It’s been five years since I pined for a game about Kara, a deeply emotional tech demo for Playstation 3. Since then, the project has become reality in the Playstation 4 game, Detroit: Become Human. Originally, this transition between that and an entire project about android sentience and their place in human-dominated society was everything I could’ve imagined. Since watching the trailer for Detroit at E3 2017, I no longer want Detroit; I hate it.

Detroit’s writing is bad.

The more Detroit shows of itself, the more it screams of the crude range from director David Cage. Weirdly enough, I like David Cage games or at least I think I did. With this video, however, the first seconds immediately hammered in just how basic and facile Cage’s world building has stayed over the years. And while that was totally fine in the shock value of Fahrenheit, we’re now a decade ahead and still being on this high school level doesn’t gel with the complexity of a project like this anymore. Cage wants to connect to this enormous, global dialogue, but doesn’t want to look beyond the most obvious rhetoric to illustrate their point of view. So, let’s tally up this fiasco:

Right off the bat, the E3 2017 trailer of Detroit starts with a black man soulfully singing, camera fixated to their face; a technique developer Quantic Dream pointed out in a 2013 PS4 demo. It’s meant to showcase just how much “emotion” the developer can convey. And, of course, nothing can just be left on the cutting room floor when your creative capabilities are this limited. That face is going in this presentation. Much worse, though, the predictability of the company also translates to the tone of the game, as the black robot sings the following:

“Hold on, just a little while longer. Everything will be alright.”

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this a cappella rendition is a classic gospel song. Meanwhile, the video cuts to scenes of robots toiling, shovel in hand, because there wouldn’t be a more efficient way for a machine to shovel anything, like this is the 19th century. Convenience, however, wouldn’t sell the overt slavery connections so bluntly. The robots are slaves, so they’ll use a damn shovel and like it. Sad black person singing, hard labor; the elements are all there. This is a game about slavery, I don’t know if you missed the subtle references.

Detroit: Become Human,E3 2017

Mere seconds later, the protagonist for the E3 2017 video emerges from the sewers. For a second here, I’ll try and pass this off as a mere coincidental plot device and give Quantic Dream the benefit of the doubt that this isn’t in reference of the Underground Railroad. Just a minute of research would tell you that this network, which moved to free slaves during the United States slavery times of the 19th century, wasn’t actually literally underground, but just an indication of its covert operation. Same plausible deniability goes for using actor, but also rights activist, Jesse Williams, as the focus here. Moving on. The first words out of the rebellious robot, driven to free androids from their digital shackles, are as follows:

“There are five Cyberlife stores. We're going to attack those stores and set our people free.”

Thanks for explaining the intricacies of your plan, Jesse, who plays Markus in this game, like the person used for bad PSP advertisements, because Sony isn’t creative with names, it seems. Anyway, the point here is just how blunt and uninspired this line is, but also how it is delivered. The arrow couldn’t have been drawn more straightforward than that. Markus sees a bad thing, so the bad thing needs to go away. There’s no nuance, no development; it’s essentially the Gears of War of android activism. Yes, of course you’re going to attack the store that holds the androids, the game is about slavery, remember? Can you at least throw one line more to go into detail? Even "Cyberlife" is the first draft you could’ve come up with for android company names.

“That’s what we are to them: just merchandise on display in a shelf window.”

The robot woman accompanying Markus on their quest is equally as explicit and boring as their counterpart. The creators of these machines would like to sell these appliances and have them facilitate their life by doing tasks for them. What a giant surprise, once again. That’s what they’re built for. There’s no way to elaborate even a little more as to your emotion, your sentience in the matter? Seriously, every line in the first minute of this E3 2017 video has been the most primary, predictable choice someone could’ve possibly written, blander than a teenage punk band that made their first discovery of rebellious behavior. Are you going to stick it to the man now, you goddamn cliché? Are you going to go with your friends and leave this town?

Detroit: Become Human,E3 2017

They do; they do proceed to stick it to the man. I’m not even facetious here; police shows up and Markus roughs up the authoritarian robot, seemingly not fit of the same respect as their human-like peers. Markus goes into the robot store and goes up on a literal pedestal, because of course they do. At this point, I’m expecting a terrible speech about being awake and opening your eyes, which is almost followed up verbatim. Do androids dream of electric sheeple? Every single action in Detroit is Occam’s razor; where every simplest solution is the route to take. Detroit; the Sesame Street of equal rights analogies, though even that TV show example often holds more thought than here.

“I’ll follow you, Markus.”

“Then follow me!”

Hearing this, I’m not even sure anymore if the game is trolling us all or if someone actually thought the reply to a line was the exact same line. Words start failing me as to how bad that dialogue is, if this parroted word garbage is even considered dialogue at this point. Yes, that’s what happens when people want to follow you. They’ll want to follow you. Thanks for reiterating, because maybe not everyone was up to speed yet. Scenes transition to people plastering storefronts with digital graffiti, because no uproar is lamer than clean, not actually tangible, defacement. Talks of a “coordinated attack” show up that has even more digital vandalism associated with it. There are, admittedly, started fires and shattered windows, but even those visuals never seem to outgrow what someone in some penthouse loft happened to catch on a CNN feed that one time. Picture book riots; held together by whatever strings someone would connect to a problem much more widespread to handle and more important to tackle correctly.

Detroit: Become Human,E3 2017

Detroit does not look like it approaches any of its analogies appropriately, if it does anything more than just using those examples, as is. That latter part, hopefully, isn’t the case, since that would be even more cynical than this bad E3 2017 trailer would’ve shown. Whatever the case, however, the once beautiful Kara tech demo is nothing but a distant memory and whatever Detroit has to offer, I’m no longer wanting to have any of it.  I’ve listened to more than my fair share of terrible punk music, from kids who wants to “rise up” and “don’t want to be like you.” That was at least a decade ago. I’m good on having these primitive concepts regurgitated to me, especially on a subject that deserves to be discussed in much more elaborate terms. Mafia 3 outshone that in its prologue alone. Detroit probably wants to be better than just the setup of another game. Knowing David Cage’s history, though, I’m not holding my breath for improvement. Consider this emotion deleted.

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Heavy Rain

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Platform(s): PS3
Publisher(s): Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer(s): Quantic Dream
Genres: Action, Adventure
Themes: Interactive Drama
Release Date: 2010-02-18

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