'Detroit: Become Human' is a Dazzling, Dizzying Choose Your Own Adventure Story

For all its near-future sleekness and stunning visual polish, there's something endearingly quaint about Detroit: Become Human. It's the latest game from Quantic Dream, a narrative-driven adventure with a dizzying fractal of possibilities that also hums with the lo-fi spirit of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books found in middle-school libraries. Completionists will find plenty of reasons to revisit the story's branching narrative, but there's enough depth to the plot, characters and world to deliver a memorable experience in a single playthrough.

Detroit takes place in 2038, when advanced humanoid robots have become commonplace. Anyone can pick up a spiffy new android at their local mall for a few thousand bucks, and second-hand models come even cheaper. There are androids for everything: cleaners, construction workers, shop clerks, receptionists, even professional athletes and pop singers. (Yes, there are sexy-time bots, too.) The corporate monolith known as CyberLife has been a boon to Detroit, transforming the once-struggling city into a gleaming, gentrified metropolis. But not everyone benefits from the economic transformation. Scores of recently unemployed people deeply resent their android replacements.

Each chapter of Detroit alternates between three playable characters, all of them androids: Kara is a newly reconstructed domestic worker who looks after a young girl named Alice in a run-down neighborhood. Markus assists a famous painter with limited mobility in his home and studio. Connor (who will be familiar to those who played the "Hostage" demo) works alongside police to help solve crimes involving so-called "deviant" androids who become violent or exhibit free will in a way that subverts their owners' commands.

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Connor and Hank investigate a recent murder in 'Detroit: Become Human.' Sony

While Detroit's gameplay is primarily driven by dialogue, decisions and exploration, various interactions keep things lively and engaging. You'll perform many of the actions typical of an adventure game: sneak past guards, scale buildings, get into fights. But you'll also use every button on your PS4 controller to do things like wash dishes, stroke a paintbrush across a canvas, or tuck in a sleepy child. Throughout the game, you'll manage the close relationships of your three characters, as well as their actions and their impact on the general public's perception of androids. These factors don't seem particularly critical at first, but they become hugely important.

Through the eyes of your three androids, Detroit explores the potential social, political, ethical and personal implications of large-scale technological progress. The game shares certain preoccupations and themes with the fictions of Philip K. Dick and Ray Bradbury, but carves out a niche distinctly its own through careful world-building and nuanced consideration of class conflict, child abuse, sexual abuse, the nature of subjectivity and other wide-ranging topics. There's some truly spectacular setpieces and thrilling moments in Detroit, but I enjoyed my time with some characters more than others. With a few exceptions, Kara's sections grew repetitive, leaving me eager to switch back to Connor or Markus.

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Kara during a quiet moment in 'Detroit: Become Human.' Sony

Throughout your playthrough, Detroit's home-screen android concierge, Chloe, encourages you to commit to the consequences of your decisions in your first playthrough, without taking any mulligans. From my experience, this was easier to stomach in theory than in practice. I was caught off-guard (snacking IRL) during a rapid-fire trigger event more than once, resulting in silly but costly mistakes. Other times, a decision I felt was the "right" one yielded unexpectedly disastrous consequences.

As you become more invested in the characters and the story draws to its conclusion, it becomes unpalatable to let those kinds of missteps slide. This anxious impulse to take a do-over sometimes made it difficult to enjoy the ride, and a couple of times I found myself rushing through the remainder of a chapter simply to go back for a cleaner run, mindful of the "mistakes" I made. If you're at all inclined to analysis paralysis, you'll find those tendencies kicking in hard as you play through Detroit.

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Markus tends to Carl in 'Detroit: Become Human.' Sony

Much as been said in pre-release coverage about how Detroit lets you "rewind" your decisions and actions, but it's really not that lickety-split in practice. You'll need to complete the chapter all the way through once in order to save your progress and revisit it again. Then, you need to return to the main menu and select Chapters. Chapters often include a few checkpoints dotted along the flow chart, but sometimes you have to replay the entire scenario all over again. As tempting as it is to return to earlier points in the story and play around, it's a bit more daunting when you're locked in for a solid chunk of time, rehashing stuff you've already done. It would be nice to have the option to fast-forward at least some scenes after completing a chapter, but given that all of the game is fully animated and voiced, it's difficult to imagine how such an option would actually work.

I went back to play around with alternate outcomes after completing the story for the first time, and at first I felt I was being forced back onto the rails. But once I stopped giving into the impulse to do a "clean" playthrough, and instead exposed the three leads to more risks and allowed them to make choices I'd come to feel were out of character, more twists and turns unfolded. Granted, many of those new paths resulted in catastrophe, but it was freeing to be able to indulge that curiosity. You can see many radically different endings in this game, but some are longer and more detailed than others.

My initial playthrough, with some light cheating, took about 12-13 hours, but looking over my flow charts, there's loads of stuff I didn't see, and even major supporting characters I never met. Some people will play Detroit essentially once and still get a bang out of it. Even as a single serving, it's a memorable and affecting experience. But the real riches to be found will be reserved for those explore all the nooks and crannies, unlocking every node of every decision tree; it's a game that seems destined give rise to a lively community of devoted completionists.

Detroit: Become Human comes to PS4 May 25.

Detroit Become Human Player
Rocco Marrongelli / Newsweek