On Friday the newest game by David Cage and Quantum Dream arrives – Detroit: Become Human. It’s a theoretically interesting game that explores three different perspectives in a futuristic sci-fi world where androids walk among humans. It will likely cover the usual sci-fi tropes of whether artificial beings are actually people and I can understand why people could be excited by this. Especially since the game boasts many different branching narrative paths including the possible deaths of all your characters.
I’m personally avoiding getting the game (at least for now) due to a multitude of reasons. First off, Quantic Dream is rumored to be a bit of an awful workplace. There’s been accusations of racist, sexist, and homophobic behavior from people in charge, along with unhealthy forced working conditions. David Cage himself is an egoist who is rumored to asked to be called “God” and “Sun King” by his employees. While Cage and the studio executives have denied this and sued the media for covering the story, these rumors came from several different sources and I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt, and thus my enthusiasm for giving Cage money is limited.
The other reason is that, well, the game I have played of his – Heavy Rain – sucks. When you break the game down, it’s just not a good game. I didn’t always have this opinion – in fact I raved about Heavy Rain after I finished my first playthrough of it. However as time has passed and I’ve looked back on the game, I’ve come to realize that the game itself is pretty terribly designed and a decent analysis of it can help unlock the so-called Sun King’s psyche.
(Spoilers for the entirety of Heavy Rain will follow – so if you haven’t played it and don’t want to be spoiled, don’t continue. Otherwise, read on.)
Heavy Rain, like Detroit: Become Human, is a narrative-focused game that follows four characters and boasts multiple branching narrative paths and hangs the threat of your character’s deaths over you the entire game. The plot of the game is that a serial killer nicknamed the Origami Killer is loose and has kidnapped the son of Ethan, one of the game’s protagonists. The Origami Killer taunts Ethan and forces him to play through several brutal Saw-like challenges in order to get his son back. You also play as Madison, a reporter trying to get to the bottom of the story, Jayden, a detective trying to find the killer, and Shelby, a private detective who is also after the Origami Killer.
Now the game’s premise is fine. In fact, if it was executed with proper storytelling and actual characters, it might have been a good game. However there’s several flaws in the game that prevent its execution from actually working.
(Last chance to avoid spoilers.)
I don’t have anything clever for this caption.
The first big flaw is Cage goes for the Agatha Christie twist – one of the four characters you’re playing as is the Origami Killer. You find out towards the end of the game that Shelby is the killer. It breaks the game some because not all of Shelby’s thoughts and interactions throughout the game make sense once its revealed he’s the killer. Furthermore, the realization that Shelby is the killer makes his sections of the game almost meaningless – the whole game is based on the premise that your actions affect the game, but in reality Shelby can’t die until the intended climax of the game after the twist is revealed. And your choices as him don’t really matter either, as all of his actions are inconsequential to the main story of the game (Ethan’s son being kidnapped).
It’s a clever twist on paper, however the way it is executed leaves something to be desired in the context of the overall game. When you realize what’s happening the first time, there’s this shock of amazement and a “whoa!” moment. But it’s a surface level excitement that fades away once you go back and think on the game.
The story also gets very messy in trying to disguise the identity of the Origami Killer. One plotline involves Ethan blacking out and waking up in the middle of the street (the same street every time, if I recall correctly). Because he loses time, it’s supposed to make you think Ethan might be the killer or have a second personality. But this plotline is dropped midway through the game and his blackouts are never explained.
Now let’s talk about Madison. Madison is, essentially, only in the game to titillate the viewer and be around for the male protagonist Ethan to hook up with at the end of the game if they survive. In her first scene of the game, she takes a shower and you get to see her in her naked CG glory. Later in the game she has to perform a striptease for a bad guy for…reasons, I’m sure. You also have the option of making her and Ethan boink WHILE Ethan’s son is still missing and she’s known Ethan for all of thirty minutes.
I see so much plot relevance in this scene. So much plot.
And when she’s not being sexy, she’s being captured and put in distress in torture porn-esque situations. There’s a sequence where robbers break into her apartment to grab her and hold her down for no reason before killing her, but this is revealed to only be a dream so it serves absolutely no purpose other than to make her run around in nothing but her underwear for a bit. In another chapter she’s ambushed and captured by a random other killer and is again tied down in another torture porn situation.
Madison adds absolutely nothing to the so-called “narrative” that David Cage wishes to tell in his games. If you remove all her chapters from the game, the story stays the exact same except Ethan doesn’t have a new girlfriend at the end of it. The way the game treats Madison is why I don’t have trouble believing that Cage is a sexist and that the other stuff is probably true as well. She’s written like a girl from an old-school horror flick that’s only there to be naked for a bit before dying – except she has even less personality.
If all this wasn’t enough, the gameplay isn’t particularly great either. All the actual action is based off of QTEs (quick time events) that test your reaction time to press buttons. Some of the sequences are pretty thrilling – the first trial that Ethan participates in is probably the best action sequence of the game. You have to drive head-on through traffic and have split-second reaction time. Of course, you can’t actually die during this sequence, only fail the trial, so some of the oomph of it is taken out once you realize this.
And that happens with a lot of the sequences, actually. Much like Until Dawn (where once you figure out when the characters can actually die, the tension in the game relaxes a bit) when you look at Heavy Rain from the outside and know the overall plot, a lot of the chapters become filler and not important. Take the market chase with Jayden – it turns into an outright Benny Hill video when you fail at it. Until Dawn succeeds at being a good game because despite losing the thrill of the “anyone can die at any moment” aspect, multiple playthroughs of the game can still be fun. Meanwhile, Heavy Rain is a game best played only once, despite having multiple endings because the game starts to break down heavily on multiple playthroughs.
So that’s why Heavy Rain is a bad game. I never played Beyond: Two Souls because of how my thoughts on Heavy Rain soured, and I’m very cautious of Detroit: Become Human (despite good previews). Between the work environment accusations and not being sure Cage’s storytelling has matured at all, I’m going to wait and see just how the game plays out once the hype dies down.
And I’m running the other way if the female android gets naked.