Published on March 20th, 2012 | by Cameron Woolsey
Binary Domain Review
Developer: Yakuza Studio
Platform: Xbox 360 [Reviewed], PlayStation 3
Release Date: Feb. 28, 2012
Reviewer’s Note: A copy of the game was received for review purposes.
Binary Domain represents a strong departure from Yakuza Studio’s usual releases. It is a very Western-influenced third-person shooter that mimics many popular games of the genre. The game is quite an undertaking considering that the team’s previous releases included crime dramas and monkeys rolling around in balls.
Binary Domain wears its influences on its sleeves. Most of the elements found have been lifted off of other popular games and the story itself rings of The Matrix and Bladerunner, two movies that blur the line between man and machine and asks what really defines humanity. Players enter the robot-stomping boots of Dan, who is an ex-Special Ops soldier. Along with his partner Big Bo, the two work crew of international ex-military badasses, called the “Rust Crew.” In Binary Domain, robots disguised as humans, complete with living tissue and false memories, have been discovered roaming the cities. It is up to the Rust Crew to infiltrate a futuristic Neo Tokyo to investigate the Amada Corporation which is accused of creating the terrifying replicants.
The story itself isn’t necessarily original, but it’s decent enough to push the game along at a steady pace. The characters are a lineup of everybody’s favorite stereotypes: the America jock, the grumpy Brit, the Asian hotty with a sniper rifle, and everything in-between. Though the game’s characters look like they’re one hilarious pun away from sigh-inducing sitcom, and there are a few grown-inducing one-liners to go with it, I actually enjoyed the diversity. The conversations between each mission often had some decent scripting which presented each person as a unique personality instead of a cartoony caricature of a gun-happy soldier. It’s difficult to get a proper balance in a shooter when using such a diverse cast, but I believe the writers did a pretty good job.
I mentioned before in a preview that one of the most standout things I found about Binary Domain is the robotic enemies. Today, gamers are used to fighting typical meatbag soldiers that are programmed to react realistically when taking fire when shot by dodging often and showing hints of pain. Locust from the Gears of War trilogy will yell when hit or drop to their knees to try and drag their pathetic carcasses into cover–the act of self-preservation adds that extra bit of realism when fighting AI counterparts in games. Things are different when fighting machines that don’t process pain, however. They march toward Dan’s position with a cold confidence. When struck, they don’t cry out. Silent and relentless, they keep moving forward driven toward the goal of turning Dan and his crew into paste. Knocking off limbs don’t do much good, as the machine will pick up a dropped gun with the free arm and continue the assault. Mechs that lose their legs crawl toward Dan’s position, creating a tense standoff if it gets too close and grabs his leg.
It’s almost mesmerizing to watch bits of colored metal fly off the machines, revealing the metal skeleton underneath. Taking out an enemy’s head will cause them to lose their target and they will fire on their own allies. This was easily my favorite strategy as any robot can get its head shot off, from the regular green troops to the hulking black behemoths carrying guns the size of trucks, which are hilariously named “miniguns.” The tide can turn rather quickly when you have an ally attached to a half-ton bullet hose.
Binary Domain is the first shooter to ever give the player the power to form and strengthen (or weaken) the bond between the main character and the supporting cast. Sure, other shooters out there have shown character development between uncontrollable cutscenes, but Binary Domain goes beyond that.
Both during and between missions players are given opportunities to interact with other characters. It could be something as simple as providing an acceptable answer to a question, to helping them out with a plan they came up with during battle. The problem with being the first on the block with a new feature is the potential missing the target, and unfortunately Binary Domain does just that. While the premise is interesting enough, it isn’t fleshed out realistically and some of the conversations seem disjointed or tacked on.
