“The world doesn’t like those who are different, Markus. Don’t let anyone tell you who you should be”
Carl Manfred, Detroit: Become Human
The Art of Detroit: Become Human
There is a certain, synergetic inevitability between the original game of its name sake and The Art of Detroit Become Human released as a deluxe digital package alongside a soundtrack and the title itself. I adore the physicality and primal joy of opening and enjoying physical art books, a welcome addition to any title that allows you to explore and enter the worlds of these digital realms. Practically however, certainly for convenience and space there is merit to packaging these titles alongside the software, an opportunity to view and study the design process in greater detail with seemingly limited restrictions in place. It points to a direction and supports a notion of greater digital integration at the expense perhaps of the physical release with far greater control of the narrative from the studio directly bypassing traditional printing houses and showcasing images and a development cycle from their perspective. There is a tangible benefit and joy from the tactile sensation of feeling the product at your finger tips, a sense of resonance and connectivity you don’t necessarily enjoy with a digital release.
Equally I’ll accept its a direction for the future and continues to provide some measure of tangible objective reward for those opting to purchase a superior version of the product irrespective of whether there is a physical outcome to measure this by. For the purpose of disclosure and clarity, this was the second release from Quantic Dream released on the PS Plus service that allowed me to play these innovative, narrative driven games at the expense of the monthly subscription. Having finished Beyond: Two Souls in July and been impressed with the aesthetic presentation the studio chose to pursue, there was of course a welcome familiarity in the digital world of Detroit, from a purely superficial perspective you gain an appreciation from its evolution of their motion capture and performance techniques and process. It very much feels like being reacquainted with an old friend.
In contrast to the studio’s release of its predecessor on this digital service in addition to the base game it also included the Art of pack as well as a soundtrack to enjoy and export. Clearly an abundance of riches and my first, venture into reviewing a digital release package of this nature. Given the complexity and scope of the narrative the games themselves as we reviewed last week don’t tend to have the longest investment in terms of time and dedication but there is a rich world of characters and environments to explore, that for me are a principle reason of why I enjoy this studios endeavours. I’ll accept there are no mechanics that necessarily require you, to use a gaming adage, get good but the world of Detroit is equally a fascinating presentation of a dystopian future environment that certainly has a great resonance of our current technological paths foreshadowing perhaps events and circumstance yet to happen. It reminds me as we’ll come to see of Watch Dogs to some extent and how Ubisoft took a fictionalised version of Chicago capturing the tone and spirit of the city without resorting to a true likeness of the setting. I was intrigued on the world around me as I explored the world of Detroit: Become Human, this release has afforded me an opportunity to explore this environment in greater detail.
Character design and realisation has always been an objective to overcome and resolve for every studio that attempts to create these elaborate and expansive, and crucially believable open worlds. A fundamental though not always integral aspect revolves around character design, certain titles opting for desolate and isolated worlds with simplistic central characters that capture the spirit and tone of the game through other environmental factors, Journey for example using this methodology. The games and digital worlds of Quantic Dream opt for a populated world restricted through narrative contrivance to have a limited populace in your vicinity. This dynamic alleviates to an extent the challenge of crowd resourcing and creation, instead allowing the design to focus on the motion captured actors who, as with Beyond embody their muse and show, for mechanical beings a swarth of emotions and empathy.
However, there are still certain circumstances and situations that require, through its urban setting, the presence of civilians and androids alike to be in situ and as such their design and attire, indeed how they act requires a certain level of believability both in how they are dressed and how they act. One of the tricks of these near future designed games is the ability to utilise the familiar and recognisable from our own society whilst projecting more futuristic capabilities to those on the fringes, often the protagonist as is the case in Detroit.
One of the aspects I really enjoyed as a fan of science fiction in general was the approach towards the exterior and appearance of the games android population, creating a uniform and duplicated aesthetic that was consistent whilst allowing small nuanced flourishes amongst the population. Kara, one of the three central protagonists has a uniform and appearance befitting any near future world and environment, I adored some of the smaller embellishments such as the light up name on her chest plate and android model. The style itself, consistent with other models and androids in this particular universe, felt far more in the realms of science fiction than the casual attire of the human populace, a reminder perhaps of their position to keep them from integrating into human society. Certainly you can see this approach drawing connotations to the cheap uniformed clothing during the slavery era of human history, or even in today’s society with the distinctive bright coloring worn in the penal system.
Whilst presented as a high valued functioning product desirable by the populace to service their homes, certainly you do come to view their role in servitude, with their appearance to draw a clear distinction from the human populace, from the shiny finish to the general attire, the blue lights and hues of the name plate and model information, to the sensor built into the forehead. There is a great deal of detail in the character design that is fascinating to study, exemplified by Kara who in the opening chapters is adorned in this clothing before breaking her programming and adopting a human facade to ensure her progress in the story. In contrast as the focus in the game shifts amongst the central characters we focus on Markus who has been domesticated to an extent in the service of its human owner.
