Published on June 14th, 2011 | by Cameron Woolsey
E3 2011: Binary Domain Hands-On Impressions
Developer: SEGA Japan
Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Release: February 2012
Binary Domain has been making very little noise on the internet. After I played the demo for the first time, I confirmed a few concerns. However, I believe the game is worth keeping an eye on.
As I began the demo, I started it with the mindset that anyone would when jumping into a squad-based shooter starring a group of marines on the frontline fighting robots to save humanity from extinction: “Yeah, OK.” Granted, many of us have worn the savior-of-humanity-against-a-robot-invasion hat (or space suit) before, but as I played I discovered some things that caught my attention.
The demo began with my character standing among a large group of marines. Discussion of the mission ensued using dialogue options similar to what has been seen out of Mass Effect. These weren’t morality-based questions, however, just ones that would change how the upcoming fight played out. I was given the choice of several different soldiers to take with me into the fight. Each soldier came with his or her own specialty. There was one for close-quarters combat, a sniper and others. As a soldier of medium build, I decided to go with a team consisting of a heavy gunner (who looked like L4D 2‘s Coach in space marine armor) and a woman packing a sniper rifle. I figured I could get my support and long range in one go.
As my team walked to their destination, a discussion popped up where I could either give one of two answers or nothing at all. I got the impression that conversations between teammates differ depending on who you take along. My gun-toting accomplice, being the creeper that he is, walked near me and quietly asked what I thought about our sniper’s booty. The game graciously zoomed in on her swinging money maker just so I could get the right opinion-nothing like breaking up the tension of being in the middle of a war zone with some good old-fashioned sexist humor.
Thankfully, gameplay stepped in the in between myself and the awkwardness as our team came across a patrol of two robots in an alleyway. We quickly took up position behind some conveniently-placed chest high walls (no shooter can go without!). My heavy gunner asked what we should do and a box popped up with an option to either go guns blazing or to wait it out. I chose to wait and I scoped the machine’s movements. As one started moving a little too close for comfort, I held my squad command button to take out the furthest one, leaving the close one for myself. More machines rounded the corner and soon turned the silent alley into a full-fledged gun fight. During the fight you can command your squad to fire on an enemy, provide covering fire, move forward or fall back.
The gameplay here was familiar. Allies and enemies lean against corners and chest-high walls taking pot shots. You can fire over cover, fire from cover and leap over cover. If you have ever played a cover-based shooter before, you won’t find anything new with Binary Domain‘s gameplay. Graphically the game looks plain. While the character models looked sharp, the environment was bland and lifeless. The textures were low quality and mostly consisted of white, gray or grayish-white. The game was being demoed in Alpha, so hopefully the textures get an upgrade before the game ships because right now Binary Domain just looks boring.
The robots are remarkably sturdy, sometimes taking around a third of a clip before dropping. Some of the robots are even more stubborn than that. One I dropped by taking out its legs and it began crawling toward me. The designers actually did a good job making the robots feel truly threatening. They moved deliberately and marched toward my direction showing little hesitation. Unlike most games today where enemies react when shot, these machines will walk into your gunfire even as their armor is quickly chipped away. I didn’t see this as an act of poor AI as much as enemies with no thoughts, emotion or pain. There was one moment in the alley that I keep recalling even though E3 has long been over.
As I was behind the wall, giving commands to my team, I chucked a grenade into the midst of around seven robots. Two of them were turned into graceful displays of flying shrapnel by my grenade, which filled the entire alley with dust. The dust covered the entire alley, but through the haze I saw five pairs of glowing red eyes bouncing lazily as the machines left their cover and started marching toward my position. This is probably the only game where I ever felt a moment of “holy shit I’m fighting Terminators”–and I take into account the Terminator games I’ve played before. It was a small thing but a nice touch that helped really make the feeling of fighting against relentless and soulless machines.
One promise that SEGA has made about the game is the inclusion of unique enemy AI. I didn’t expect to see the machines performing any surprising moves, however there was a time when I had to reload and as soon as I dropped down to do so two machines close by left cover and charge my position. Watching them suddenly charge toward me in smooth, mechanical strides definitely caught me off guard, and I quickly dodged out from cover signaling my team mates to give me support.
When the last of the robots were gone, I motioned my team to regroup and we moved into a ruined building. Suddenly a group of machines came floating toward us, holding on to what I could only guess to be the stupidest looking jet pack ever. It looked like they were holding onto to flying green trash cans. After disposing them by firing at their painfully obvious weakpoint, we moved to the next area.
Our final challenge took the form of a gigantic robot packing a seriously huge machine gun. Our normal weapons did nothing to chip the armor of the monstrosity, but a few grenades at least did a little damage. I ran into a nearby building to find a stockpile of weapons including a rocket launcher. The bullets didn’t do much, but this little baby gave our new friend a Hulk-sized slap to the face. As most of its armor disappeared my gunner yelled at me from the ground below to jump onto the thing’s head and shoot at its small and one and only weak spot. Figures.
I ran to the roof and looked down below. The robot was busy with my team but as it walked toward them, an on-screen prompt appeared and told me to hit the ‘B’ button (using the 360 controller). My character leapt off the building and landed on its head, once on top the game prompted me to keep tapping ‘A’ to fire into its head. After a few moments the robot began to fall and suicidal character jumped to the ground and the demo ended.
What was good:
I didn’t get to experience a lot of character interactions but I am curious to see how or if they really add to the game or just remain minor ass-filled distractions. Some conversations even took place mid-battle. It was fun taking part of banter much like we have experienced in games and movies before but never had control over.
I like that the machines had an ominous feeling about them. Their stalwart march against me and my team of meatbags provided a certain tension that I haven’t felt from recent shooters.
What needs work:
If the demo is a true representation of what we will expect when the retail game ships then prepare for a fairly generic shooter. There wasn’t much there that really suggested Binary Domain to be a genre-changing title. The graphics are especially bland and if it wasn’t for the on-screen action, a walk around the city would have put me to sleep.
The game is coming from SEGA’s Toshihiro Nagoshi, the man behind Super Monkey Ball and the Yakuza series, and he has yet to disappoint me in providing an interesting storyline. Taking place in Tokyo in the year 2080, humans are at war with robotic forces for survival. This sounds disappointingly stereotypical for the genre; however the something within the original trailer. Watching the trailer above shows a typical shooter, but during the final fourth something amazing happens. From what I could gather, the game may include a very thematic story that could be drawing some influence from films like Bladerunner or Ghost in the Shell which beg the question “what makes something human?” Of course this could be a stretch on my part, with very little of the story known, but hey, it doesn’t hurt to be hopeful.