Human emotion is a difficult thing to quantify. It is based on circumstances both internal and external. It is based on the mood of the subject or others, their temperament, disposition and motivation. It is intrinsic and very personal. It is also almost impossible to replicate.
Androids are humanoid machines from science fiction. They are capable of incredible thinking and problem-solving, usually far more than even the most intelligent human. They can also have superhuman abilities thanks to their mechanical nature. They are the ultimate potential human creation and human replacement.
What would happen then when you get the ultimate human cognitive ability–emotion–and mix it with the ultimate human, mechanical creation? That is the question that Detroit: Become Human looks to answer. However, instead of tackling it from the perspective of humans, Detroit is seeking to tackle it from the perspective of the androids. Developers, Quantic Dream, are looking to paint the androids in the positive light and humans in the negative. It is an interesting perspective change that will need the players to emphasise with machines rather than humans for it to be successful.
Take Connor for example. In the demo we play at EGX2017, he is an android negotiator/investigator sent to save a small child who has been taken hostage on the rooftop of her home by her android babysitter. Unfortunately, when Connor arrives and tries to reassure the girl’s hysterical mother, he is chastised by the mother for being an android. ‘why can’t they send a human’ she shouts. Having no emotion, Connor shrugs it off, but it is our first glimpse of the android/human relationship, and we immediately form a bond with Connor through sympathy. Now, the mother is probably right to mistrust androids–one has taken her daughter hostage–but the captain of the S.W.A.T team? Not so much.
When we arrive to talk to the leader of the team sent to diffuse the situation, he tells us in no uncertain terms that if we do not sort this out, he will. Moreover, his particular brand of diffusing is bloody and chaotic. No pressure then.
Detroit: Become Human is not just about human-android relations though. It is also about the information we gain and the choices we make. To be successful in the mission we are presented with, we have to gather intelligence. As we gather intelligence a percentage meter charting our chances of success increases.
Gathering information is very intuitive. Connor has a special mode that highlights potential pieces of evidence. Interacting with those pieces either gives up the information directly–like looking at family photos–or allows you to reconstruct moments by manipulating time and camera angles. For example, discovering how the father was shot, where he was shot from and what he was shot by means running through a timeline and changing our view at particular moments to discover hidden details. It is very much the detective mode that the Batman Arkham games were missing.
Once we have adequate information, we decide to confront the perpetrator, Daniel. During our negotiation, making the right conversation choices directly affects your chances of success. The more information you have gleaned, the easier it is. If you answer ‘badly’, Daniel becomes more agitated and if you answer ‘correctly’ he becomes less agitated opening up potential scenarios.
Even then, your movements on the roof affect your chances of success. Various other circumstances require your attention, like an injured officer who is bleeding out. As we move toward him, we are told to leave him alone, threatened by gunshots at our feet. Forcefully, we ignore the orders of Daniel and place a makeshift tourniquet on the officer’s arm. For that, Daniel gets angry, and our chances of success dip slightly. However, for us, it was the right thing to do.
We moved slowly towards Daniel while negotiating at the same time. Unfortunately, we spook him, and he decides to fall backwards off the roof. His new emotions were causing him to believe life does not matter anymore. As we were close enough, we were able to sprint towards Daniel and wrest the girl from him at the cost of us falling in her stead.
We are successful in the mission but die in the process.
After the demo, we are told that there are numerous ways to be successful and unsuccessful. In fact, we are told that not all the endings have been found by the playtesters here. Remarkable really.
We were a bit apprehensive heading into Detroit but left with a real sense of anticipation. It was a slow, methodical, thought-provoking game that, on the evidence of this demo, deserves its hype.