Yahtzee reviews Detroit: Become Human.
Oh, boy, a new game by David Cage. Let’s get the bingo card out: Ooh, a game about androids with only vague ideas about how to act like human beings? Finally, David Cage’s writing what he knows, LOL.
In all seriousness, while David Cage games are universally horribly written, cringe-worthy, of suspect values, mired with gameplay akin to trying to watch a movie while fighting to get the remote away from an overexcited dog, they…erm…hang on, it’s coming to me – oh yeah, they are usually good for a laugh. Although the biggest one I got from Detroit: [HRUHH] Become Human was right at the end when there was a little survey to get my impressions on the game, and one of the questions was, “Were there any points when you were personally touched by the story? 'All the time', 'Most of the time', 'Some of the time', or 'No'". Obviously, I answered, “No”. And when I checked the global stats, 90% of those surveyed had also answered, “No.” So congratulations David Cage. Something in one of your games finally made me feel hope for the future of mankind.
The story is, in near-future Detroit, commercial-grade androids are booming the economy while causing mass unemployment and the highly relevant theme of income inequality we could’ve gone with sails merrily over David Cage’s head as he goes for the clumsy Civil War-era racism analogue.
We follow three protagonists: a nanny-droid who accidentally kills a deadbeat single dad and must go on the run with his daughter; an artist assistant-droid who falls from grace and becomes the deviant android’s charismatic leader – well, the leader, at any rate – and a prototype detective android who is torn between his instructions to hunt down the deviants and his blossoming romance with Clancy Brown – a grizzled human detective who hates androids except not really.
As with many David Cage games, it’s the kind of plot that makes you constantly yell questions at the screen: Why were androids built for menial tasks designed to look and act perfectly human in the first place? Why weren’t they boxes on wheels, or how about this: a dog with Dr. Octopus tentacles? That would’ve been more efficient at cleaning up and amusing for the kids. But considering the androids do look human, why are all the real humans so unflinchingly hateful and dismissive of them, when the androids’ superficial human qualities would be triggering the sympathy instincts in most normal people?
The answer to most of the questions is the same; because MELODRAMA♬. David Cage has only one tool in his storytelling arsenal and it is a giant sledgehammer with the word MELODRAMA♬ written down the side. His stories always play out like rampant human misery simulators as written by someone who’s never met any human beings. Well, I suppose we know he’s met Ellen Page. Fucking hell, do we know that! He probably puts it on his business cards.
And just because a story’s depressing doesn’t mean it’s deep or complex. There’s a moment in Despair: Become Miserable where we literally watch an ugly man in a run-down house loudly explain to no one in particular how much he’s going to enjoy beating up his daughter in between puffs on his crack pipe. Half the characters in these games are like one-off villains from the Incredible Hulk TV series where they had to contrive an excuse for Bill Bixby to Hulk out every episode, so they chuck a random inexplicable asshole into the room to smirkingly give him nipple cripples for literally no reason.
What’s sad is that there’s always a great deal of potential in David Cage video games: I look forward to the day when he actually creates one! Har Har Har. He doesn’t make branching-narrative video games, this lad; he makes branching narratives and then tries to tortuously squeeze a video game into it. I feel like he’d rather be making films. He doesn’t appreciate the essential differences between the way an audience engages with a game versus a film.
At the very start, we play a weird-faced lanky detective android at a hostage situation and we’re permitted and indeed obliged to bum around the room next to the hostage situation gathering intel on the perp before we confront them. This also gives us a chance to learn a bit about the world we’re in, which would’ve been fine. But as I read through a jolly interesting magazine the hostage taker suddenly shot one of the SWAT guys and the game went, “WHOOPS you bummed around too long. That’s going on your permanent record.”
I don’t get it, David Cage. Did you want me to explore and be immersed by this world you’ve created or did you want to maintain psychotic death-grip control of the story’s pacing? ‘Cos if the latter, then just make a fucking film. Or, perhaps more realistically, a choose-your-own-adventure book. Well, I say he should make a film, but he’d never hack it in films ironically because he’s a hack. All his dialogue is clichéd and most of his ideas are nicked. I enjoyed Westworld too, David Cage, but you didn’t have to enjoy it so bloody publicly! Is he getting any better with practice? Well, at least Detroit: Cum Dumpster is only fucking retarded as opposed to completely fucking retarded like Beyond: Two Souls. But that only puts it on a level with Heavy Rain, which it's hauntingly similar too, at times, especially when you’re exploring a crime scene in the pouring rain playing a detective who acts like he’s from space.
So nothing has changed about gameplay. Once again the standard movement controls make our characters seem like they lost all the sensation in their legs after a broom handle got shoved up their arse. And we either press on-screen button prompts very slowly to perform utterly tedious household tasks that don’t progress the plot at all, or we press the on-screen button prompts very, very quickly during an action sequence. And of course, some of the prompts are fucking SIXAXIS motion controls: the button prompt equivalent of the short kid with the lazy eye and the weird smell who’s convinced he’s one of the gang. Does anyone still seriously think this shit is immersive? I’ll tell you what isn’t immersive: having to rise from my controller clutching slump on the couch so the game will finally register me thrusting the controller downwards. I know David Cage likes to imagine every player leaning forward in their seat with a constant enraptured look on their face, but we don’t all have good lumbar support or a broom handle shoved up our arses.
The nicest thing you can say about David Cage is that he has potentially good ideas; he just never puts enough thought into them. The way characters have to symbolically smash their objective prompts and invisible walls to break their programming was a good idea. Are we twisting the core mechanics to make a point about free will? Oh, the rote instruction-following gameplay came straight back afterwards, so I guess not.
Well, now that my main points are across, I’d like to close this review by discussing one of the plot twists. So now’s the time to tuck live oysters into your eyelids if you don’t want spoilers. Ready? Here we go.
Remember that nanny bot who adopted a human child? Towards the end, it turns out that child was also an android all along! Ooh, what a twist! An inadequately-explored twist that adds nothing to the characters or story and may even be detrimental to it! I mean, “Can a robot mother truly love a human child?” was a question with some power to it in this context, but, “Can a robot love another robot?” Yes, they can! We know they can! We’ve seen like twelve of the buggers doing it already! It’s just a twist for the sake of having a twist. In other words, it’s a David Cage twist. Sounds like a dance, doesn’t it? Hey, everybody! Do the David Cage twist! Walk stiffly around the room for 10 minutes then reach for the sky and fall flat on your face.
- Human and loving it: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Holographic Graffiti? You don't think it defeats the whole point of graffiti as an anarchic declaration of self if you can erase it just by taking the batteries out?
- Surprisingly restrained use of sex & nudity this time around tho