Review: Binary Domain

Review: Binary Domain

There’s only one thing that bothers me more than an overly hyped game turning out to be utter crap and that is a fantastic game that gets absolutely no attention. Binary Domain is definitely one of those games.

Binary Domain Logo SEGA

I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t all but entirely written SEGA off as a serious game developer as of late, but the release of Binary Domain has certainly given me cause to take a second look. Granted, you aren’t going to find anything profoundly earth shattering here, but what will you find is something that any self-respecting science fiction fan will be eager to sink their teeth into.

Binary Domain takes place in the semi-distant future year of 2080 where the line between robot and human has begun to blur. The New Geneva Convention has established a new article that strictly prohibits the manufacturing of robots that resemble humans in any way, shape, or form; including emotions. The Amada Corporation has forgone the new article and begun to assemble humanoid robots indistinguishable from humans known as Hollow Children.  Even to the most critical of eyes, these Hollow Children appear to be fully human, right down to their emotions. They are even programmed to believe they are human.

As far as the rest of the world is concerned, these Hollow Children pose an enormous threat to the survival of mankind and must be destroyed. That’s where you come in.

The Rust Crew

You assume the role of Sergeant Dan Marshall and his rag tag team of multination mercenaries, forming what is knows as a Rust Crew. Hell bent on uncovering the truth behind the Hollow Children, you head to Tokyo to confront the Amada Corporation and see what they have been hiding all these years.

Binary Domain Giant Robot
And that’s not it.

The story immediately alludes to great sci-fi classics such as I Robot and Blade Runner (and the novel from which it was inspired by P.K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep) and does each of them a great service in both pacing and execution. Although it does take a couple hours to get rolling, the interaction with your squad mates and the largely unpredictable twists and turns throughout lead to a very heartfelt and touching ending that actually saw me caring about what happened to everyone in the end.

However, your mission isn’t as simple as booking a flight to Tokyo and setting up a meeting with Amada himself. You are, after all, on a covert mission with no approval from the Japanese government. As such, you must make your way through the sprawling metropolis of Tokyo in order to uncover the truth.

As a whole, the environments aren’t really anything to write home about, but I’m not about to say they were terrible either. You’ll find yourself rummaging through sewers and slums before ultimately making your way to the upper city limits where the more sun tends to make more of an appearance on the clean, crisp, futuristic skyline.

Some of the set pieces are quite expansive and interactive, but I did notice that it seems like SEGA really crammed the most impressive ones towards the beginning. Crumbling skyscrapers and collapsing bridges really had me amped up to continue onward, but those thrilling set pieces became fewer and farther between as time went on.

Something Old Creating Something New

At its core Binary Domain is your run of the mill cover-based shooter like Gears of War. As such, many of you will be instantly familiar with the control scheme and feel right at home. You do have the option to remap the controls to something more akin to Uncharted 3, but I actually found that the X button worked better for running and covering. Yes, I know…. for as much as I complained about the controls on the Mass Effect 3 demo, I am eating those words. I shall more than likely give the series a fair shake now. Happy?

The controls are insanely simple to pick up and before you know it you’ll be obliterating anything mechanically based in no time. Throughout the entirety of the game you will never once fire a bullet into anything that runs on blood. That is, unless you are me and have a tendency to see how many bullets your squad mates can absorb before they stop listening to your orders.

Binary Domain Robot Destruction
Will I dream, Dave?

The robots you’ll encounter don’t vary an awful lot, but that’s OK because they are an absolute blast to destroy. Whereas most other shooters fail to give your shots a sense of meaning, the robots in Binary Domain actually disintegrate with each subsequent bullet. This gives you a sense of accomplishment and something fun to do at the same time. You have the option to be as humane or cruel as you wish with these robots as shooting various body parts will destroy them, rendering the robot incapable of using  it. Doing so will alter the robot’s attack patterns. Shoot out their legs and they will crawl towards you, grabbing for your ankles. Shoot off their arms and they will amble towards you ready to kick, bite, or chest bump you to death. But perhaps the most entertainment comes from popping their  heads off one by one. Doing so renders the robot incapable of telling the different between humans and other robots, ultimately leading them to fire at anything near them. I can’t even begin to describe how fun it is to meticulously shoot the head of every robot in a room and watch them kill each other.

Although Binary Domain isn’t out to reinvent the wheel in terms of controls, it does do several things quite well that are worth noting.

No Helmets Here

Squad based games generally tend to suffer from something affectionately known as ‘retarded-sqaud-mate-syndrome- wherein, despite them being professional guns for hire or expert soldiers, they probably one hit on the head away from wearing a helmet permanently. Thankfully, Binary Domain has a great buddy AI system that you actually have quite a bit of control over.

Binary Domain Squad

Throughout the game you are given the option to direct your squad as well as receive orders from them. This is done via a predefined set of commands that randomly appear on your comlink, but each one is clearly geared towards either a negative or positive response. If you are feeling particularly saucy, you can use your mic and simply scream your bidding at your squad using a massive list of recognizable words. Unfortunately, if you play your games with the volume on anything higher than mute this tends to malfunction which can ultimately lead to mission failure.

How you interact with your squad, and whether or not you decide to shoot them, dictates how they perceive you and how well they follow your orders. You may think that the AI is crapping out, but you’ve more than likely just pissed them off to the point of them not caring if you live or die in that instant. Treat them well and you may even earn yourself a special cutscene with one of them. Hint, Hint. Never did I notice my affinity for pissing off my squad mates to lead to an increase in difficulty, so the whole concept is better in theory than in practice, but still cool nevertheless.

Binary Domain Giant Robot SEGA
Mind if I just shoot you guys instead?

If caring about your squad really isn’t your style, you can still show them a bit of love by helping to level them up via an rather intriguing system that draws many similarities to the materia screens from Final Fantasy VIII. Killing robots nets you currency which can then be used at various shops for upgrading weapons or buying nanomachines. These nanomachines can then in turn be equipped to various squad members for increases in everything from reload rate to defense and attack power. Although novel and rather fun at first, I don’t think I tinkered with this much after the first couple hours of the 10-hour campaign and I never once ran into any issues.

Ups and Downs

You would think that a game like this would scream ‘co-op mutliplayer’, but there is no such co-op to found. Unfortunately, the only multiplayer modes come in the tried and true forms of deathmatch and CTF. Additionally, no shooter is complete these days without some sort of Horde mode spin off looming in the background and Binary Domain is no different. Titled Invasion, you are tasked with fending off wave and after wave of robots all for some money and the ability to upgrade your weapons. It’s by no means anything new, but it’s not entirely terrible either.

For what it’s worth, it’s obvious why SEGA was a bit hesitant to send the marketing machine out in full force for Binary Domain. It has some obvious flaws that cannot help but make you wonder why it wasn’t a bit more polished. Some terrible lines of dialogue coupled with a several terrible voice actors make a few would-be-dramatic scenes into somewhat of a comedy festival. Thankfully, those moments are so few and far between that it’s hardly noticeably… aside from one that will forever be engrained in my memory of terrible game lines. “BAD DOG!” But what can you expect from a company that made House of the Dead. That game was brimming with incredibly memorable dialogue. Additionally, Binary Domain just has that SEGA look and feel to it, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you grew up during the heyday of SEGA products. It’s kind of like what Time Crisis would be if it weren’t an on rails shooter and good.

It’s quite a shame that many people may not play this game simply because it’s gotten next to zero attention, but this is one title that is quite deserving of more than a fleeting glance; especially if you are looking for a solid shooter with quite a memorable sci-fi story.

Score: 8/10

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