I’ll concede here and ask for tolerance if my parlance shifts in these descriptions as the narrative of the game focuses and raises questions described in greater terms and ways than I can muster by authors such as Philip K Dick on what constitutes humanity, certainly in devices such as androids constructed and programmed to mimic human design and behaviour to an extent you refer to them by gender pronouns as opposed to artificial contraptions. Markus, who suffers a loss rises to become the leader of the resistance by these beings against their human masters but in doing so sheds much of the distinctive appearance of his being.
Certainly it creates differentiation between the main characters who all have an individual appearance and aesthetic that is different despite their common nature. I just felt through pursuing a narrative of integration irrespective of context and from a purely artistic perspective the game lost some of the memorable distinct qualities of its main cast opting for this cold, underground resistance clothing and appearance so in common now with titles such as Watch Dogs which used an almost identical finish for its main hero in its first game. It creates a believable world, to an extent with characters wearing believable clothing and attire, and though that creates the sensation of immersion which is crucial to open world games such as this, I would postulate it also as an unintended consequence of that action removes memorable protagonists or certainly reduces their impact on reflection of this game.
The use of motion capture to the level Quantic Dream utilises in its design process negates to an extent the requirement to design original central characters whilst also creating resonance and emotional attachment from preceding roles. One of highlights of playing Detroit was realising the inclusion of Lance Henriksen, notable for his role as the Android Bishop in Aliens and of course the connectivity in this title centred around Androids and their use in society. Whether intentional or not, you do have a sense there was an obvious awareness in his casting in this role to that role of is and as such it’s enjoyable to witness his appearance, aided by motion capture in this role. Whilst he has appeared in various vocal roles in gaming over the years, and his generalised appearance has been created in the various Alien titles this was probably the closest appearance he’s had to his true likeness and as such you do have the emotional attachment to the actor and character he portrayed many years ago.
I was aware of Markus inspiration through my partners enjoyment of Grey’s Anatomy which of course drew a perfunctory momentary nod of approval from her before losing interest just as swiftly. Equally, the appearance of Clancy Brown was a fun inclusion, purely as he has appeared in the last two decades in a number of my favourite series both gaming and general media and when looking at his filmography you do come to realise how big an impact he’s had on the gaming world, clearly an actor who enjoys the craft or open to broadening his horizons into this environment.
For me, notably at present his appearance in Billions but it was to see him appear in Detroit as the grizzled veteran detective, somewhat of a cliched character in many ways and his resentment towards his Android partner doesn’t feel as fresh or original in contrast to the other narrative depictions in the game. You certainly recognised his mannerisms through his design and appearance, as a real world actor there wasn’t a requirement to fundamentally alter or amend his appearance, as such the usual design process and sketches weren’t a requirement here, merely a loose facsimile of his various states. I do find myself reaching the conclusion in the character design I hadn’t expected when I begun this review that I found myself enjoying the notable secondary human characters to a greater extent than the central protagonists simply for the fact their past roles and experiences were brought to life through the more accurate realisation on the screen. I’ll readily admit I do struggle on occasion to see an actor beyond their most memorable role, carrying that baggage from one experience to another. Here, because of the more accurate design and realisation that affliction manifests itself in my appreciation for this game.
“It creates a believable world, to an extent with characters wearing believable clothing and attire, and though that creates the sensation of immersion which is crucial to open world games such as this, I would postulate it also as an unintended consequence”
One of the studios key strengths for me personally has been the creation of these fantastic worlds and environments that very much feel ‘real’ and lived in, breaking one of my personal frustrations in digital media in creating perfect exemplifiers of a given median without any thought or context for the wider world around it. I adored the bold and contrasting view points and environments showcased throughout your experience in Detroit, from the sterile futuristic novelties of the Eden club and media transmission centre to the crumbling ruins of the abandoned amusement park and even the nuanced variations in the neighbourhood and civilian housing. The world around us in the suburban and metropolitan environment is a tapestry and mosaic of wealth and suffering in equal measures. When you present a perfect example of wealth and opulence or extreme poverty it shatters whatever connectivity you have to the virtual world in that we don’t live, for the most part in those extreme. I find it far easier to immerse into a virtual world that has a more nuanced take on these aspects, here I felt Detroit succeeded.
Perhaps its human or even my own arrogance to want the world be that the real or digital version to reflect my own personal whims but I do find it easier to establish that level of resonance and connectivity when its presented in a believable fashion. Does this game portray or accomplish anything new or remarkable? arguably not, there isn’t a great level of originality in the environmental concept sketches shown, only from a broader perspective can I give the studio and design time praise for the difficult challenge of taking familiar technologies and design around us today and stretching them into the future. For example as Kara, in a short space and time you are purchased from a clean, sterile technology centre, very much how we might buy a cell phone or product today and transported back to your home environment, an area reminiscent of many homes today. There is very little in that house to imply you are in a world beyond that we know, only small touches, a digital news paper for example that permeates seemingly whatever level you find yourself in.
