David Cage is a controversial game maker. He’s hell-bent on nailing a whole new genre of console titles that mix gaming with a movie-like experience. And past efforts have seen a mixed bag of results.
Heavy Rain was a slow-burning hit while the likes of Beyond Two Souls failed to really excite players. And while he’s consistently had decent titles I’d argue he’s never quite delivered a great, must-buy game.
That sadly remains the case with Detroit: Become Human.
This is in many ways a vast improvement in what’s come before.
The graphics are next-level realistic with some of the best visuals ever seen from Quantic Dream. The character face models and interactions are so good they’re practically lifelike.
And the storyline has mostly upped the ante, with a more mature style of writing clearly emerging in Cage’s portfolio.
But when push comes to shove what we are left with here is simply more of the same.
A solid ‘playable movie’ with ultimately very little gameplay to enjoy and really a lengthy sit-through of a film.
It all starts so well, the opening level is gripping as you play an android in the future tackling a murder/hostage situation. You might have played this within the games free demo on the PlayStation store.
For those that haven’t, you’re tasked with using Batman-style detective skills to build up a picture of what happened before approaching the ‘deviant’ robot captor.
And as with all Cage games under his Quantic Dream banner, there are multiple ways the level plays out.
Do you save the little girl he’s holding hostage? Does she die? How successful are you at picking the right conversation lines needed to talk him down for throwing her over the high-rise building?
But then what happens after that excitement is that we settle quickly into a relatively routine existence through the next levels, flicking between three very different android servants as they go about menial roles to satisfy their human masters.
So that means literally rubbing the PS4 joypad touch interface to ‘wash dishes’, rolling around the D-pad to empty the bins and taking part in a lengthy walking exercise to push your wheelchair-bound owner to his breakfast table.
It’s quite innovative but still as dull as it sounds.
I know this is Cage’s way of trying to throw you into character, get you invested in the lives the robots eventually want to break free from, but it’s dull.
The gameplay elements limit mostly to ‘press X’ and move the controller up and down.
Most of the time if you fail to do things properly you’ll just have to do it again and again until our get it right.
It rarely feels like inaction affects the storyline.
And you do end up feeling a bit like you’re just linking a load of QuickTime cut-scenes together to monotonously push the story onwards.
I won’t delve any further into what the story is but I will say it is generally well done and the rise of the robots, while well-trodden movie ground, remains captivating.
But Cage does have some rather awful scenes that simply don’t work well.
The most infamous one was reported on months ago, a dad beating his kid up only for your android to jump in to save her.
On paper, a sound premise, but the dialogue is poor, unnatural and fails badly to evoke the right empathetic response from the player, partly due to the one-dimensional feel of the cliched druggie dad.
I’d say there are more hits than misses in Detroit and that kept me pushing on.
But the distinct lack of gameplay, except for in those crime investigation levels that are far too sparse, grates on the nerves.
And it reduces the overall impact of the game.
There’s less replayability too as the novelty of going back and doing the story again from a different angle to create a different outcome is somewhat negated by including flow charts at the end of each level showing where you could have taken things.
It left me not wanting to return again.
Despite these many negatives, I do fear this review will come across as all negative.
But it shouldn’t.
It’s just my frustration coming out because this could have been such a groundbreaking hit if the gameplay were… more challenging.
Regardless, Cage and his team have still delivered the best ‘interactive drama’ I’ve ever played.
It’s a stunning example of how the ageing PlayStation 4 technology is still being pushed by developers into ever greater, more lifelike visuals.
And the story is, overall, very good. Entertaining and enjoyable.
It scrapes a four out of five.
But when I think of games of the year so far, I think of the likes of Monster Hunter World and God of War.
I suspect come year end, we won’t be including Detroit quite within the same top tier bracket.
The rise of the machines is good, but it falls a little short.
THE VERDICT – 4/5
• Sensational graphics
• An intriguing storyline about the rise of artificial intelligence
• Atmospheric, capturing the feelings of the androids as they evolve
• Some decent gameplay mechanics around crime investigation levels
• Not gamey enough, too many ‘press this button now’ instructional bits
• Reduced replayability interest thanks to the addition of branching story options at the end of each level.
• David Cage’s storytelling remains very hit and miss, and the misses are pretty poor
• Too slow in early levels after a cracking intro. Could put gamers off