By Harold Goldberg
He had been doing interviews all day long. As evening broke, Quantic Dream studio head David Cage sat on a hotel couch, a triple-sized TV image of Valorie Curry’s face to his right. Curry, perhaps best remembered for her work in the cult leader/serial killer drama “The Following,” is one of the stars of Detroit: Become Human. It’s Sony’s latest narrative rich game which hits stores on May 25.
The science fiction tale that takes place in the not-so-distant future is about enslaved androids who have developed deep empathy. It stars “Grey’s Anatomy’s” Jessie Williams as android Markus. Critical commentary has been mixed prior to this release. In the years leading up to its debut, trailers for fans and an hour or so of gameplay for writers has been offered up, sometimes leading to positive observations, sometimes leading to downright vitroil in social media.
The anger sometimes centers upon cultural appropriation. Cage’s story clearly draws inspiration from the civil rights struggle of the 1960’s. He is also writing dialogue for a person of color. In one scene, Williams’ character Markus is beaten by a mob simply because he’s an android. After a cop grudgingly stops the beating, Markus moves to the back of a bus that’s made for “Androids Only.” It echoes everything from Martin Luther King’s civil rights marches (which turned sadly violent and changed a nation) to Rosa Parks, the courageous activist who on December 1, 1955 refused to sit at the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
But no has seen the full game as of yet. No one knows how the full course of the narrative will play out. I myself had difficulty with a scene in which the Kara is beaten by the abusive father of a young girl named Alice. At that point the controls were not as precise as they are now, so it was difficult for me (playing as Curry’s Kara) to save her.
Due to personal reasons, the scene hit so close to home that I was left saddened and depressed for hours. Ultimately though I’m no marketing expert, I felt it was a mistake to release the content without context. You’re thrown into a scene of violence without backstory.
Yet in my mind as a critic, I always fight to keep an open mind until the full game is released to the world. From what I played last week, it’s clear there’s a whole here that can indeed end with honesty and hope. The new scenes prove that Curry becomes a big sister/mother figure to Alice, protecting her in a future Detroit that is often full of hate.
After listening to this podcast, you’ll perhaps agree that “Detroit” is Cage’s baby more than “Heavy Rain” or “Beyond: Two Souls.” Not only does he write and direct the game, he also wrote and played the introductory theme on piano.
That’s very impressive. But it didn’t prevent me from asking Cage some difficult, serious questions.
Author/journalist Harold Goldberg is the founder of the New York Videogame Critics Circle and the New York Game Awards.