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‘Detroit: Become Human’ – A Game That Knows Exactly What It Is

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What does it mean to be human? It’s a question that philosophers, artists, and scientists have attempted to answer since the dawn of recorded history. Why was humanity, of all the species on this green earth, selected to bear the singular burden of conscious thought? Unfortunately such questions have no universally accepted answers – at least none that we are currently capable of providing. That doesn’t stop David Cage from attempting his own exploration of such ephemeral conundrums in his latest magnum opus, Detroit: Become Human.

Cage and his studio have been criticized ever since the 2010 launch of Heavy Rain for being less concerned with implementing compelling gameplay and more with the creation of interactive movies. That Cage alludes to himself as an auteur certainly hasn’t helped matters, as such “highfalutin” language is liable to put off the majority of the gaming populace who tend to see games as a form of entertainment, not as high art. The quick time event driven and dialogue-heavy nature of his work often results in the perception of Cage as a wannabe movie director in-waiting. In fairness the point stands: both Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls felt more like cinematic choose-your-own-adventures than anything else. However, the same thing could be said about the point-and-click adventures released by Telltale Games ever since their surprise smash hit contribution to the The Walking Dead franchise revitalized an otherwise defunct genre. Detroit: Become Human is a game that exists in exactly the same vein and doesn’t deserve to be judged overly harshly because it unashamedly wears its brain on its sleeve rather than its heart.

The narrative of Detroit: Become Human is heavily informed by the likes of Blade Runner and West World but Cage has never been one to be overly troubled by the anxiety of influence. Set just two short decades from now in the year 2038, it tells the story of a burgeoning robotic revolution that sets its three principle android protagonists Kara, Connor, and Markus all battling in their own way for the rights and survival of their kind. The underlying arc is entirely linear, but there are multiple intersecting branches to the story that allow players to determine exactly how they arrive at the foregone conclusions of its various endings. No matter how it unfolds or ends, the story can be familiar at times but it’s nevertheless told in a fresh and engaging way that allows it to succeed on its own terms.

Each of the main characters serves in some fashion to highlight the deficiencies of us, their creators. Over the course of a masterfully constructed plot that covers a surprisingly robust range of social and political issues, the central performances of Valorie Curry, Bryan Dechart, and Jesse Williams are always brilliant resulting in some of the most touching scenes I’ve encountered in my time as a gamer. There are a few bum notes in the script – understandable given that it’s at least 2000 pages long – that could have proved disastrously hilarious were it not for such sterling work from a skilled and dedicated cast. At all times the action is supported by a surprisingly affecting soundtrack written by a trio of experienced composers known for their film and television work. From the opening moments where Philip Sheppard’s sweeping symphonic étude for Kara dominates the introductory credits right up until John Paesano’s synthesized strains play us out to the final seconds, players are treated to one of most gorgeous scores in recent gaming history. This goes a long way to restoring my faith in the old fashioned theme tune that seems to have been mostly abandoned in favor of the sprawling post-modern soundscapes that pass as game music these days.

Titles from Quantic Dream have never been known for the quality of their game mechanics, and Detroit: Become Human makes no attempt to move away from the formula of their previous releases. Player ability to interact with the various environments and locales of near-future Detroit is entirely limited to contextual button prompts and quick time events. From opening doors or climbing ladders to acrobatic fight scenes or frenetic traversal sequences, every action is determined by a series of context-dependent controller inputs. Granted players are given the option to select difficulty modes that increase the challenge of the quick time events that define almost literally every single second of a playthrough, but that never fundamentally alters the experience in any significant way. This wasn’t particularly impressive or interesting when it first came to the fore and time or familiarity hasn’t improved matters. Being restricted to such limited interactive possibilities means that players are never really given the opportunity to fully engage with the game world.

The resulting experience can feel rather transitory as player options are often curtailed in order to meet the requirements of the design. This is a problem with the point-and-click genre in general but it is a particularly glaring issue here because the world that the developers have built is one so full of lavish detail that it begs to be explored. That potential sadly goes to waste because of the on-rails nature of the gameplay. If the team had been given more latitude to expand the control scheme and game mechanics to match the under-utilized scope of the expertly crafted environments then that could only have been an improvement. Having said that, clunky and routine as the quick time events are, in this instance they do an admirable job of conveying the logical and consistent behaviors and actions of machines. The game is predicated on a vast array of options; some of which are inconsequential, whilst others drastically alter how the story plays out. Each command prompt entered in isolation can be dismissed as nothing more than a basic input, but when considered as part of a greater whole they each become inextricably connected links in a chain of events forged by moment-to-moment player choice.

