Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Detroit: Become Human Review

Quantic Dream’s latest IP (Intellectual Property), Detroit: Become Human is a complex and intense game with multiple branching storylines that will conform to your choices with surprisingly meaningful results. A first playthrough of the game will run an average player roughly 10-12 hours so, on the outset, that doesn't seem like a very lengthy story, however, with so many alternative paths, the game has a significantly high replay value and it's incredibly fulfilling just to see what could have occurred had one of the other protagonists decided to make a different choice in an unfolding scenario.

There are three main protagonists: Connor (portrayed by Bryan Dechart) a prototype model that acts as an investigator/negotiator whose assignment is to discover the root cause of androids becoming "deviant", Kara (portrayed by Valorie Curry, recently seen as "Dot" in Amazon’s live action revival of The Tick), a housekeeper android who must care for a little girl named Alice, and Markus (portrayed by Jesse Williams whom is well known on Grey’s Anatomy) another caretaker model who looks after Carl, a renowned painter. Markus eventually believes androids should share equal rights with humans based upon the teachings of his mentor.

In Detroit, it’s the year 2038. The CyberLife corporation (largely responsible for the events that transpire) has invented affordable, lifelike androids that perfectly mimic people in appearance and capability. They can wash the dishes, fold the laundry, cook, tend to your children...they are the epitome of working class labor. However, over time, "deviancy" begins to rise and the androids begin to acquire free will. As such, the player will interact with these characters and discover their personal journeys and role in the grand scheme of the sentience movement.

Based on your decisions, you can change each androids personalities or motivations as well as the tone of their individual stories. The plethora of options are vast and numerous between chapters and checkpoints. How much control you have over the narrative varies wildly from moment to moment, from traditional and clear branching paths to more linear sections where you’re simply providing flavour (sincere, direct, or sarcastic responses).

My favorite character by far was Connor. He inevitably partners up with a human Lieutenant, named Hank Anderson (Portrayed by Clancy Brown). The initial relationship was somewhat hostile at first, but in my first playthrough, I intended to be the best partner I could to the Lieutenant and he eventually warmed up to me. He ended up being a great ally and one that was surprisingly supportive, especially in the final act. I grew very attached to both of them as they carried out their investigation. A grizzled cop and a cheerful android.

Kara’s story is deeply personal and intimate, taking on a very materialistic tone, one that is somewhat refreshing when compared to the machismo, adrenaline-fueled, and testosterone packed stories of Connor and Markus. It's a nice change of pace that provides a welcome contrast to all the running around and explosion dodging you do with the other characters.

All of the characters portrayals show a stunning amount of non-verbal expressiveness. The level of detail you can see in their faces is simply remarkable; facial hair, blemishes, freckles, and smile lines are all rendered in captivating detail with the animation showing just as much dedication. Even the weather effects are elloquently designed, with both the snow and the rain coating the characters and environments in a delicate manner. This game's environmental effects have to be some of the best implementation of weather to date. This game truly is a great experience to partake in.

One of the reasons I enjoyed Connor's storyline so much was due to the implementation of the "detective mode" allows players to scan the environment to reconstruct crime scenes, and fast-forward or rewind possible frames of time,

Markus in particular has a different ability that allows him to ‘pre-construct’ scenarios before executing them. I would have liked the opportunity to play around with this ability just a bit more, but even so, it was a neat feature that kept the gameplay fresh and unique.

SPOILER WARNING!!!

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Chloe at the main menu screen and it was nice that she greeted you each time you booted up the game. (In my case though, I didn't realize she would comment upon your progression. I played through the entire story all in one sitting and set her free). I was disappointed that she left and that the main menu screen would not have any replacement assistant or greeter.

My biggest gripe was that Markus gains a romantic love interest in North (portrayed by
Minka Kelly), and I felt like that was very forced. It wasn't quite as gradual of a progression as one would have hope and I honestly didn't like her character to begin with, so when the option came for me to kiss her on screen, I turned her down EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I didn't like that she was so negative and unsupportive of my pacifist approach towards gaining android freedom. As such, I was taken aback with shock and utter disgust when she attempted to swoon Markus. I simply didn't ask for any of it to happen, so it felt largely out of place.

