Let's get one thing straight: Detroit: Become Human is chock-full of flaws. "Flaws," actually, feels like an understatement. It's more like "consistent bad writing and glaring misuse and disrespect of past and modern real-life oppression without any rhyme or reason." The game has a fairly common sci-fi premise: humans create incredibly human-looking androids, the androids achieve sentience and begin "deviating" from their programming, and a war between humans and their creations breaks out. The closer to this sort of technology we get, the more stories are written about it. This really isn't anything new. What the game's creator, David Cage, does to remedy that, though, is make the majority of the game parallel our human history of civil rights movements and infringements. And this is where the game finds its biggest flaws.
DBH tries to be social commentary but does that without having an actual specific political message it's trying to make. It blatantly appropriates aspects of actual tragedies in less than considerate ways, be it uniforming androids with triangles so that they can be recognized on the street and placing them in concentration camps directly inspired by the Holocaust, or playing off of the treatment of modern Latino immigrants through humans protesting against androids for stealing their jobs, or riffing on Black history and modern movements for the Android revolution with the creation of an android underground railroad and the use of phrases like "We have a dream" and "I can't breathe but I'm alive" (not to mention one character reacting to another pulling a gun on him in one of his bad endings with the line, "I thought android lives mattered").
Obviously, writers have been using real-life racism and prejudice to fuel fictionalized oppression for forever. And it might work if you actually have something you're trying to say about the real world with it, but David Cage has made it clear that he does not want to actually comment on the real world. Each of these story beats is delivered in a way that exposes the fact that Cage doesn't actually have any kind of understanding of what really happened in each of these histories and is just using them to elicit sympathy for his androids without having to really think creatively about their oppression. Meanwhile, characters that represent actual oppressed groups, be it Luther or the Tracis, are often stereotypes and are easily killed by the player's actions. It's tasteless and insensitive at best and sends some backward messages about modern protest and oppression through the placement of actual real-world pain on made-up circumstances that simply don't match up at worst.
Outside of all that, the creator himself is infamously predatory and sexist and isn't a great writer/director, and the game mechanics often fall flat because of gaping plotholes, plot twists that actually make the story worse, and inorganic, railroaded storylines, despite this being the "most branching game yet." So, basically, this should not be a fun game to play. And, yet, it has an ever-growing fanbase.
At first, you'd probably think these fans are blind to the game's faults and believe it's a genuinely good piece of storytelling. And some misguided souls definitely do think like that, but a swift look at the way these fans actually talk about the game proves, whether the fanbase realizes it or not, that they has almost completely abandoned the story, its almost-political messages, and most of the actual game itself. Instead, they're hyper-focused on one thing: the characters. Specifically, one of the game's three player characters, Connor -- and for entirely good reason.
Warning: Spoilers for Connor's storyline ahead.
There are actually, in my mind, three saving graces in this game: the graphics and music throughout the game, and the concept of Connor's branch of the story. Visually, the game is beautiful. While advancements in graphics technology are a large part of why it's so stunning to explore, a major reason that the visuals land for me is their effect on the characterization of the game's central PCs. As soon as a scene begins, you can tell exactly whose storyline you're about to play based entirely on the filming style and color of the opening shot. Kara lives in dark spaces joined with dim, warm light and is often filmed in shaky, close camera shots. Markus, in contrast, is constantly in bright light and is filmed in wide angle, action movie-esque sweeping shots. Connor's point of view is painted cold and blue, often through the steady cam of a procedural investigation. Each of their personalities, motivations, and storylines are echoed in the visual storytelling of their respective branches.
The musical themes for each arc are just as, if not more, individual to the characters, too. Different composers were hired for each character, so they stand out from each other completely. Kara is deep, gorgeous, intimate cello melodies. Markus is sweeping orchestral pieces. Connor is electronic synthesizers and original instruments that meld with acoustics the further into the game you move. Connor, as we'll prove in a moment, is a special case, though.
The other two player characters, Kara and Markus, have enjoyable enough conceits. Kara is an android who breaks programming to stop a man from abusing his daughter and runs to the Canadian border with the girl to start a new life. Markus is an android who refuses to withstand abuse at the hands of his owner's son and, after deviating from his programming, begins a revolution with fellow runaway and underground deviants. Both perfectly interesting arcs, but both entirely railroaded and full of these forced civil rights plotlines and copy-pasted oppression narratives. No matter your choices, Kara will always try to make it to Canada through the Android Underground Railroad, and you have no say in how her story unfolds getting there. The only say you really have is in whether or not she dies, since that is just about the only consequence of Kara's choices in more or less every scene -- Make the wrong choice, and you can end up in one of those concentration camps, too. Where some of Kara's plot can swerve into interesting territory, Markus will always go after Jericho and become a face of the hamfisted revolution, which is so, so unfortunate because he really is a compelling character before that. Even his decision to deviate is completely out of the player's hands, though, unlike Kara's. Their story beats are always the same badly written plot points up until the separate endings branch off, where they have the potential to get even worse.
