A New Genre, A New Foundation
I had a chance to pick up this new title this past weekend and didn’t budge for the almost 10 hours it took to complete. Thinking of buying/renting? Just do it. Grab a couple friends while you’re at it and order in some pizza and beer. You’re in for a wild ride.
But this post isn’t going to be a review of the game. You’ll find plenty of wild praise on Metacritic (look to the player reviews, it seems this one has frazzled the game reviewing establishment). This post will speak more to the impact and implications of Detroit: Become Human and what it signifies for the future of gaming.
This harks back to an earlier article of mine where I drew out how the growing gaming public is increasingly receptive and hungry for narrative-driven games. More so than graphics and gameplay, which have been the most important pillars for video games in the last few decades, the diversifying demographic of gamers has bolstered the market need of robust stories integrated with quality aesthetics and game experiences. In recent years, games like Horizon: Zero Dawn and The Last of Us have not only reconquered the domain of engrossing stories but also created an experience that is much more accessible to new and potential gamers worldwide.
And the resolution comes down to this - If a game has as good or better story than most recent movies, more and more of the general public will appreciate and take up gaming as an artistic experience. Because the umbrella of ‘gaming’ encompasses both Doom and Starcraft and LoL and these storyline experiences, it has been very difficult to make the case that video games should stand alongside cinema and novels and other art forms. But I truly believe that this one game severely tilts the scales.
Detroit: Become Human also accomplishes what many games in the past have attempted but fallen short of too many times - an immersive role-playing experience where decisions produce drastically different results. The game is almost a non-game with very little ‘gameplay’ in terms of realtime action or gunplay. Most actions are to confirm dialogue or keep you engaged with a prescript action, making the experience more about choice and timing more so than refinable skill.
Branching choices. Source
The whole game feels like a “Choose Your Own Adventure”-type of experience and to be honest, I wish there more elements of action shooters embedded in the story. It would have been awesome to control Connor in live gunfights with various android abilities. But at the same time, I have to remind myself that in this case, the narrative isn’t an excuse for a type of experience. Instead, the narrative is the whole foundation for the game and carries the gamer through an entire storyline enriched by graphics and gameplay, not beholden to it.
I believe this is also what accounts for the wildly varying review numbers. Different critics don’t know how to approach a game that has shooting elements but no aim control, fighting elements but no combos, an interactable environment but no free interaction. This is usually a sign of something completely new and unsettling hitting the market and exists on the opposite end of games like God of War that are purely refined gaming experiences. My general hope is that games like Detroit: Become Human attract new generations of storytellers and creative professionals in a way that bypasses the stigma of the video game industry and demographic. Wouldn’t you love to see Scorsese direct a new game title? We’re already seeing major actors being incorporated as playable characters, why not have the whole structure of cinema and storytelling integrated in virtual experiences?
Anyway, those are my thoughts. Again, I highly recommend this one. The story is rich and literally multifaceted and makes you want to go through it again and again. Let me know what you think in the comments below!