Reconstructing crime scenes can be challenging
Connor has to quickly surmise a crime scene in the beginning. There are other crime scenes where he has to figure out exactly what happened in an altercation. The AI technology in his brain and the futuristic crime scene investigation tools reminds me of the Tom Cruise film Minority Report. When you can fully reconstruct the sequence of events that led to a crime, you’ll feel superhuman. It’s also haunting when you realize that your reconstruction brings back the moment of a murder. A similar game mechanic lets you visualize and predict the future, like how you could jump over various objects and your chances of success in reaching a goal. (Of course, in other games, you would simply perform this kind of stunt. In Detroit, you plot it out and then hit a button dubbed “execute,” and it performs the stunt for you).
Time pressure makes menial tasks enjoyable
When Kara arrives at the home of her cruel owner, she has to clean up the house. She has to do this under the pressure of a time clock. This introduces the player to the basic game mechanic. You have to find the right object, interact with it, and do so within the allotted time or you fail in a key task, decision, or storyline. Kara has the added pressure of knowing that she will encounter the anger of her owner if she doesn’t finish the tasks quickly enough. And if that owner’s anger becomes explosive, Kara may end up on a scrap heap, with no consequences for the human owner. Later on, the time pressure is still there when you are making life-or-death decisions.
Reading magazines about life in the future
In just about every scene, you can pick up a magazine and read a brief story about contemporary life in Detroit. That’s how you become aware of the high human unemployment rate, the use of androids in pro football games, the deadly high-speed freeways filled with self-driving cars, and the looming Cold War between Russia and the U.S. over the ownership of Antarctica. Many of these little snippets of the future fill out the context for the unfolding story. They reinforce some of the themes and fill out Cage’s view of the future. The faux news shows that come on periodically also dramatically show the state of the world, and they ratchet up the tension.
The acting is superb
There are so many moments when you’re looking at animated characters and you feel like you’re just watching a television drama. The actors look visually realistic, they moved like humans do, and they even blink their eyes like we do. Their voices are synchronized. Detroit is far more polished than earlier games like Beyond: Two Souls or Heavy Rain. Every once in a while, you’ll notice something like the tears running down Alice’s face don’t look right. But the acting by the human actors — who have been replaced by the mocapped animated characters in all but their voices — is superb. The cast includes Valorie Curry as Kara, Bryan Dechart as Connor, and Jesse Williams as Markus. They all seem robotic at first, but when they become more human in the story, the acting becomes more human, too.
The flowchart shows all branches in the narrative
As Chloe tells you in the beginning, this story is yours. You control the outcomes. You should play through the whole game spontaneously, without revising your decisions. And when you are done, you can revisit the chapters and play them again. You can see all the branches in the storyline in a visualized flowchart.
Once I finished the game, I wasn’t satisfied with the outcome. It was very easy to look through the flowcharts to see where I went wrong. I noticed in one chapter that my story concluded long before many of the other threads did. I identified that spot, where I lost one of my characters, as the point where I took the wrong turn.
I restarted the game at the third chapter from the end. I reset the game to casual mode, and I worked on solving the challenges so that my characters made it through the optimal outcomes. Because these choices are fun, I’d recommend playing the game with someone else watching to help you get a second opinion. There are so many story branches that it feels like you are completely in control of the game.
The writing is good
When one robot character faces a dilemma, another strange robot comes up to it and says, “You’re looking for something. You’re looking for yourself.” It’s kind of random, but it fits the moment.
At another point, another character faces a decision, and another character says, “Forgetting who you are, to become what someone needs you to be, maybe that’s what it means to be alive.”
There’s also a nice moment, with less dialogue, where two travelers find an abandoned amusement park and take a ride on the carousel. The sight of that carousel with its pretty lights, glowing in the middle of night in a snow-covered park, was mesmerizing.
These are little moments, but the game made them memorable.
The storylines come together