‘Detroit: Become Human’ has a lackluster story

There is a point in “Detroit: Become Human” where I really believed in it.

As I started up the game, I was immediately hit with its striking visual presentation. The game’s depiction of a cyberpunk Detroit was a sight to behold. Mixtures of muted blues and the hum of neon lights dazzled my eyes. The graphical detail on theses character models is nothing short of lifelike.

As the main character Connor, an android police investigator, walks onto an active crime scene, my hopes began to rise for this to be a video game answer to the legendary police procedural “Ghost in the Shell.”

After a few sparse minutes of collecting clues, Connor confronts a rogue artificial intelligence holding a human girl near the edge of a tall building. That is when my hopes came crashing down.

The realization started to settle within me as I selected the very familiar dialogue choices found in many of director David Cage’s games. Choices that often beg for depth and almost always seesaw on a obvious good vs. bad binary. While this is nothing really out of the ordinary for Cage and his studio Quantic Dream, he and his studio have usually stayed within tame boundaries.

With “Detroit Cage” attempting to tackle some heady themes, such as A.I. versus humanity and what it really means to be human in a worlds with cyborgs, these are very well-trodden waters for the cyberpunk genre and Cage is very aware of this. He tries to vary his approach by appropriating the African-American struggle. With an obvious analogue to the Underground Railroad of the slavery era America, wherein humans and well-off cyborgs help other cyborgs escape to freedom in Canada.

At several points during the game, the player is prompted with a choice of thoughts for the character to follow. One of these prompts gives the player the choice to influence the character’s next course of action. One of the available options is, “We have a dream,” a direct reference to Martin Luther King Jr’s 1963 speech. An important side character is named Luther, who just so happens to be one of the few named black characters in the game. This startling lack nuance when dealing with very serious issues that are still very relevant today is not something I could ignore throughout my playthrough of Detroit.

Most of these issues could be glossed over and merely be used as another example of video games being bad at addressing serious issues, but where it truly gets egregious is how it handles these themes. There is no delicacy to the approach of these issues; the game uses them as empty caracases to drive the story forward. There is a faux-progressiveness here that the game establishes early on. It wants to make you believe that it has a real purpose, that it really has something to say. But it’s painfully hollow and void of any real content.

The choices you make throughout are made meaningless by big, broad brush strokes in its thematic approach. Impactful moments that feel all too forced lack any real effect. Smaller plot points and character development prove that there is a good game here amongst the rubble, but it’s too hard to pick all of it out.

David Cage often asks the player to look past the lackluster gameplay mechanics in his games to be able to appreciate his art. He claims his real art is as a writer, but there’s not nearly as much to see as he would have you believe.