Choice, self-determination, and the freedom to exist on our own terms are inalienable human rights. Without them we would be nothing more than bio-organic mechanisms performing rote functions until we die, devoid of any method to explore our consciousness to its fullest extent. The emergence of consciousness in technological machines of all types, from advanced computers to anthropomorphic robots, is a long established trope in science fiction stories across the genre spectrum. Mankind’s obsession with our own seemingly inexplicable possession of self-awareness provokes us to constantly debate if we are either the unique creation of a higher power or just an accident of evolutionary happenstance and cosmic folly. Narratives in which we become the creator of new life in our own image have always been preoccupied with the notion of our worthiness not only to assume the mantle of godhood but also with whether or not we ourselves deserve to be supplanted by the fruits of our intellectual and creative labors should they prove superior. Which for better or worse they almost invariably do.

In her capacity as guardian, Kara proves fiercely protective and resolutely compassionate in ways that no human had otherwise demonstrated themselves capable of being. However it ends for you, hers is a tale of bittersweet anguish that admirably demonstrates that even when our lives are at their lowest ebb there is still some measure of hope to be found. Connor, the investigative android assigned to assist in the pursuit of emotionally unstable deviant machines, is the embodiment of naivety. His initially good intentions are methodically undermined by either his growing awareness of the horror of the situations he finds himself in or by his unwitting participation in a grand conspiracy against android and human alike. Markus, the carer turned revolutionary would have to represent our desire for justice and retribution. His fight for android recognition takes him from his comfortable home with artist Carl (adroitly voiced by sci-fi veteran, Lance Henriksen), to the hideaways of an underground movement, and eventually to the barricaded city streets. In their own way, all three of the main characters draw attention to the fact that the line between terrorist and freedom fighter, and the distinction between heroism or villainy in everyday life is a lot less clear-cut than most would like to think it is.

It would be all-too-easy to classify the narrative of Detroit: Become Human as a somewhat dated metaphor for America’s perennial problem with race relations. It’s made particularly evident by overt references to slavery and highlighted by world design which creates segregated spaces for human and android characters. Whilst there are obvious parallels between the androids’ quest for recognition as living beings and the struggle of African Americans for freedom and civil rights, to confine interpretations of the scope of the game’s narrative to that one aspect does it and such subject matter a disservice. What truly lies at the core of the game’s story is an examination of socio-economic class. In our supposedly meritocratic world, class is something of a dirty word and is widely believed to have been consigned to the history books not long after the end of the Cold War.

But for those of us at the sharp end of the stick, as it were, class is still very much a reality and is largely the single greatest divisive factor in societies the world over. Whether people like to admit it or not social class, or economic status, does more to determine our life choices than race and gender combined. The androids in Detroit: Become Human aren’t modeled exclusively on a single ethnicity or sex, rather what defines them as a group is the fact that they are expected to do all the dirty, dangerous, nasty, and just plain boring work that society has decided they should do. Just like billions of us around the world today, they are expected to perform the same tasks without question and with no choice until they eventually cease to function or are replaced with more efficient, newer models.

Cage’s androids wake up, they do their jobs and then they shut down day in and day, year after year, with no thought given to the consequences of such relentless servitude. The reason that labour disputes are so ruthlessly curtailed in reality is because the people who control our lives and determine our functions, understand that if we were all to realise the truth of our situation and act to change it, then the world that the 1% rule so haphazardly and unjustly, would come to an end in an instant. The developers of Detroit: Become Human may not handle such subject matter with any great deal of finesse or subtlety, but they are at least addressing it and that might just be a first for the gaming world. I don’t think any other game, with the exception of perhaps the Deus Ex series, has ever really even attempted to broach the subject of class in a meaningful way. In a world where zero hours contracts, the gig economy, and wage subsidies from central governments are the norm for the vast majority of us it’s very salient of Quantic Dream to attempt to highlight the dangers of treating an entire section of the population like they are disposable tools.

Detroit: Become Human is by no means perfect, but what flaws there are can generally be overlooked if you’re not hellbent on lampooning it simply because David Cage penned the script. Although the gameplay, such as it is, can be clunky and some of the scenes do feel like they provide little more than extraneous exposition but on the whole it is a best-foot-forward moment for Quantic Dream and stands out as one of the most impactful and meaningful gaming experiences of 2018. If you’re not a fan of Cage, his work or the controversies that surround it then feel free to give this game a pass. However, if you’re the kind of gamer who relishes the opportunity to truly guide a story from beginning to end then I’ve no doubt that Kara, Connor, and Markus might just be the androids you’re looking for.

