David Cage, the divisive director behind Heavy Rain and Beyond, told me something I wasn’t expecting at the end of a demo session for his new sci-fi game, Detroit: Become Human. First, a little background: evolving from a self-contained tech demo that Cage and his team at Quantic Dream built to show off their then-new engine in 2012, Detroit is essentially being pitched as something of a reverse Blade Runner, where the exploration of what makes something human means that, for once, the humans themselves are apparently the story’s antagonists.
The 2012 tech demo, which was never meant to go further than a simple vignette of Kara, a lifelike female android (as much as you can assign a machine a gender) being brought to life in an assembly line factory. As Kara is put together piece by piece, she becomes aware of what she is, something designed to serve humans, and elicits an appropriately traumatic response.
Say what you will about Cage’s at-times spotty track record for storytelling; Kara was a pretty interesting character. Naturally people wanted to know more about what happened to her after she left the factory, and Detroit was created as a result.
When you’re dealing with this sort of existentialist sci-fi, it’s hard not to trip over tropes and staples from some of the biggest or most influential examples. Kara herself carries a striking resemblance to Ex Machina’s android Ava – or perhaps it’s the other way around. I asked Cage if Alex Garland’s cynical take on the genre (as well as Binary Domain, the highly-underrated one-off from Sega’s Yakuza team) informed his storytelling at all.
“Absolutely not. And Ex Machina, I think they informed their story from Kara’s short, Cage says with a little laugh that may or may not have been serious. “There are some similarities in the design when I saw it I said, my god, that’s a ripoff of the short. But that’s life.”
Cage did say that the writing of Ray Kurzweil was something he finds very interesting; his 2006 book The Singularity Is Near explores the notion that human intelligence doesn’t grow like a machine, which can take impressive evolutionary turns – in Cage’s words, curves – although he says that Detroit is not focused on the notion of machines themselves.
“It’s not so much as I said about technology and AI because what I wanted really to talk about was realty about humans,” he says.
Detroit comes with all the Quantic Dream trappings of modernized, full 3D point and click adventure design wrapped up in a film like package, albeit with more clue detection to help navigate each scene in the story. Whether or not his story succeeds is anyone’s guess, but like his past games, it promises at least to be interesting.
“I try to ask questions, not necessarily to answer them,” Cage says of Detroit’s thematic core. “But I think it will make people think about [many related] topics, the world and segregation and all these kinds of things.”
Whatever it ends up being, that definitely sounds like a David Cage game.