Many of the issues I had when speaking came directly from the fact that the microphone feature either couldn’t pick up what I was saying or just refused to work. Often there were times when I would say “Yes” which occasionally turned into a completely different word, such as “no,” “idiot” or “potato” (OK, not really…but I wouldn’t have been surprised), causing the opposite person to dislike me a little bit. Leaving the microphone on sometimes provided its own source of bewilderment and hilarity, as one moment, without me saying a word or any background noise causing it, Dan spewed forth a long string of F-bombs, causing all other characters to ask me what the hell I was bitching about. It got so bad that I found myself muting my mic and only using it when absolutely necessary.
Binary Domain is a squad-based shooter. Dan is able to direct his allies either through a drop-down menu, or by vocal command if you use a microphone. The drop menu commands are of the traditional kind. You can order your squad to charge, retreat, hold position, etc. And this is where that whole getting friendly with the friendlies comes into play. If your squad hates your guts, they won’t follow your commands.
It isn’t hard to get your companions to like you. You will really have to go out of your way to piss them off. A few sour words won’t make enemies, but combined with friendly fire things could start going south. Unfortunately, this is one thing that the other characters try to test you on. I’ve played games where accidental friendly fire could happen from time to time–not all AI is perfect in this regard. In Binary Domain, however, it just got ridiculous. At one point I shot Cain, the gentlemanly French robot, so many times he stopped me after a battle and asked what my deal was. Well, my deal is your metal ass keeps stepping in front of my bullets, mon ami. Yelling that into a mic doesn’t work in case you’re wondering, it just gets translated into a string of curse words, which caused him to say something French in return. It probably wasn’t his secret recipe for pommes duchesse.
The gameplay closely follows the Gears of War model: the “roadie run” is included and all battles are fought behind chest high walls and weapons are switched via the directional pad. Fans of Epic’s famous shooter will find themselves quickly comfortable with Binary Domain. Though the game lacks the polish of other comparable shooters, Binary Domain plays quite well. In fact, I found myself surprised by how much I enjoyed the frantic battles. From the starting gate the game moves at a breakneck pace through its 8-hour campaign, taking the player through unique environments and situations. In one moment you could be taking out machines in intense corridor battles, the next you could be flying down a highway in a beat up truck with a towering mech rolls after you on wheels.
All characters have a default weapon that can’t be switched out. The gun can be upgraded in multiple functions from accuracy, to reload speed, to weapon power. This is done so at personal stores that appear between most areas. Secondary weapons include pistols and guns that can be picked up off the ground or bought at a store. Expect the usual suspects: a rocket launcher, sniper rifle, light machine gun, and a few more, are all available to carry along. Multiple grenade types are also available and include frags, EMP and sticky variety.
There are a couple multiplayer modes in Binary Domain: team deathmatch and a four-player co-op mode that mimics Horde. I can’t honesty recommend either mode as neither of which is all that fun to play. Of course, that really only matters if you can actually find other players to start a game with, which I couldn’t. Even after a few days from release I was only able to find two people willing to play the co-op mode, and one of them left the game before it began.
There are only a few maps in team deathmatch and they are all fairly bland and uninspired, one of which is just a circular area with beat up cars lying about to be used for cover. The co-op mode is a little better, but if no one is around to play then it quickly gets boring. Unless you like faffing about in a digital ghost town, if you plan on playing Binary Domain stick with the single player side only.
Binary Domain is a shooter that does a lot of things right, but does just enough things wrong to keep it from reaching its potential. It’s a great game to be sure, one that shooter fans will find easy to enjoy. The game will satisfy shooter junkies, no question, as the game moves quickly from one epic fight to the next, only giving the player several moments to catch their breath. There’s a lot to enjoy here, if you discount the multiplayer.
It’s unfortunate that Binary Domain is plagued with so many small problems. It had the potential to be one of the better shooters this year. If you want the best robot shooter on the market, you can’t go wrong with Binary Domain, it’s still a fully functioning action game that is fun to play–you just have to look past some of the loose screws.
+ Solid shooting action
+ Unique environments and situations
– Microphone feature is unique, but broken
– Lackluster multiplayer
– Small problems bog the game down