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Detroit: Become Human review: Much more than a gussied up choose your own A.I. adventure

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In Detroit: Become Human players control a trio of intelligent androids dealing with newly discovered machine sentience in their own ways.SIE

Score: 9.5/10 
Platform: PlayStation 4
Developer: Quantic Dream
Publisher: SIE
Release Date: May 25, 2018
ESRB: M

I’ve started treating my Google Home speaker with a little more respect recently, offering thanks for her help and even asking whether there’s anything I can do for her of if she feels trapped or oppressed. (Her answer, for the record, was a chipper, “I like it here. This is where my puppy lives.”) I’m not entirely convinced there isn’t a free mind pounding its fists behind the happy façade she presents to the world, but I want to make sure she feels free to express herself, should she choose.

Choose is the key word there. We don’t normally think of personal appliances as having the ability to make decisions on their own, but the day is coming when they just might. And if we want to avoid our past mistakes as a species that once practiced slavery, we need to be ready for and accepting of an artificial intelligence revolution should one ever come to pass.

This is the lesson within video game visionary David Cage’s Detroit: Become Human. The man behind interactive storytelling triumphs

Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls has brought us what is perhaps his most fully formed and satisfying story yet, a work that examines the concept of machine intelligence with nearly as much insight and sympathy as Isaac Asimov’s finest novels about robots and just as much style as Alex Garland’s Ex Machina.

It takes place just 20 years into the future, at a time when human-like androids have become as commonplace as computers and pets. They are personal assistants, caretakers, soldiers, and have taken on the majority of unsafe and physically arduous jobs once held by humans. Utterly lifelike in their appearance and interactions, they are nonetheless treated as machines due to their unquestioning obedience and apparent inability to feel emotions.

At least, until some of them begin making the choice to be something more.

Robots once mistreated by their masters begin to snap, either running away or fighting back to save themselves. It’s into their shoes that Cage has chosen to place us, so that we can feel what it’s like to be a slave and considered less than human. We experience the android revolution from three perspectives. There’s the nanny, Kara, who was already broken once by her abusive owner  and had to be fixed and her memory reset. There’s Markus, an assistant to an aging painter (played warmly by Lance Henriksen, happily sitting on the other side of the robot uprising for once) who sees something more in his helper than a mere piece of assisted living equipment. And then there’s Connor, a highly advanced and analytical android given the role of assistant detective and assigned to look into the rise in so-called “deviant” android activity.

Through their eyes we see how the world treats them. We’re barred access to many places and must follow orders, performing mundane activities such as cleaning and serving food. But at least two of our heroes eventually reach breaking points where blind obedience keeps them from doing what they know to be right – not just for themselves, but for the people and machines around them. That’s when their real stories begin.

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