2016 was the year I first started paying closer attention to E3. In previous years I would get the big reveals from various news outlets, and would only watch the Nintendo presentation. In 2016 I decided I would watch many of the presentations, taking a particular interest in what Ubisoft and Sony had in the cards for us. Sony’s 2016 E3 presentation was particularly impressive with big announcements for games like Resident Evil 7, Spider-Man, Days Gone and, more importantly, Detroit: Become Human.
Detroit: Become Human was revealed at Paris Games Week the previous year, but to me its existence was a mystery. I was introduced to the game's story with Conner, an android negotiator. In a particularly challenging scene, Conner was forced to confront a fellow android, Daniel, who was threatening a young girl’s life on a rooftop. I remember thinking how interested I was in this game from this one trailer. It was very confronting as we quickly learnt that anything could happen. Conner had to make choices on the go in an attempt to calm this rogue android, but if he failed you were left with the reality of the girl’s death on your hands.
Quantic Dream has enabled the general public to try this scenario from the game through a demo on the PlayStation Store. It delivers on a lot of tension and some potentially confronting themes.
There are many ways this scene can play out based on choices, knowing that the next thing you say could be the difference between life and death. This isn’t anything new, in truth, as Quantic Dream offered some similarly intense moments back in Heavy Rain. But this game just plays out a real-life scenario within its fictional universe, putting us in the shoes of a negotiator. Other games have done this as well, but there is a power to the presentation. Like a real world negotiator, there is no game over or try again, and if played improperly you are forced to live with the consequences and the questions of what you could have done differently. You literally hold a life in your hand, whether it be your own or that of the young girl.
To get the most success you have to work efficiently and effectively, searching for clues that could mean the difference between life and death, but you need to find them fast before things get out of hand and your chance to save the girl fizzles away. Time being a factor in these scenarios helps build the very real sense of tension, as the scenario shows that if you dawdle as Conner, more people get hurt as Daniel starts shooting at the police around him. This action is due to him being angry over feeling like he was part of the family, but was actually disposable and ready to be replaced.
Searching for clues is enjoyable, and Quantic Dream has done well to show that these androids are more than machines. Although seeing their particular android abilities in action is nice, there are times where you feel like Batman as you scan key points of interest, such as two murder victims. Then it creates a reconstruction of the scene that details bullet shots within a body and any critical items they might have been holding to find information that Conner can use to help talk Daniel down. Yes, this has all been done in the Batman games, but these sequences feel more natural and are much better handled. It demonstrates why these androids are more advanced than humans as they are capable of handling situations that would prove next to impossible for even humans of the future.
This same sense of tension exists within the actual negotiation as well, much like a real-life situation you don’t have much opportunity to think of the right option. You often need to pick your path or style and run with it. This could be offering information that you have learned to rationalize, or showing kindness and understanding to Daniel in an attempt to help him see reason, and bring the young girl to safety. The game doesn’t give you long to pick a response, making these situations require split-second thinking, which just adds to the feeling of tension, forcing you to keep a level head and think like someone in those situations.
The nice thing with the demo is that it gets across the challenge of these negotiation sections and how they could go wrong. For my first run I did everything perfectly. Other than dawdling, I looked at all the evidence, and acted calm and friendly, allowing Conner to talk Daniel down and save the girl. But I also did many other versions of the scene, trying different combinations to see what changed. Going in with little information, I failed to save the girl each time, often getting a quick time event to save the girl at the cost of Conner’s life. In a couple of runs, Conner fell off the roof with Daniel, and in another I got Daniel off the roof with the girl safe but Daniel shoots and kills Conner.
Even when I went in with all the information, it was still possible to fail. Moving from a friendly demeanor to a forceful one went wrong as for a moment I slipped and chose some bad options. There was an entire flowchart of options as to how these scenes could play out, and it was interesting trying to find each path on the chart, even if many didn't work out well.
I really hate that there isn’t a happy ending to the scenario. With six different possible endings all based on the choices you make and the information you presented, there is no ending where I felt I did the right thing.
The game brilliantly establishes the androids' place in this world as disposable beings. There are lines like, “If it breaks, I will get a new one," or “I’ll make them think they are part of the family, but at the end I’ll replace them on a whim."
I found this really upsetting, especially as the opening moments point this out. Despite having human feeling and human faces, they aren’t human, and they aren’t real people. What really makes you human or a real person? Moments shown in this scene made me feel that these androids are more real than the people around them, and yet they were treated as throwaway objects in a world that passes life around. It is a mirror image of our throwaway society.
Shouldn’t androids have rights too? If I could talk down an android from a ledge, does he deserve to die? In playing as an android, am I a monster for trying to help, promising that nothing will happen and then seeing Daniel get shot for my success?
As bad as it is, I love that Daniel has an option to decide his fate. As an android, he spent his life taking orders and at the end of the day was disposable despite what his masters led him to believe. In failing the negation and making Daniel decide to jump it feels like the strongest, most human response imaginable, showing there is more to these people then just acting as slaves. Food for thought.
For a twenty minute demo, this did a lot to show me some of the clever ideas that Quantic Dream has in play. It shows how confrontational these scenes can get, and how things aren’t always going to be black and white, at least if you have emotions. I’m interested to see if Conner encounters more of these hostage situations and how this will alter him as a character. Will he finally click to the plight of androids as he rationalizes with his own inner humanity? Will Conner fight against those that deviate from the path or will he rise up and realize that he too has a choice? This left me with a lot to think about, and I am ready for those tough choices that I will inevitably face in the full game.
Detroit: Become Human arrives for PlayStation 4 on May 25, and this demo is available via the PlayStation Store.
Have you played the demo for Detroit: Become Human? Do you plan on buying the game? What have you thought about it so far? Let us know in the comments below.