Connor's storyline is a little more complex, though. It's easy to brush off his popularity as a side effect of the fact that he's a white dude in a video game (and that's almost definitely a part of it), but a large part of the draw in is that he doesn't seem to have any of David Cage's fingerprints on him. His storyline hardly intersects with the heavy-handed pseudo-political parallels, is a fairly unique storyline within the android genre, and is genuinely affected by the player's decisions throughout the game. Given that so much of David Cage's signature moves and forced political through-line are entirely absent from this part of the game and that a good chunk of the genuinely touching relationship between Connor and Hank was actually improvised on set by Bryan Dechart and Clancy Brown, the two true stars of this game, it's almost like Connor deviated so hard that his entire plotline happened in spite of David Cage rather than because of him. Connor is a bright light in this otherwise poorly written video game.
The thing I think most people are compelled by when it comes to Connor is player interaction in both his storyline and character arc. He is an android specifically designed to assist detectives and investigators who, at first, seems perfectly happy to take these orders. He is assigned the growing case of androids becoming deviant and, though clear in his mission at the start, can question his allegiances under the weight of each deviant he encounters on his mission. "Can" is the absolute keyword there, though. While constant glitches in the corner of all of Connor's scenes point toward an instability in his software from the very beginning (not unlike the instabilities he detects in deviant androids), his attitude toward other androids, what he carries away from each case, and whether or not those instabilities develop into something more is entirely up to the player. Every choice, from protecting or killing a deviant who asked for mercy to saving or leaving a fish that fell from its tank, can increase or decrease the instability. The player's choices as Connor don't just define his storyline, but they craft his personality, attitude toward deviancy, and eventually determined whether or not he even gets to choose to become a deviant.
The important thing here, though, is that, from scene one, Connor always has the ability to choose. When Kara first entered the scene, she agreed to do all that Todd asked without a second thought. You cannot ignore Todd as Kara until you deviate. When Markus joins the story, he also follows orders perfectly. Connor is never like this, though. He doesn't seem to realize it, but he is fully capable of betraying his programming whenever he feels like it from the very start. When playing as Connor, you can ignore instruction, argue with humans and androids, and endanger the literal mission you were designed for. The very fact that Connor can enter the apartment in his very first scene, having been ordered to do all that is required to ensure his mission is successful, and then choose to use that time to save a fish, thus endangering a mission where "every second count," is a sign that those "Software Instability" glitches are not just a signal that Connor might become a deviant if you push hard enough, but that he already is one and has been from the beginning.
Even his musical theme reflects this. What begins as a highly electronic piece, just five simple notes played in a repeating pattern on synthesizers and electronic beats become increasingly emotional and acoustic over time. Cellos, drums, and instruments completely invented by Connor's composer, Nima Fakhrara, join in. Where the other two characters deviate from their programming early on in the game and their scores reflect their personalities post-deviating from their programming, Connor's deviancy lives beneath the surface for the entire game, so his score reflects both the naive, determined, calculating character that Connor can be, as well as the deviancy boiling underneath.
So, when you finally make it to the confrontation between Connor and Markus (or North, if you got Markus killed earlier in the game) and are offered the option to "Become a Deviant" or "Remain a Machine," it's less a decision with a physical result and more a choice for Connor between embracing what he's been afraid to admit he already is, or stubborning denying that fact so hard that he becomes the antagonist of the game's third act. Your decision here changes the course of the entire game, too, not even just Connor's arc. He is, without a doubt, the most compelling character in this game. Every piece of android fiction has the "that character was a robot all along!" twist. Not many have an android as fearful of his own humanity as Connor is.
Connor is the absolute key to DBH's success. He is the entire reason I can't just put this game out of my mind. If this game were just Connor's arc, a game about a robot detective trying to understand deviant androids with his grumpy, reluctant partner until he realizes he's a deviant himself, it would be eons better than the game we have now. Instead, David Cage floods Markus' storyline with tasteless political messages and Kara's with emotionally manipulative tricks pulled directly from actual tragedy, so the game falls flat. In truth, David Cage should just stop making games and let Quantic Dream put its technology, actors, and composers into a project that can stand up to scrutiny. Until we get that, though, we'll have to keep playing Connor's chapters over and over and remain willfully ignorant of whatever Markus is doing across town.