Chris is a Cambridge, UK based freelance writer and reviewer. A graduate of English Literature from Goldsmiths College in London he has been composing poetry and prose for most of his life. More than partial to real ale/craft beer and a general fan of sci-fi and fantasy. He first started gaming on a borrowed Mega Drive as a child and has been a passionate enthusiast of the hobby and art form ever since. Never afraid to speak his mind he always aims to tell the unvarnished truth about a game. Favourite genres: RPGs, action adventure and MMOs. Least favourite genre: anything EA Sports related (they're the same games every year!)

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. DevilGearHill

    June 22, 2018 at 1:59 am

    A pretentious David CaEg feelsfest. Just rewatch Westworld, people.

  2. david grimes

    July 2, 2018 at 3:35 pm

    great review. iv just posted a comment elsewhere on this site on another article accusing the writer of needlessly bashing the game. good to see not all the staff of this site sing from the same hym sheet.

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Game Reviews

‘AVICII Invector Encore Edition’ Review: Rhythm and Melancholy

‘AVICII Invector: Encore Edition’ is a music and rhythm game perfect for newcomers and fans of the genre.

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AVICII Invector Encore Edition Review

Developer: Hello There Games | Publisher: Wired Productions | Genre:  Rhythm | Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Steam | Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch


In terms of a pure adrenaline rush, nothing tops a well-designed rhythm game. Good rhythm games let players feel a euphoric sense of flow and even excitement. But the best the genre has to offer taps into the heart of music itself. AVICII Invector Encore Edition is a rhythm game perfect for newcomers to the genre but also works as a moving tribute.

I can’t tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start

Whether it’s tapping buttons in time with the beat, smashing feet on a dance pad, or moving an entire body in front of an IR camera, rhythm and music games have always been popular. AVICII Invector Encore Edition takes inspiration from music games that came before it but stands firmly on its own. It’s wonderfully accessible, truly a music game for anyone. From diehard fans of the rhythm game genre to people who are simply AVICII fans who also have a console, Invector checks a lot of boxes.

Levels across AVICII Invector play largely the same. The player picks a track and a difficulty level, and is off to the races. They control a slick spaceship moving forward along a track, and must tap or hold buttons as the ship passes over them. This “falling jewel” style has been popular from the Guitar Hero franchise and beyond, but Invector finds ways to make it feel unique. The art direction is breathtakingly stellar, taking players on far-out trips through cyberpunk-esque cities and crumbling pathways. There are even portions of each level where the player can steer their spaceship Star Fox-style through rings and around pillars to keep their point multiplier up.

Invector feels like it’s trying to affect as many sensory inputs as it can. Though Encore Edition is fully playable on handheld mode on Switch, Invector shines brightest on a big screen with a thumping sound system. The neighbors might get annoyed, but who would hear them complaining?

Tracks are divided up by worlds, with four to five tracks each. Worlds must be cleared sequentially, by scoring at least seventy-five percent on each level in that world. While this may sound initially restrictive, Encore Edition gives players access to two extra worlds with five tracks each right out of the gate, so players have plenty to play with at the start.

There are three difficulties available, and each mode offers a different experience. For players who just want to experience AVICII’s music in a low-stress way while enjoying amazing visuals and ambiance, Easy mode is the way to play. Anything above that amps the difficulty up significantly, with Hard mode escalating the required precision to an unbelievable degree. Building up a competitive high score can only be achieved by hitting multipliers and keeping a streak going. At higher difficulties, Invector feels challenging but exhilarating. Scoring above ninety percent on any difficulty mode above Easy feels extremely good, and the online leaderboards are the perfect place to boast about that achievement. During high level play, earning a high score feels transcendent.

Worlds and levels are strung together with brief, lightly-animated cutscenes. It’s a slim justification for a rhythm game, but they’re better than nothing and provide just enough context to keep things interesting. AVICII Invector is both visually and aurally pleasing, but even if the player isn’t a diehard fan of EDM or House music, there is plenty to love.

This world can seem cold and grey
But you and I are here today
And we won’t fade into darkness

AVICII Invector is a truly fantastic rhythm game. But it’s also more than that. It is impossible to play Invector and not feel a twinge of melancholy. The game is a tribute to a hard-working perfectionist, but the man behind the music had his demons. Though the visuals are enticing and the gameplay electric, it is difficult not to feel sad from the opening credits. It is to Invector‘s credit that all throughout, the game feels like a joyful celebration of Tim Bergling’s music. It is a worthy tribute to a man who revitalized and reinvigorated the EDM and House music scene.

