The summer months are now upon us and every gamer knows what that means: the inevitable, painstakingly slow drip of video game releases. These past few weeks have been mostly filled with remasters of classic games like Dark Souls, underappreciated gems like Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, and definitive editions of both Hyrule Warriors and Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey. While State of Decay 2 resurfaced this generation’s obsession with survival games focused on resource management, our top honors for the month of May goes to director David Cage and studio Quantic Dream’s rumination on artificial intelligence, Detroit: Become Human.
A familiar narrative has appeared for each of David Cage’s recent efforts. Quantic Dream, with the advent of increasingly powerful technology, announces a new title with the promise of realistic acting, immersive gameplay, and unprecedented player control over a smart, enigmatic, and cinematic story. Detroit: Become Human is the closest Quantic Dream has come to truly delivering on that promise. With a thoughtful, multiple perspective storyline that contains a boatload of branching paths, players are encouraged to experience the narrative multiple times in order to see everything the game has to offer. What’s surprising is how thoroughly well-conceived every branching path is, each allowing for a fluid story that feels justified given the characters’ altered motivations. Many games promise a “choose-your-own” style of narrative, but few can actually deliver on it, and it’s very possible that Detroit is the concept’s best crystallization.
Unfortunately, it’s not all hype and acclaim for Detroit. Recent controversies surrounding Quantic Dream’s toxic work environment and the tone-deaf depictions of race and gender have somewhat stained the title’s reputation. These issues are not isolated to Quantic Dream, as we’ve discussed the ethical problems plaguing contemporary AAA game development in the past. The specifics surrounding Detroit: Become Human, however, serve as a reminder. In this age of social progress, we as a community must remember that it is our duty to hold creators accountable for their actions and to critique the discourse in their art. It’s heartening to see that gamers are not letting these details go unnoticed and gives this writer hope that the industry can and will improve in this regard.
Detroit: Become Human is something of an enigma. That isn’t exactly new for a Quantic Dream game, but it is new for the drama to be coming from a source outside of the game itself. It’s an unfortunate reality to face, that some of gaming’s pioneer studios and leading designers might not live up to the lofty standards we set up for them. Still, even if we find the context surrounding a game to be problematic, it is still possible to appreciate what it manages to achieve, especially since a game’s merits cannot be lain at the feet of any single person. For crafting the rare choose-your-own adventure that’s worth replaying, dealing in subject matter that is at the heart of the contemporary zeitgeist, and furthering the conversation around developer accountability, Detroit: Become Human receives our Game of the Month.