Detroit: Become Human is available everywhere and folks have the chance to see the full scope of Quantic Dream's latest title. Detroit carries forward some of the consistent flaws of past Quantic Dream games, including a lack of subtlety in its storytelling, some odd dialog choices, and pacing issues. However, the game succeeds in its overall presentation, with some excellent environmental art, character performance capture, and soundtrack choices.
Where Detroit: Become Human improves the most over its predecessors is in the game's new Flowchart feature.
In my review, I said that Detroit: Become Human and most of Quantic Dream's modern titles are essentially big-budget visual novels. One reader compared them to the full-motion video (FMV) games from the late 80s and early 90s. Both styles of game have their roots in something a bit older: Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) books.
If you've never heard of them, the Choose Your Own Adventure book series was originally published by Bantam Books. The first release was The Cave of Time, written by Edward Packard, which placed the reader on a winding journey across time itself. The series was pretty popular, leading to spin-off series and books with a similar format from other publishers, like the Find Your Fate, Endless Quest, Give Yourself Goosebumps series.
Choose Your Own Adventure books aren't meant to be read in a linear manner. Despite some of the illustrations accompanying the books, the reader is generally assumed to be the protagonist in most Choose Your Own Adventure books. The reader would read through the book and then be prompted to make different choices at the end of a page or chapter. Depending on their choice, they're told to turn to a different page in the book to see their outcome. While some of the outcomes were positive and continued the story, Choose Your Own Adventure books were rather nonchalant about killing off the reader. You'd flip to your chosen page to find out that you fell down a pit, got caught in a trap, or were simply were eaten by an appropriately-themed monster.
Reading Choose Your Adventure books wasn't straightforward, with the reader stopping once they had reached an ending. Most readers who received a bad ending would simply backtrack to the previous page and make a new choice. Instead of preceding in a linear fashion (A > B > C > D > E), Choose Your Own Adventure books encouraged you to freely jump around (A > B > C > B > D > F).
Video games focused on stories are generally taken as interactive fiction. Text adventures like Zork and Aventure popped up on personal computers prior to Choose Your Own Adventure books taking off. (That style persists today, notably in games built with Twine.) The idea of branching stories continued forward into FMV games, many CRPGs, and later, the works of developers like Quantic Dream and Telltale Games.
The problem with many of these games, even from the very beginning, is that while you have choices, the games themselves play out in linear fashion. You start at the beginning and make choices until you arrive at a good or bad ending. Regardless of which type of ending you receive, if you want to make a different choice, you have to go all the way back to the beginning. Later titles offered multiple save files, letting players drop a digital bookmark at a certain point, but a number of interactive fiction developers tend to frown upon this.
With Detroit: Become Human, Quantic Dream does caution the player, noting that the game is intended to be played in a single sitting: one branching, unique experience from beginning to end based on your choices. But with the addition of the Flowchart, the player is enabled to jump back to specific sections and try something different. If you didn't like the outcome of a choice, you can quit back to the main menu, open the Chapter Select, and choose the story branch that leads back to your erroneous choice.
The Flowchart allows the player to see the bones of Quantic Dream's interactive work in the same way you could slowly puzzle out the framework of a Choose Your Own Adventure book. You can see how many branches jump off of a section, or how many endings a specific chapter has. It's Quantic Dream saying to the player, "This is how everything comes together."
For example, in the very first chapter of the game, players control Connor, a high-end android sent to negotiate a hostage situation. At the end of my very first playthrough of that chapter, I inadvertently chose "Self-Sacrifice" as my option. Connor saves the hostage, but ends up taking several bullets to the chest, ultimately deactivating.
I was just getting to know Connor, so that wasn't going to fly for me. I finished the chapter, quit back to the main menu, looked at the Chapter flowchart real quick, and then made a different decision. Connor survived, which is what I wanted. This is an early choice, meaning I could've done the same in another game, but here I can do it at any time. I used the feature to jump back another three times over the course of my first playthrough, and I'm glad I didn't have to start over from the beginning each time.
I understand that developers are reticent to offer this feature. Many of the earlier Telltale Games present the illusion of choice: things branch out and look different, but all your choices tend to lead back to a choke point. That's because the episodic nature of those games mean they need to control for the beginning of each future episode. Mass Effect 3's ending was slammed for the same problem, with three games worth of choices boiled down to a single final option. Quantic Dream's strength here is all the various choices are contained within a single game: you can have wildly different endings because the studio doesn't have to worry about you carrying those endings forward into a sequel or subsequent episode.
More options are always more beneficial to the player. Mega Man Legacy Collection offers a Rewind feature that lets you reverse the last few seconds of mistakes. Divinity: Original Sin 2 Definitive Edition offers a new Story mode, giving players who care more about the narrative than the combat a chance to enjoy this excellent role-playing game.
Likewise, Detroit: Become Human's Flowchart gives me the option to say, "No, I didn't like that outcome. Let me do it again." Developers shouldn't be afraid of that. I still experienced the outcome of my original choice, but I also don't have to jump back many hours to make a different choice. If anything, seeing the Flowchart helps players appreciate how complex some of Detroit's chapters truly are. It shows the hard work put into Quantic Dream's branching story and how confident the developer is in its wide range of story options.
Don't be afraid of showing the player what's happening behind-the-scenes. It allows the the chance to see exactly how much work goes into a branching narrative, and gives them a chance to see all the different places their story can go. And having that ability honestly makes Detroit: Become Human a better overall experience.