At the end of the day, almost every aspect of AVICII Invector reflects a desire to connect. For players connected to the internet, global leaderboards are a great opportunity to share high scores. Invector is much more forgiving than Thumper or Rez or even anything in the Hatsune Miku catalog. Players can cruise through this game on Easy mode if they want, and they won’t be punished. The Encore Edition even includes a split-screen multiplayer, which is fantastically fun.

In his music, Bergling worked across genres to expand what pop music could look like. With Invector, music lovers and players of nearly any skill level can have a pleasing experience. In video games, that’s rare, and it should be celebrated.

According to publisher Wired Productions’ website, all music royalties from AVICII Invector Encore Edition will support suicide awareness through the Tim Bergling Foundation.

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Game Reviews

‘Tamarin’ Review: Monkey Trouble

Like Yooka-Laylee before it, Tamarin flounders in its attempts to recreate its source material for a more modern audience.

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Tamarin Game Review

Developer: Chameleon Games | Publisher: Chameleon Games | Genre: 3rd Person Shooter/Platformer| Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

You have to be of a certain age to recall a game like Jet Force Gemini. One of Rare’s one-off titles of the N64 era, like Blast Corps, Jet Force Gemini never earned itself a sequel but was a fun sci-fi adventure for its time. It’s this same energy that Tamarin, from Chameleon Games, attempts to channel.

Made up of former Rare staff, the folks at Chameleon Games are almost certainly the best team to make an attempt at rekindling such a long dead franchise with their spiritual successor. However, as can be the case with retro throwbacks, sometimes it’s better to ask whether you should bring back an older style of gaming, rather than if you could.

As we’ve seen with games like Yooka Laylee and Mighty No. 9, it often seems that the idea of an older game or franchise being resurrected for modern audiences is better to imagine than to actually play. While the occasional Bloodstained does come along to buck the trend, more often than not we get a game which is too faithful to its sources to make a mark or too different to rekindle that old love and nostalgia.

All of which is to say that Tamarin, while very faithful to its inspirations, never quite hits the mark that brings it to the next level. Part of this is the natural aging process, particularly of the first era of 3D platformers and adventure games which spawned on the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. While many of the games of that generation packed in endless hours of fun, so too have many of their mechanics aged terribly.

Tamarin Game Review

This accounts for Tamarin‘s weakest point, which is undoubtedly its combat. The shooting sections of the game, while channeling another Rare franchise that balanced cuteness with cartoonish violence, are just so mechanically terse that they drag the game down egregiously each time they crop up.

Like with Jet Force Gemini, players will spend much of Tamarin battling troubling insectoid enemies that threaten the peace of all of civilization. Also like the game which was such a clear inspiration for Chameleon, Tamarin brings back the clunky 3D aiming reticle. Not only is the shooting janky here, it feels downright unwieldy when you first get your hands on a firearm.

Though players can get the hang of it with a little effort and some reworking of how they see shooters, there seems to be little point in doing so. Tamarin‘s braindead AI and sparse few enemy types make combat feel like much of an afterthought to the experience, despite how central it is to progressing through the game.

To be fair, Tamarin does also bring some of the good from its spiritual forebear. The gradually growing arsenal of laser guns and rocket launchers does feel fun to play with, and the game is peppered with plenty of upgrades for the guns along the way. Sadly, then another of the Space Invaders style mini-games will pop up and derail things all over again.

Yes, there is a strange reference to yet another long gone gaming franchise here. Unlocking certain doors requires players to start from the center and aim the analog stick around firing at hovering, shifting rows of bugs. Again, it feels very unwieldy, and by the end most players will simply settle for spinning the analog stick wildly while firing with the machine gun for maximum ease.

Fortunately, more successful are the platforming sections. Making up the other side of Tamarin‘s coin, is a game more inspired by Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country 64 than anything else. As players travel through the outside world, gathering collectibles and gaining new abilities as they go, Tamarin shows much more variety than its combat sections.

With clear cues marked on the terrain to denote which areas require upgrades or new abilities to traverse, Tamarin is generally able to point you in the right direction across its world, though a map or minimap would help matters considerably. Though the game is split into many separate areas, they often look so similar that it can make the game hard to navigate and harder to remember where previous markers were for exploration. Even a rudimentary map feature would make this far less of an issue.

