tones down the need for cat-like reflexes. That flexibility allows even the most casual of gamers to pick it up and paint their unique picture of how to handle a new intelligent species.
The possibilities in each chapter are sprawled out in a big branching diagram showing what you chose, what everyone else playing the game decided, and what could have changed had you done things differently. It’s highly unlikely that any two playthroughs are the same, which lends itself well to both replayability and the sociality aspect. I can’t tell you how much fun I had discussing my choices and why I made them with others who were playing through the game, and you better believe I spent an extra 20 hours to see how the cookie crumbles on a different track.
“Detroit: Become Human” will test your political, social, and moral beliefs by the end of it all. The game will teeter the line of uncomfortable for some — themes of slavery, civil rights, child abuse, and racial prejudice are more than just circumstantial during gameplay. You’ll often find yourself drawing comparisons to many of those same themes from prominent moments in American history (there’s one powerful scene in the game that models one of these events almost identically), and that alone makes “Detroit” a heavy-hearted game worth experiencing.