Another issue I had was with the elevator scene at CyberLife with Connor. There were no non-lethal options and it infuriated me that up until this point I had ensured that he would not use a firearm to arm innocents nor would he disobey the android laws with regard to an unauthorized concealed carry of a handgun. Yet, the game and story would not allow me to pursue my anti-gun ideal. This even happened during the raid of Jericho and I kept asking myself "Where did he get the gun from? Who gave my RK 800 android a gun?!?" It sort of broke the immersion for me just a bit.

The characters can be quite robust and during play, gamers will grow attached to them over time, so much so that it becomes a real challenge to keep the androids away from danger and a sort of pseudo-fear creeps in during the quick time events that a character may not make it out of the scene alive with each failed button press.

The stakes were suitably high - particularly in its final act and I was adamant about Connor in particular. So much so that I was frantically trying everything I could to prevent what I would have considered to be an utter betrayal of my sanity.

Quantic Dream was extremely clever in allowing players to see the multitude of paths transparently through flowcharts introduced at the end of each chapter. This allows players to picture just how differently an intense scene could have played out if you had failed at certain points, enticing you to play through again.

Detroit: Become Human is an astoundingly interactive sci-fi drama where your choices can truly impact events to a greater and more satisfying degree than in most games of this genre.

Score:

8.5/10.0

B+ Solid storytelling with strong emotionally engaging characters

Monday, April 2, 2018

ReBoot: The Guardian Code - Needs Several Upgrades, Some Recoding, and Patchwork



ReBoot: The Guardian Code is a Canadian animation/live-action adventure produced by Netflix and Mainframe Entertainment Studios involving four teenagers enrolled in a technocratic high school, complete with unnecessary teenage drama. The four intrepid heroes consist of Austin aka Vector (Ty Wood), Tamra aka Engima (Sydney Scotia), Parker aka Googz (Ajay Friese) and Trey aka D-frag (Gabriel Darku).

The original ReBoot aired in 1994, and was a bit of a landmark milestone in animation. This was a CGI cartoon that was released one year before Toy Story hit the big screen which set the standard for the medium and propelled it forward. Several characters from the original make an appearance in some form or other (at least in the last half). Despite the acknowledgement of its origins and nostalgia, I felt like, the new series was fairly cringe worthy.

There’s an evil and mysterious hacker called "The Sourcerer", an awkard villain that tends to talk to himself. He seems to be attacking random parts of the internet in order to bring about chaos and pandemonium for no real rhyme or reason. (Audiences are left questioning his motives. What brought him down this dark path? Why does he want to cause disorder and cyber-terrorism?) The only time we ever see the fruits of the Sourcerer's labor is when the supercomputer (NOVA X3J) is stolen from the POGO Computer Systems Tech Lab. More processing power makes him formidable as a foil to the Guardians, and that's the only time his actions are ever explained in a cohesive manner.

Using his technological prowess, he revives Megabyte, a super-virus that the Guardians of the past sealed away. He then upgrades him with a new (albeit still distinguishable) look, and some formidable abilities with a built-in deletion code should he ever betray his new "master".

Audience members can easily determine that this nameless individual must be a malicious hacker because he wears a dark hoodie, with the cowl up, for the vast majority of the show’s 10-episode run. The trope that "Evil Makes You Ugly" exists here alongside a very dirty and poorly illuminated lair and thanks to a few lingering shots on his hands, we can see that he has absolutely filthy fingernails. He quite literally reeks of evil. To me, this is just poor hygiene and in poor taste. He scarfs Chinese food like a caveman and has absolutely no tact or manners. It's the kind of thing I do not want to see on the big screen.


The latest addition to the series has numerous faults, which include cheesy, outdated dialogue, problems with the acting quality during HUD (Heads Up Display) moments, and significant plotholes. (Granted, the first season is only 10 episodes, but with that in mind, more time needs to be spent addressing and fine tuning these issues.) Two episodes alone are spent trying to recover a spherical portion of data from Megabyte's throne room and the second attempt is rendered completely futile. (Why Austin doesn't pocket the orb and ensure its safety I will never know. It completely boggles my mind that he would be that irresponsible TWICE. Teenagers can act irrationally at times, but they CAN learn from mistakes.) It ends up only piquing Megabyte's curiousity even further than was necessary.