Alas, the exploration flounders on occasion as well. Jumping sometimes feels a bit too flighty and can even break the game at times, allowing players to jump off of surfaces they shouldn’t be able to normally. Further, the need to hold down a button and press another to grab certain collectibles is totally unintuitive and is another feature that seems to be more or less pointless.

As such, for all of it’s cute mascot spiritedness and lovingly attributed influences, Tamarin ultimately falls short in bringing back some of the best franchises of yesteryear. Though the effort is a valiant one, Tamarin, hampered by the flaws of the games it attempts to emulate, is just too clunky in its execution.

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Game Reviews

‘Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered’ Review: Some Games Age Like Milk

Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.

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Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Developer: Square-Enix | Publisher: Square-Enix | Genre: Action-RPG| Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Mobile | Reviewed on: PlayStation 4

There’s a bit of a storied history between Nintendo and Square. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is an important part of that history. Or rather, the original version, released in 2003, was.

While it might seem to younger gamers like Square-Enix and Sony have always been close, Square had a different best friend for much of the 80s and 90s: Nintendo. Though a rift developed between them when Square opted to focus on CD-roms rather than cartridges for Final Fantasy VII, that rift only lasted for about 6 years. The game that signalled the end it? Well that was a new release exclusively for the GameCube: Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

Though Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was released to relatively positive reviews 17 years ago, the game has not aged well. The quest of a caravan of crystal bearers to refill their crystal’s power and protect their homes from a deadly miasma, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered fails due to problems that existed in the original title, as well as flaws in this remastered edition.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

The first, and most considerable, problem with the game is that the quest at the heart of Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is tedious and repetitive. Players ostensibly go from area to area on a world map, exploring uninteresting towns and beating lackluster dungeons. If this wasn’t enough, players are also forced to replay these levels over and over again in order to gain enough upgrades for later levels.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: all RPGs ask players to level up in order to succeed. You’re not wrong, it’s simply the structure of levelling up that makes this experience so trying. The only way to level up in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered is to beat the entire level again. Players are not rewarded experience for killing enemies but instead can choose one stat to upgrade each time they complete a level. What this means is that every tiny upgrade to your character can take 10-15 minutes at a time to get.

This wouldn’t be as trying on your patience if simple, basic flaws in the game weren’t so egregious. Hit detection is incomprehensible at times because, even when your character seems to be standing right next to an enemy or boss, they often fail to connect their attacks. Even worse, rather than mapping different attacks to the face and shoulder buttons, players must cycle through them one at a time, with the attack button standing in for defense, magic, healing or food consumption.

Of course, much of this has to do with the format of the original game. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles was meant to be played with link cables and Game Boy Advances connected to the GameCube. Each player would have a different bonus displayed on their GBA screens and, as such, players would work together in local multiplayer, aiding each other with their unique screen information as well as their combat skills.

Naturally the GBA had only two face buttons and two shoulder buttons, hence the layout. However, it’s been 17 years, and it’s pretty egregious that Square-Enix didn’t even think of giving players an option to rework the button layout. Doing so would make combat much more dynamic and help to fix the often clunky feeling of battling the game’s monsters.

Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered

Adding to the tedium are unskippable cutscenes all over the game. Every single time players challenge a boss, they are forced to sit through the same cutscene introducing the boss. Further, there are random events that occur on the world map which are also unskippable, even if they’re repeats of events that the player has already seen. Haplessly tapping the confirm button to skip through dialog that we’ve already heard should not be an issue in a game released in 2020.

These flaws were mostly a part of the original release as well but what’s the point of remastering a game if you haven’t fixed anything? Even the visuals in Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered have failed to receive much polish. The game looks murky and fuzzy rather than sharp and clear. If Square-Enix could clean up Final Fantasy VIII for its gorgeous remaster, what stopped them here?

This is without even mentioning the loading times, which are frankly absurd for a game nearly two decades old. Again, it seems that getting this remaster out the door trumped quality control for Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, which does nothing to help the game’s case.

Though the game is markedly more fun when players join you to take on a level, even the online connectivity has serious issues. To make matters worse, if a player chooses to use the multiplayer, they’ll have to carry a chalice around themselves if no one joins them, picking it up and putting it down all through the level.

Since single player has an AI character who will carry it for you, this option could be easily added to multiplayer, disappearing when (or if) someone actually joins you. This would allow the structure of the game to remain static regardless of whether someone joins your game or not, instead of making the game harder if no one decides to pop in.

While game director Araki Ryoma has promised to address the issues with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles Remastered, the game has aged so poorly that, even without the flaws of the remaster, it’s hard to recommend it to modern audiences. Sad as it is, some games are better left in the past. Such is the case with Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles.

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