Detroit: Beyond Human releases to technical acclaim, thematic concern

  • TECH
  • Monday, 28 May 2018

Detroit: Become Human tackles sensitive issues in a three-stranded sci-fi story.

French studio Quantic Dream has built itself a reputation for crafting ambitious, story-led experiences under the leadership of founder and creative director David Cage.

Blending cinematic cues and cutting-edge computer graphics with the interactive potential of video games, Quantic has sought to push the format's emotional range far beyond that of battling enemy combatants or crushing candy.

Indeed, Sony's console brand PlayStation has backed Quantic since 2005 title Fahrenheit, making the subsequent Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls exclusive to the platform, just as with Detroit. The story is set in a future where humanoid robots have become commonplace and are asking for expanded freedoms – android rights – with players controlling three of these lifelike constructions.

Detroit has earned solid release-day review score averages of 80/100 (Metacritic), 79 (OpenCritic) and 79 (GameRankings). But, for all its undeniable technical prowess, reviewers "disagree more than usual" over other aspects, as OpenCritic notes.

Digital Foundry praises Detroit's presentation as "executed almost to perfection" and demonstrating "what can be achieved in this space" with generous amounts of time and money. Above-average reviews such as VentureBeat's praise a common story told well, with acting, context, environment, and player choices providing additional depth; Easy Allies calls it Quantic's "strongest interactive tale so far"; British publication The Guardian saw "tired central plots" and "some predictable, occasionally hokey storytelling" outclassed by "a meticulously detailed cinematic achievement."

But Eurogamer, though generally appreciative, was more reserved, citing "clunky and often painfully on-the-nose" dialogue, female characters habitually "sexy or in peril (or both)," and notably sensitive issues played "loudly and manipulatively."

Even less forgiving was Kotaku: "Shiny and fun to look at" with "a solid cast (and) apparently bottomless budget," but failing to properly engage with painful issues such as domestic violence, slavery, political oppression.

And Paste Magazine voiced one of the strongest objections to Detroit, its crude treatment of "age-old real life struggles of race and sexuality," use of "crass and insensitive imagery," and writing that "eventually takes the metaphor of androids as a hated and persecuted minority to a level that even good acting and sympathetic characters can't support." It also placed the game's release within the context of an apparently sexist and homophobic studio culture, early 2018 accusations that led Quantic to prosecute two French news outlets.

Yet good characterisation and coherent storytelling keep Detroit on track, weaving cinematic language into the video game format: "It's pretty good. It's not even all that bad. I'm really surprised to write that." — AFP Relaxnews

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