The question of whether advanced artificial intelligence can constitute life is a crowded conversation in fiction—aside from numerous science fiction books, it includes recent pop culture like last year’s Blade Runner sequel, the video game Nier Automata, Westworld, and now Detroit: Become Human, which has nothing to contribute except a crass insistence on leeching off real-life struggle to prop up its own creative bankruptcy. The game jumps between three stories about three different androids: a domestic servant on the run, the leader of a resistance group, and a police investigator who pursues rogue androids. Each character makes choices that can impact the way a story unfolds, and the result is a real sense of tension. Characters can die forever without (or with) precise button presses. Decisions must be made within a few seconds. Detroit, if nothing else, squeezes a level of commitment from the player that most games are afraid to even ask for—you might take all the time you need while restarting as often as often as you like elsewhere, but not here.
And that commitment might have been admirable if the story wasn’t downright embarrassing, a waste of time only partially painted over by the lavish production values. The game seems oblivious to the fact that the allegedly profound insight it spends 11 hours building to—that artificial life is still life and should be treated as such—is merely the starting point for hundreds of other, better sci-fi stories. The argument some characters make against androids having emotions is that they only mimic human behavior, and in this, it’s as if Detroit caught one momentary, self-aware glimpse of itself in the mirror. The trite writing, nonsensical plot twists, and sloppy world-building all fail to convey a real sense of struggle, so the game frequently evokes history to compensate; Detroit is at its most insulting when it co-opts the words and imagery of slavery, internment camps, and the civil rights movement (one android rights slogan is even “we have a dream”) for its own purposes. Real-world parallels are common in science fiction, but Detroit uses these memories in the loudest and most obvious way possible, as if they can do the emotional work its shallow narrative cannot. The game is concerned with different forms of life—human, artificial, and the way those two intersect—but one it leaves out is also the one it most resembles: a parasite. Overall Rating: D
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