In my review for Detroit: Become Human, a new sci-fi game about androids on the PlayStation 4, I described the scene where Markus (Jessie Williams) plays the piano for his human, Carl (Lance Henriksen). It’s been a week, and I can’t get the scene out of my head. It’s not just because of the scene’s emotional gravity that pulls you into orbit through the screen, nor is it because it has such gorgeous cinematography of a warm autumn sunrise. It succeeds because it nails the most basic function of a video game: It’s extremely fun to play.
Detroit: Become Human has the most intuitive piano gameplay ever in a video game. It’s simple, addictive, and really makes you feel like you’re behind a baby grand Bechstein even though you’re just tapping mindlessly on a Dualshock. If you ever wanted to feel like a master of Chopin who could blow the roof off Lincoln Center, play Detroit: Become Human. The rest of the game is fine, but the piano mini-game is an all-timer.
The game happens in the early moments of Markus’s time caring for Carl, before everything goes to hell. (No spoilers.) After serving Carl his breakfast, Carl asks Markus to pass the time doing something else. Across the room is the piano. Go and sit down. You’re prompted to pick a mood: “Melancholic,” “Hopeful”, “Intimate”, and “Enigmatic.” I recommend “Hopeful.”
After a short series of prompts, the game directs you to swipe and tap the touchpad. Soon, Markus enters a rhythm, and from there you can play at whatever pace you please. Wanna play fast? Tap fast. Want to slow down? Just slow down, and the music matches. This isn’t Guitar Hero, you’re not concerned with getting a high score with expertly timed notes. True to Detroit’s preoccupation for providing a cinematic experience in a game, your only goal is to take in these moments of quiet before your world is turned upside down.
It’s truly some of the most intuitive shit ever, this mechanic. I admit I haven’t played close to a dozen games on the PlayStation 4, so if there’s a better use of the Dualshock touchpad I’d like to hear it. Until then, Detroit wins in my book for this simple but effective little min-game that does wonders to sell its themes of artificial intelligence awakening to something inside that feels alive. If only the rest of the game was as engaging as playing the piano.
Detroit: Become Human is available now.