Saturday, January 26, 2019

Detroit Become Human

By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris

Hey everybody welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the video game industry as a whole. Don’t forget to check out for everything we do all in one spot. Today we are going to be talking about the 2018 David Cage game Detroit: Become Human but before we get started consider this your official spoiler warning for a game that is very easily spoiled. If you haven't played Detroit and you don’t want it spoiled stop watching now! Oh and also there might be some spoilers for Until Dawn too. 

Going into Detroit I knew it was a choose your own adventure game but that was basically it. I had never played a David Cage game before so I was able to come into it with fresh eyes and no preconceived notions of what a David Cage game is supposed to deliver. And after playing through it I feel like Detroit is two thirds a good game and one third a really bad young adult novel adapted into an even worse movie. Drop Jennifer Lawrence into the role of either Marcus or North put some fire behind her and make a poster and you could easily have convinced me this game was marketed at 13 year old girls who were looking for their next Hunger Games fix.

Throughout the game you play as three main characters and move through their stories as they all happen concurrently with one another. Kara's story (the best of the three) provided emotional intensity and some seriously heart pounding moments that kept me on the edge of my seat throughout. Connor's story provided an excellent opportunity to step into the shoes of a detective and thoroughly (or not so thoroughly) investigate each scene to uncover the truth and the connection between each individual incident. And Marcus' story provided all the subtlety and nuance of a brick to the face. Overall across all three stories the game has pushed the choose your own adventure genre forward and if you feel the same way I do about this specific type of narrative that is an excellent thing.

Driving the entire experience of a choose your own adventure game is the decision making and how it effects the outcome of the story. For the most part Decisions in Detroit are well thought out and provided an adequate difference in outcomes as each of the stories progressed. That being said the decisions of Detroit are essentially the entirety of the game as outside of those decisions and a handful of quick time events the game is essentially one gigantic cutscene and considering this fact decision making does come up short in a handful of ways. Each time the player is presented with an option they are practically beaten over the head with the fact that they are either making an important decision, saying something of significance, or looking at something that could come into play later on.

Every time I saw a small padlock icon unlock while looking at something or after saying something to another character I almost felt cheated, like the game was spoon feeding me the possibilities rather than me learning about things organically. This all came to a head when the police officer stopped by Rose's house and I has a minute before opening the door to track down three pieces of deviant evidence that were laying out and about. I was quickly able to find two of three but ran out the rest of my time before opening the door desperately searching for the third only to learn later on that I wasn’t able to hide it because I hadn't looked at it previously. Whether I had looked at all three items or not the game should have let me frantically search to find those three items and hide them away in that moment. Showing the padlock icon unlock took away from the experience and the tension of the moment. Had I looked at those items and no icon had appeared it would have forced me to be significantly more engaged and aware of my surroundings raising the stakes of the entire scene.

The nature of the choose your own adventure genre allows for several major "oh" moments for the player. That moment that the audience connects something happening right now to something that had happened previously and everything sort of clicking and falling into place in their minds. The best and most effective "oh" moments are the ones that are a slow burn and the pay off comes hours after the decision had been made. While this became a significantly smaller problem in the late game early on it felt as though the developers were treating the player like they had the memory of a fruit fly. Found the gun in Todd's nightstand? Better give the player the opportunity to grab it less than fifteen minutes later. Encountered Leo in Carl's studio? Better bring him back in a few minutes for a confrontation to make sure the audience hasn’t forgotten who he is. See and free the "zombie" android's in Zlatko's basement? They're gonna kill Zlatko just minutes later. Now I'm not going to say the game didn’t have any slow burn consequences, for example visiting Carl's grave in the second to last chapter because he died early on is a nice touch but the game exhibits far to much handholding as a result the player rarely gets that long term pay off from a decision they made literally hours prior.

For those of you that havent played the game and don’t know, after each chapter youre shown a flow chart mapping your path of decisions and outcomes. The other possibilities are on the flow chart but nothing aside from the options you had and the choices you encountered are actually displayed, the rest is left blank. This was a fun little feature to see how many choice there were and to make things even more fun you can press the triangle button to see what percentage of your friends or players worldwide made the same decisions as you. Now while this was really neat on my first play through it really takes the fun out of any subsequent playthroughs. The game almost sets off an alarm to notify the player anytime they have to make a decision and being able to see how many other possibilities there are makes any future playthroughs much more methodical and in my opinion less fun.

When discussing the decision making mechanics of the game the obvious game that Detroit can most easily be compared to is Until Dawn. Not only does Until Dawn not scream in your face every time you make a decision but it also has significantly more long term pay offs. On my first time through Ashley immediately opened the door for Chris and I didn’t think anything of it because who wouldn’t open the door in that situation? But when I watched my friends play through it and Chris tried to kill Ashley instead of sacrificing himself suddenly Ashley locking the door and leaving Chris to die blew my mind! Until Dawn handled decision presentation better by not broadcasting it every time the player made a decision to the point that oftentimes player's don’t even realize when they had made a decision. And presenting them with the illusion of choice when there was none in one infamous scene was nothing short of a stroke of genius. Detroit takes itself far more seriously than Until Dawn and executes on the presentation in a subpar way.

Where Detroit lives and dies is with its characters and their interactions with one another. Trying to find a balance between the relationships the player wants to preserve and the objectives within the story they want to achieve is where the game is at it's best. Incase you haven't already figured it out I hated the Marcus storyline and found myself very early in the game trying to get him killed so I would have to keep coming back to this miserable character that I couldn’t stand. But when it became apparent that Marcus could romance North suddenly there was something in the storyline that I was invested in. I then spent the rest of that particular storyline trying to balance my decision making and Marcus' relationship with North. Trying to be a pacifist non violent protestor while also trying to satiate what seems to be a never ending bloodlust from a sexy android can be a difficult task to manage. But that's what made it engaging. During Connor's story I became to invested in his friendship with Hank and wound up not finding anything but a new BFF during my investigation which in turn led to Connor being decommissioned a few chapters before the finale. And throughout Kara's story the relationship was basically the entire story so that went pretty well for me.

Keeping the main character segregated from one another until the late game made the entire experience feel like three small games happening in the same universe as opposed to one larger overarching narrative. The game and story would have been better served had it forced the main characters together earlier on and allowed for more interaction between them. Once again something intricate and complex that Until Dawn did better.

On the whole the game was good, I wouldn’t say it was great but it was enjoyable. While it had its shortcomings it did have the distinct advantage of being a choose your own adventure which is always fun. Considering Detroit is no where even close to the best the genre has to offer but is still so so much better than Bandersnatch which is currently the best choose your own adventure the film medium has to offer I feel confident in saying that the future of this genre is in video games. Detroit is a step along the way and a very enjoyable one, I hope to see more choose your own adventure games in the future.

What are your thoughts on Detroit and the choose your own adventure genre? Is Until Dawn as good as I remember it being? Did anyone else think Bandersnatch was super dumb? Let me know in the comments down below.

Thank you so much to everyone for watching! If you liked what you heard don’t forget to subscribe for a new video every week! If you wanna get in on some more free form video game or movie conversation you can find our podcasts HardReset and NoRefunds right here on YouTube or on most major podcast services. Ill be back next week talking about Alien Isolation, until then just go play some games. 

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