The show manages to have a nice clear shot of the "Gender Neutral" bathroom when Parker aka Googz (Ajay Friese) get a text alert from V.E.R.A the Virtual Evolutionary Recombinant Avatar, (Hannah Vandenbygaart), an Artificial Intelligence program that ends up with a humanoid body at the end of the first episode. I think this was to make the school appear more "advanced" or "progressive". It felt sort of out of place.

Personally, I feel as though the power outage in first two episodes was not made more dire and should have been. They needed to emphasize that even with backup generators, people could die without life saving medical treatments in hospitals, there would be traffic accidents caused by the blackouts, et cetera in order to really drive the sense of urgency and significance home.

Another particular concern of mine is that ReBoot: The Guardian Code just can't seem to get the tone right. One minute it's campy and cautiously optimistic, and the next it gets dark, intense, and drastic without proper gradual progression (this was clearly evident when Austin decides to visit his father's grave).

The potential risk of fatality was also something that should've been at the forefront when V.E.R.A was explaining to the rest of the Guardian what their mission objectives were. Why do they not have heart monitors in the software? Even if they're atomized into the code, (and can later bleed from wounds) there should be some monitoring visualization of increased heart rate or lack thereof.


Another complaint is that some of the terminology used is either horribly wrong, or a total mouthful when it should just roll of the tongue. D-frag has a weapon called Bashtagger? Why not just call it a Cyber Mace? They use the word "cyber" so much it's as if the term is going out of style...cyberspace itsleef is used so often that it feels as though you can make a drinking game based on every mention per episode. They also shouldn't be announcing every action or weapon they utilize. That's poor tactics.

The "Sourcerer" (terrible pun name by the way) constantly says "Impossible. IMPOSSIBLE!" during many of his botched attempts at taking over real world networks and he sounds like Asher Mir, the Fragmented Researcher from Destiny 2. (It's about as annoying as the loot drops in that virtual world.)

One thing that was sort of bothering me as well is that the series is so close to many of its predecessors that there's a lack of uniqueness (It's as if they copied Code Lyoko and VR Troopers). There should be a trope of "Genius courts Cybergirl" because Parker is just like Jeremie Belpois trying to date Aelita Schaeffer (Code Lyoko). The situation only differs slightly in that V.E.R.A was born as an Artificial Intelligence made human whereas Aelita was a human girl trapped in a supercomputer. It's only one of several similarities between the shows, many of which I feel have been ripped off completely. Googz's Proto Blaster in the third episode titled "Fortress Command" is basically just War Machine's Gatling Gun. (Honestly though, I thought that was a cooler weapon than what he ended up with later on.)

Also, another deeply odd and out of place moment is when Austin's mom mentions that she has bacon chocolate chip cookies in the oven...WHY?!? Why would the writers subject us to such horrible culinary terror?!?

Some of the plot holes of the series are also never addressed. How do the guardians have access to the school during closed hours? That's something that always bugged the heck out of me.

There's also a lot of really, REALLY bad dialogue. For example, the Sourcerer says "We're just beginning, getting started." (Yes, that's what came up in the closed captions too.) It should've been "We're just beginning to get started." It's a classic line and if it's not broken, don't fix it.

The problems in the real world are never fully organized in a coherent fashion. In on episode, Trey aka D-frag (Gabriel Darku) is in hot water with his father due to having sub-par grades. If he can't maintain a B average, he'll be kicked off of the basketball team. However, at the end of the episode, he passes the test with no signs of increased effort on his part to study other than a small reminder about semicolons from Parker. That's not how studying and preparation works...you're supposed to show the added effort to memorize and practice.

There are some nostalgic moments from the original series.

SPOILER WARNING!!!

Bob, Dot, and Enzo make a brief cameo towards the end of the series along with their "user", some random fanboy of the Guardians living in the basement of his parent's home (wow, way to stereotype there, Mainframe Studios!).Yet we never see any sign of adult Enzo or AndrAIa, the two characters I was most looking forward to.

Hexidecimal returns at the end too in order to help stir up more trouble, but nothing gets really resolved. The Sourcerer is still at large, along with Megabyte, and no one is safe.

Overall, this gets a 6.5/10.0 D

The animation is pretty good (except for the "rubberized/plastic" looking Bob, Dot, and Enzo), but everything else leaves much to be desired. Reboot: The Guardian Code simply refuses to give a proper homage to the cult classic and if anything, acts as an insult to longtime fans of the original.