The game is both profound and thrilling
In Detroit: Become Human, the ultimate challenge is deciding what it means to be alive. No, really.
The kinds of questions that this game forces you to ponder – what it means to be alive as a human, what it means to not be, and whether it's possible to switch between – are the kinds of questions that the greats of both both science fiction and science fact have been asking themselves for decades. But Detroit: Become Human makes them immediately real, lifting them out of the abstract and forcing you to confront what it actually means to be a person, in perhaps the most personal way ever.
Starting the game, you're dropped into 2038, which is largely like our current world except is filled with androids that help out around the home. And you're dropped into the heads of three of those androids, all of whom are at different stages of figuring out their role in this new and computer-populated world: one who is tasked with hunting down other rogue androids, and two who are stuck in domestic servitude, each teetering on the brink of their own breakthrough.
It is a game played not through actions but through choices: while you do walk around your environment and are asked to react to things, what really matters is the decisions you make at important moments. And you can track them throughout the game, each of them being depicted on a flowchart at the end of each chapter and replayable in case you end up regretting something you've done.
Those choices are significant: playable characters can die, and that will simply set the game off on another course rather than bringing it to an end. Death, in this game, is just another event in a worldful of difficult decisions, and what really matters is how you choose to react to it.
That throws you right into the three playable androids' heads. By doing so, the kinds of questions that players are asked are a little differently in other stories of this kind become more deeply meaningful. Androids are not just an interesting slate onto which humans can carve their questions into; they're a thinking, feeling thing all of their own, and one you are forced to empathise with.
In the future, of course, android lives will probably be a little dull. They certainly are in Detroit’s world: they’re mostly assigned to a range of domestic chores. And you have to do those chores, initially, which means the games begins like a house-cleaning simulator.
Even in that, though, there is something profound. If we create truly living robots in the future, it probably won't be the blood and guts and liquid metal of The Terminator, at least not all of the time; someone will have to clean up all of that mess.
Its challenges instead come from grappling with decisions and their consequences; what you want to do, much more than how you will do it. As such, it demands a kind of concentrated commitment, and is definitely not the kind of game that can be dipped into or played with your attention also somewhere else – but it will repay that commitment, giving you all of the depth you allow it.
That's not to say there's no spectacle or thrill within the game. Its graphics are stunningly beautiful, its world realised with attention to detail at the most huge and tiny scale, and its characters given life with a commitment to realism and believability that animates questions that could otherwise be stale and sterile.
It is a slow-burn, testing, weighty and profound detective story. Just don't be surprised to find yourself a little interrogated, too.