We've been eagerly waiting for Detroit: Become Human for some time now. It was first revealed at Paris Games Week in 2015, and has since appeared at two subsequent E3 shows. We were first introduced to Kara, an android who awoke after assembly keen to see what life has beyond servitude, then we got to know Connor, a detective tasked with hunting down rogue androids (a Blade Runner if you will), and finally, at this year's E3, we were introduced to Marcus, who is at centre of the android uprising.
These are the three playable characters in Quantic Dream's "neo-noir thriller" that takes a look at what it means to be human, viewed through the lens of androids. It's not an entirely novel subject matter, but the idea that we're exclusively playing as androids does give the game a slightly different tone than most of what's been written and filmed. In movies, like say, I, Robot, the androids or robots are simply a tool, and even in more ambivalent work like Ex Machina, Blade Runner, and the Alien franchise, you're only on rare occasions (unless you're of the conviction that Deckard is a replicant, of course) given the android's perspective. There are exceptions to this common rule of human's first, such as A.I., but why that movie failed to entice us is an entirely different story. The true brilliance of Detroit: Become Human's narrative is not simply the android perspective, but the multitude of android perspectives the player gets to experience, and that you get to shape them.
Detroit: Become Human is not necessarily one of those games where you'll hone your skills and get better at the mechanics with time, but from what we've experienced it seems more fluid than in say Heavy Rain, which was somewhat hampered by continuously introducing new ways to interact (and where some felt a bit overly mundane, we're looking at you, juice box). The ability to predict outcomes in your mind palace and then perform them does solve the dilemma of forcing the player to focus on button presses during cinematic sequences rather than on what is taking place, without actually putting the player in control of the movement. It's perhaps still not ideal, but it does something to advance the concept of the cinematic adventure. For Connor this is also a vital tool to examine scenes and conduct his work as he is able to see and analyse events that have already taken place.
A new scene shown at this year's conference, of which we were shown in two very different playthroughs, sees Marcus and his comrade North head to Capitol Park in Detroit to free androids kept in a CyberLife store. One outcome is where Marcus doesn't actually go through with the mission, aborting and fleeing the scene. We also got to see another potential outcome where he went through with the mission and chose to incite a violent brand of android revolution afterwards with his adepts wreaking havoc in the streets only to be shot down by cops (at least some of them). The ending is obviously a big watershed moment as Marcus can choose to exact revenge on a cop or show mercy. Presumably setting the tone for the revolution and how humans view "deviant androids".
Marcus and his partner in crime (or freedom fighting, depending on your point of view) North have some meaningful dialogue and we have the feeling that North could end up being a fan-favourite NPC. In many ways she appears more human than most characters we've seen in video games. Naturally, this is something Quantic Dream are more than happy to play with in Detroit: Become Human. The fact that you can flee the scene if you trigger a police response early, or stay and presumably fight (we never got to see this, but Marcus had a few options available as to how to deal with the situation), or execute the liberation and then choose to manifest the revolution in different ways, opens up a wealth of opportunities. Some of these consequences could potentially result in significant changes to the plot.
What's important to note here is that this isn't the first scene of the game or with Marcus, and executive producer Guillaume de Fondaumière did explain that the events leading up to this scene will have you in a very different emotional state depending of what transpires there.
At last year's E3 we were shown the scene with Connor in the apartment where an android was holding the daughter in the family hostage after killing her father. This year it was playable, and so we got to sample some of the many, many outcomes of the scene for ourselves. When Quantic Dream say this is its most branching narrative so far, it is easy to agree after experiences and seeing some of the various end states of the scenes that have been revealed. Will all scenes provide this many potential outcomes and repercussions? Perhaps not to the same degree (though we're told "all scenes use the same structure of choice and consequence"), but just the way in which you can begin the android revolution and set the tone for it does imply that the branching is both subtler and more far reaching than in other similar games. Speaking to de Fondaumière after the demo, the executive producer confirmed that whether you choose a pacifist or violent conclusion to the scene is not just a matter of two choices, yes or no, black or white, but the level of violence/pacifism will also play a factor. Whether this in turn represents an escalation of the uprising or not. Media will then report the events and it will shape the public perception of androids. Clearly, as seen in the trailer, it will also affect Kara and Connor and their feelings towards the revolution.
There is a neat triangle of perspectives here. Kara, the newborn android who is curious about life and her place in this world; Connor, the obiendent (at least at first, then you'll get to decide his demeanour) deviant hunter; and finally, the slave who liberated himself and now wields the power to set others free, Marcus. History has seen mankind struggle with many similar dilemmas, and perhaps this is where Detroit: Become Human is at its most interesting. At its core it's not about androids or technology, but rather it is about the human condition and how we see ourselves and relate to others (whether that's another group of humans or animals).
Human feelings towards androids is not unproblematic even without the uprising. In fact, one of the main themes in this near future fiction is one that we as a society are facing and will face to a greater degree in the future; the fact that AI will take on many jobs that are handled by humans today.
"We worked very hard on imagining in a very realistic way what the future will be for us, and we looked at different researchers, and we found some of them saying that maybe unemployment rates will raise up to 30-35%, just because we'll replace human beings with machines every time we can", said creative director and writer David Cage as we talked following this year's E3 demo. "They're never tired, they never complain, they're never sick, they can work 24 hours a day, so why use a human when you could have a machine? I think this is going to be a very interesting topic in the near future, and this is something we want to touch on with Detroit."
One little detail that is sure to be interesting is the LED on the temple. The triangle and the armband androids are required to wear. Clearly, Marcus and North don't wear them, neither does Kara in that first trailer, but Connor sure does. There are some strong historical associations with this sort of marker, and we're curious to see if, for instance, you'll get to decide whether Connor should continue to wear his or not.
Another area we're intrigued to learn more about is the nature of the free will androids are given by Marcus. Is it truly free will? Why would all of them so willingly run into what seems a certain death towards the end of the scene (well, one of the possible endings)? Maybe we're analysing things too deeply, but hopefully there will be more to the android revolution than Marcus just leading by example with followers doing as he says. Clearly, Connor and Kara will come with different perspectives and perhaps it is through these three perspectives that you will decide and shape the fate of androids in Quantic Dream's vision of the near future. If you manage to keep all three characters alive until the end that is.