Video Game Review: Binary Domain
Isn’t it amazing that’s what we all look like on the inside?
If modern cinema has taught us anything over the past 20-plus years it’s this: things go bad when we cede too much control of our lives to robots. That always entertaining cautionary tale is at the heart of SEGA’s new squad-based third-person shooter, Binary Domain, which transports gamers nearly 70 years into the future to a world where sophisticated robots have begun to illegally infiltrate society.
Well, it turns out there’s an upside to these transgressions as it gives you carte blanche to turn wave after wave of machines into scrap, which proves to be a lot of fun.
Anyone who has played Gears of War should find the layout in Binary Domain to their liking. You enter cover and roadie run with “A,” reload with the right bumper and switch between weapons using the d-pad. Aiming felt a little spotty early on but came around nicely within the first 30 minutes and held up for the duration. Overall, almost everything here functions well.
There are a few areas that knock the score down, though. When switching guns an overlay appears on the screen and doesn’t immediately fade after the swap. This makes changing weapons on the fly sloppier than it should be since targets are momentarily obscured. The game also restricts your ability to move in cover as you cannot turn corners without exiting and being exposed to gunfire.
Entirely confined to a futuristic version of Tokyo, Binary Domain still manages to keep the environments varied by having you ascend through the various levels of the city. There’s a good amount of detail work, particularly once you reach the more affluent areas. However, the visual star is clearly the mechs. The human-sized robots have a definite Terminator quality to them, and the way they can be completely blown apart and continue attacking is very cool. All of the game’s bosses are suitably impressive, which helps make those epic fights all the more exciting.
Voice acting is mostly solid, though the mixture of interesting story-driven elements and cookie-cutter bravado makes for odd bedfellows. Some quality emotional groundwork is laid during the cut scenes, but that’s undermined throughout by the repetitive chatter of your teammates. You can only hear that you’re “a star” or that you’ve “bitten off more than you can chew” so many times before it becomes little more than white noise. Gunfire brings the goods with impactful-sounding rounds and explosions. The soundtrack is solid.
It’s 2080, and global warming has caused sea levels to rise and flooded much of the Earth. With so many places uninhabitable, mankind is forced to build skyward. And the only workforce capable of operating under such harsh conditions is robots. Two corporations — Amada in Japan and Bergen in the United States — emerge as the worldwide leaders in robotics. Sensing the danger inherent in the production of these cyborgs, the world’s powers sign a “New Geneva Convention,” which among other things outlaws the creation of robots designed to pass as human beings.
To police the development of these robots, known as “hollow children,” the International Robotics Technology Association (IRTA) employs multinational special units called “Rust Crews.” That’s where you come in. It seems that someone has been violating the convention and creating hollow children, and now it’s up to you (Dan Marshall) and your team to uncover who, or what, is behind it. It proves to be a fairly interesting story that draws influence from films like I, Robot and the Terminator series to good effect.
A squad-based third-person shooter, Binary Domain treads some familiar ground, but by slotting robots into the role of the villain it creates enough separation from its contemporaries to provide consistently exciting and reasonably unique gameplay. Blow off an enemy robot’s gun arm and it’ll calmly reach down, wrench the weapon from its severed limb and continue to fire. Destroy its legs and it’ll crawl after you. Behead one and it will become confused and attack its allies — a useful tactic in evening the odds as it not only gives you a makeshift buddy, but it also diverts enemy focus.
Pacing is another of the game’s strengths as down times are few and far between. You battle through room after room of machines before reaching one of the many bosses, which always take the form of a massive robot. Even on the default difficulty setting these monstrosities don’t go down easily as you’ll need to chop them down to size, destroying them piece by piece. They do tend to focus heavily on your character individually, though, which makes it tough at times to gain sufficient distance and can result in some cheap hits. Still, the boss battles are mostly enjoyable.
Each kill nets you credits with bonuses available for things like head shots and melee kills. These credits can then be spent at designated stations for guns, ammo, and weapon and physical upgrades for you and your squad. Each soldier has six available slots that can improve health, recovery time, defense, carrying capacity and more to offer a level of customization. Guns can be augmented in several areas as well, though the unintended result is that by the halfway point it becomes almost counter-productive to equip anything other than your primary assault rifle since secondary guns cannot be boosted.
Binary Domain also incorporates a voice-based command system, which allows you to verbally issue basic orders to your teammates (cover me, shoot, regroup, etc.) — those that don’t own a mic or prefer not to engage in conversation with their game console can access the command list via a bumper. Their willingness to follow your orders is directly tied to their “trust” in you. You earn trust by responding positively to questions they ask you as well as your performance during battle. It works fairly well with the game recognizing your commands the majority of the time, but your squad is apt to wander into the line of fire, earning you a tongue lashing and whittling away the trust you’ve built up.
Teammate A.I. as a whole isn’t particularly strong. Beyond walking between your gun and the enemy, they also tend to be largely ineffective when dealing with anything other than the basic robots. It’s not awful, but I wouldn’t count it among the game’s pros. Also underwhelming are the non-combat sections as driving a futuristic jet ski and sliding down a rain-soaked wall and dodging pipes are a little too clunky to be much fun.
In addition to the 10-hour campaign, Binary Domain features both a cooperative and versus multiplayer. Invasion is their version of Horde, and while decent enough it’s victimized by the poor decision to force every session to start at Wave 1. Even if you assume a mere three minutes per wave you’d have to spend roughly two and a half hours straight to clear all 50 of them. And, of course, should you and your buddies fail at any point it’s back to square one.
Versus offers one possible answer to the question of what Gears of War would be without constant rolling and shotgun spamming, and that answer is “serviceable.” All the modes you’d expect are there and in-game kills earn money to purchase better equipment/weapons the next time you spawn, but there’s nothing there to differentiate it from other more robust online offerings. Also, despite being part of a squad for the campaign’s entirety there is no option to play through it with human-controlled teammates.
While not the most innovative shooter you’ll play in 2012, Binary Domain is a lot of fun and an easy recommendation for those that value a campaign’s quality and length over the longevity of multiplayer.