Development studio Quantic Dream and its founder David Cage are certainly not strangers to controversy nor criticism, but the latest slice of gameplay from their upcoming PS4 exclusive, Detroit: Become Human has certainly drawn a hefty dose of both. Shown recently behind closed doors at Paris Games Week, and again last week at Sony’s PlayFest in Sydney, the ‘Stormy Night’ demo is an intense and confronting scene of violent domestic abuse that makes for uncomfortable viewing — doubly so in the context of a casual poolside media gathering.
The scene in question has the player in control of Kara, one of three known playable characters in Detroit. A domestic help robot, Kara is one of the first androids in this fictional future vision of Detroit, Michigan to be accidentally gifted with true, human emotion. After serving up dinner for single father, Todd, and his daughter Alice in the true Quantic Dream style of turning mundane tasks into detailed interaction, things take a sharp turn for the dark. Wracked with contempt for his ex-wife and his dependency on drugs, Todd starts to verbally abuse Alice. As his tirade worsens, Alice runs and hides in her room, and it’s here that Kara takes her first steps toward independency — should players choose.
In the live demo we were shown, the PlayStation representative first took us on a path where Kara broke free of her programming and went straight for Alice’s room to help her escape the house and run away with her. The scene ended with the pair on a bus headed out of town, and it’s here that things got interesting.
Whereas in previous Quantic Dream titles players were forced to accept with the choices they had made right up until the game’s conclusion, not knowing how things would have played out had they chose differently, Detroit seems to throw that notion out of the window in lieu of complete transparency. After the sequence ends, we see a graphical flowchart of sorts, mapping out all of the decisions we’d just made and their consequences, and also highlighting the other possible outcomes that were missed. The developers are quick to note that this feature is still just a concept at this point, and won’t necessarily make it to master in the form that we saw today, but it’s already an interesting break from convention and a welcome way make an already stressful game less daunting and more accessible.
Jumping straight back into the critical point of the sequence this time we see Kara try to approach Todd first, resulting in a completely different scene in which the two have an altercation while Alice hides upstairs. An action scene plays out by way of the requisite series of quicktime prompts as Kara and Todd throw down. It’s a vicious and frankly hard-to-watch display of violence that completely validates the concerns of many online in regard to Detroit’s apparent penchant for the abuse of its female characters.
That said, it’s hard to truly gauge with the little context we have so far for what we’ve seen, and it mostly comes down to this section of the game being a weird choice for show. It remains to be seen whether David Cage and his team can treat the subject matter they’re attempting with the degree of maturity and quality of writing that it requires, but Sony seem to be banking on Detroit: Become Human to bring mass market appeal so only time will tell.