The near future as shown had by contrast touches of familiar science fiction tropes and ideas with the digital media articles, now a common familiarity around us but I would probably observe, the ease people leave a tablet lying around in the most extraordinary places did elude to a design team pushing a collectible angle over real world application. That said, I enjoyed the dynamic contrast between the poor and the rich in this version of Detroit in a design capacity, the clean bright lines suggest a path reminiscent of Tokyo or Piccadilly Circus with the opulence of wealth ever present, those barely surviving on the fringes of society every present. Embracing that contrast to an extent allowed the design team to present these futuristic, enviable apartments and homes that for the most part did not reflect any great technological change with only small interactive devices and inputs. Even perhaps regressing back slightly to the more minimalist artistic aesthetic with the muted tones and highlights contrasting to the bright modern lighting.
I experienced this game on the base model, purportedly and demonstrably there is improvement on the pro console with a step up of visual prowess. I enjoyed the interior locations but equally the external environments and moments, the exploration and discovery of the abandoned amusement park was a momentarily chilling affair depending upon your actions however certainly there is the scope to enjoy a moment of levity and tranquility in your narrative before the story progresses further forward. Fundamentally it strikes at the core of this review, championing the studio for creating these amazing locations and environments you want to spend a far greater time exploring however have the sensation should you probe or push the game to far the unfortunate consequence would be to shatter the illusion. I loved the design and setting of the park as you wonder through at night to protect Alice, the moments of interaction progress the story to an extent but the curious nature of my own personal character, and perhaps a devotee to the Theme Park game of old, did leave me wanting to restore this level to its former glory. In truth, had the game opted to allow me to break my cycle of persecution I would have been satisfied to remain here.
The closing chapters as the game begins to accelerate towards its final conclusion brings the locations back into Detroit, narrowing the window of exploration to a degree and is largely forgettable in terms of places to explore and things to do. The use of the abandoned ship in the city centre was a nice touch, as was the means to discover its importance which played to the distinct aspect of the main characters however it was especially original or different from similar locations visited in both this and other games over the generations. It did leave me feeling disappointed to an extent, as a fortress of the androids, I suppose I wanted a greater degree of their personality to shine through here, the slightest of innuendos to suggest you were in both a familiar and equally unsettling location. One of the best, most chilling environments I believe comes through a certain path being followed, which I did but for the sake of others yet to experience this title which could spoil the journey I’ll restrain myself into going into to much detail. Needless to say, the historical connotations were strong and quite on point for what was transpiring.
“I suppose I wanted a greater degree of their personality to shine through here, the slightest of innuendos to suggest you were in both a familiar and equally unsettling location”
On every other occasion when I have reviewed a title such as this one of the key considerations is personal worth, does the sunk cost afford a greater appreciation of the subject matter. With this title included within the deluxe version of the game, quite simply any measure of worth or value comes down to a personal subjective question of whether it enriches your experience overall of this game and world you have explored and existed in for whatever measure of time. Titles such as Dead Space and Horizon Zero Dawn broke down the barriers to some degree between the end user, the consumer and the development team in affording you the opportunity to explore and view the concept drawings that brought these worlds to life. Here, you do feel to a large degree in terms of the environments specifically you are viewing just an alternate perception and variation of the final design of the levels. I loved exploring the world of Detroit, static drawings and images reinforce that notion to some degree but does leave me wishing to have seen the alternative visions of this dystopian future, whether for instance there was a temptation to push a greater futuristic narrative or was the notion always to have a sense of the near future with items and objects both recognisable and yet changed and adapted to some extent.
I will be curious to see whether these additional aspects of the release are pulled should my subscription lapse, a common issue with that particular online median. There in perhaps is the greater benefit of the printed page, whether you have an active subscription model or not, I can sit back and enjoy exploring these books to my heart’s content without fear my means to read and discover is constrained entirely around funding the PS network. To give the studio the credit it deserves, there is no restriction in place from copying the files and media from the art book and soundtrack onto a USB stick and connecting it to a laptop such as I have done, so that fear is negated and resolved largely. I do miss the physical art books, there is something to be said for tactile contact and being able to hold and feel the connection to the digital realms. Equally, I’ll accept perhaps its not a direction studios or titles are moving towards in the future, whilst the ‘experience’ of owning a supportive art book is novel its certainly a luxury that can be rejected or tempered. I enjoyed this art collection because it afforded me a brief look at the Art of Detroit in largely its final form and state. Equally, it has left me wanting a printed copy of the Art of Quantic Dream, should it ever exist I would gladly pick it up on release.
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