Let’s not mess about, this is going to be something pretty special.
The final game I played at EGX was Detroit: Become Human. I had scheduled to jump on it the day before but as ever, time gets away from you at events like this. Still, I’m glad I waited to the end of my time there to play this one. My final experience of EGX was of a game that I’ve waited an awfully long time to play and without wanting to sound hyperbolic, it was one of the most nerve-shredding demos I may have ever played.
As I took my place ready to jump in, it popped up on the screen that this was the E3 demo of Detroit, so there’s a chance there are already a hundred write-ups and hot takes online about it, but I’m gonna try to describe it without my heart beating out of my chest. It may not work, but dammit I’m gonna give it a go.
You play the demo as Connor, an android who has been called to a hostage situation atop a rather fancy apartment building. As you walk into the room you’re told by the Captain of the militant force that an android named Daniel who had been employed by the family who lived in the building has gone rogue and has Emma, the daughter of the family on the roof, held hostage. It’s up to you to talk him down and save Emma, which is much easier said than done.
To do this, I was tasked with filling up a percentage bar, which presented the probability of saving Emma. It’s pretty low, I take a look out of the window and see Daniel holding Emma with a gun to her head. The militant force are powerless so turn to you to try and speak to one of your own kind into not killing Emma, instead moving her to safety. A prompt then came up on the screen which said ‘look for clues around the room’, so as you turn around you’re moving around the apartment to find anything which will be able to help you in this situation. From reading tablets, to magazine covers and watching a live news feed of the exact situation you’re in from a helicopter giving you a different angle, allowing you to see if you could take a certain route to save Emma. You go into Emma’s bedroom and find headphones that are still playing music, letting you learn that she couldn’t hear gunshots when Daniel turned on his owners. As I walked out of the bedroom I find a body on the floor, which is Emma’s father. It’s here as I move closer to investigate that Connor can try to deduce what happened and see if it offers up any clues.
You navigate the body like it’s a crime scene from L.A. Noire, moving towards areas which have impacted the most on the victim and try to find any answers as to why Daniel has turned on his family. Once you’ve checked all of the wounds, you’re able to play back a recreation of the murder in your head, though it’s not quite complete. As you’re watching the replay you’ll see fragments that aren’t quite complete and will have to look a little closer to bind them all together. It’s here where you’ll see that a tablet was dropped, and perhaps there is information on there which connects the evenings events. I swipe on the touch pad on the Dual Shock to open the tablet, and learn that Daniel’s owners were in the middle of purchasing a new android and replacing Daniel, which may explain his actions.
Moving away from that area I come across another body, this time of a police officer. No tablet. Instead, you find a gun and as you go to reach for it, a message comes up on the screen which says ‘androids cannot carry weapons’, or something to that effect. So you have the option then of breaking your robotic rules or carrying on without the weapon. I chose without, as they seemed to have little effect on Daniel if this entire army that surrounds this house isn’t able to talk him down. My percentage rate of probability is moving a little higher now and so now is the time to head outside and try to reason with Daniel before Emma gets killed.
I began a dialogue with Daniel. At this point, the music in my headphones is getting louder, my heart is racing at a million miles an hour and I’m finding it difficult to decide what to do next as the game piles extra amounts of pressure on me to save Emma by throwing up a variety of options for me to do in response to the answers Daniel is giving me. It’s something I’m used to in games these days, but I don’t think the stakes have ever been this high and the bass drum in my ear is like a punch to the chest every time it’s kicked. I’m genuinely beginning to sweat and I don’t think a game has made me feel that way for a long time. The absolutely astonishing visuals aren’t necessarily helping in this situation, Emma looks too real to, her flinches and screams and tears rolling down her cheeks means I have to get this correct or else I’ll probably line back up and try to save her all over again.
As the dialogue continues between Connor and Daniel, my probability of success percentage is fluctuating. It goes up, then it goes down. Then it goes up, and then it goes down and I can feel my stomach doing knots. I’m doing everything I can to say the right thing to Daniel. I have a prompt to lie or tell the truth, so I tell the truth. I have a prompt to be forceful or reason with Daniel, so I choose to reason with him.
These choices allow my success rate to increase and yet, Daniel falls from the building, with Emma in hand…
I run to grab her and by some divine miracle, I’m able to capture her before she goes with him, but not at the expense of Connor, who flies over the side of the building with Daniel to certain destruction (at least I think, that’s where it all ended).
I take my headphones off, put down the controller and try to catch my breath. That 20 minute sequence was utterly stunning in its execution, encouraging complete focus on the situation along with some level of cognitive thinking. As a level it’s structured around exploration to reach a goal, but I’m sure I could have done better. I found out after the demo that I could have saved Connor as well as Emma, but for whatever reason I didn’t seem too shaken by this. I’m relieved I managed to save Emma at all. Perhaps when the game launches next year I can try to save Connor as well.
Detroit: Become Human was the best game I played at EGX, without a single shadow of a doubt. I knew in some form it was going to be good, but not that good. Not so good that I’m still thinking about it now. What could I have done more to save Connor too? Could I have reasoned more with Daniel? I don’t think so. There was a military helicopter flying above. If I didn’t do what Daniel told me to do and tell it to leave could I have survived the encounter?
I won’t get these answers anytime soon but for now, I’m absolutely amazed by the Detroit: Become Human experience I was fortunate enough to play. The game has skyrocketed to the top of my must-have list next year. If the rest of the game lives up to that kind of nerve-shredding tension and brilliantly absorbing gameplay mechanic, it’s going to be something very, very special.