Binary Domain Review: Do Androids Dream of Cover-Based Shooting?
In the first chapter of Binary Domain, I peeked around cover only to immediately get jump kicked in the face by a robot.
You could say that shooters are only as fun as the enemies you’re fighting against. If that’s a statement you can get behind, then you should definitely play Binary Domain. As yet another third person, cover-based shooter, it would be easy to dismiss Yakuza Studio’s contribution to the genre. But that would be a crying shame.
Developer: Yakuza Studio
Rated: M (Mature)
Platform: PS3, X360
Release Date: 02/28/12
In 2080, robots are all the rage. Somebody has to build cities on top of cities in this flooded world after all. But robots that can pass for humans? No, thank you! And thus, clause 21 of the “New Geneva Convention” was born, outlawing anything of the sort. But when one of these “hollow children” attacks Bergen, the world leader in robotics, suspicions rise that Amada Corporation is breaking the rules.
As part of a Rust Crew, the International Robotics Technology Association sends you (Dan “The Survivor” Marshall) and your squad mates from around the world on a trip to Japan to uncover the mysteries of this attack. Why create robots that genuinely believe they are human? Should they be treated as something more than machines?
The execution isn’t perfect. It has its ups and downs, but I was surprised to find that I actually cared about why I was shooting robots while traveling through Japan. I wanted answers not just to progress the game, but because I actually wanted to know what was happening. And by the end of the game, there were plenty of twists and turns to keep things interesting without going too off the wall.
While the overall narrative is linear, there’s a bit of leeway in the form of your squad. Throughout the game, you’ll choose which characters you want to accompany you fairly often. Each character has a trust level you can build up by performing well in battle, respecting their combat suggestions, choosing the right responses in streamlined dialogue trees (that don’t pause the action), and… not shooting them.
It’s a neat system, and one that works fairly well. That is, except for the dialogue trees. What you would think to be the most important piece of the system is arguably the weakest. Half the time the responses you can choose barely make sense. When somebody asks you a yes or no question and at least two of your responses are something along the lines of “God damn!” and none of them are “No,” it’s puzzling to say the least. Even the characters seemed confused when I choose some of these options. And since your character does not elaborate on these one or two word responses as they would in a Bioware game, the intention of their inclusion is never quite clear.
Fortunately, the characters themselves are likeable enough for the most part. The writing and performance can feel a little inconsistent, bouncing back and forth from earnest and amusing to cheesy and awkward. But the good generally outweighs the bad, especially when you have a french robot sporting a red bandanna fighting by your side.
To add to the light RPG elements, you can also equip both Dan and company with nanomachines that grant various buffs. These can range from combat perks like faster health regeneration and stat boosts, to other aspects like a trust booster (that I not so appropriately purchased from a guy in a shady back alley). You can also upgrade each aspect of everybody’s main weapon.
How do you afford it all? By getting those sweet, sweet points! Currency is essentially experience as you’ll never find money laying around. Instead, you’ll get rich through the very act of gunning down enemy robots. This makes enormous enemy encounters as lucrative as they are dangerous.
And let me tell you, these enemies are dangerous. Got a headshot? Good for you, but the enemy is still alive. They’re just shooting blindly now. Shot their legs off? You better finish them off if you don’t want their crawling torso grabbing your ankles while you focus on the next guy. Oh, and these robots are not at all afraid to rush you and your squad of puny humans.
What I just described are the most basic of foot soldiers. Binary Domain excels in enemy variety. Throughout the course of the game, you’ll fight robot ninjas, a mechanical sabre tooth tiger, a devastatingly aggressive robo-gorilla, and a freakishly huge motorcycle that transforms into a rollerskating death machine, to name only a few. And each is animated with incredible fluidity. The fact that parts are constantly flying off of enemies as you shoot them (which legitimately affects their behavior) gives your weapons an incredible sense of heft that is unlike most other games of its ilk. And sending robots flying with a charged up shock burst never gets old. Enemies are an absolute delight to fight and I cherished each encounter.
There are even a few Uncharted moments that pull you into interesting situations using real gameplay where lesser games would have inserted a quick time event. Then, for some indiscernible reason, there are about four actual quick time events in the campaign, all of which feel out of place (but are thankfully lenient).
And then there’s multiplayer, though there probably shouldn’t be. Competitive modes don’t involve the fantastic enemy design that sets Binary Domain apart from the competition. Taking this into account, you would think co-op Invasion (read: Horde Mode) would be great since fighting robots is so much fun. Unfortunately, the enemy density starts far too low for multiple players, making it way too easy and boring.
But Binary Domain does not need multiplayer. It already features a very satisfying campaign that, despite the annoying lack of a New Game+ mode, encourages multiple playthroughs. After all, the trust level of your squad mates will eventually affect who lives and who dies, who sticks by your side, and just how hard that final boss will be.
It definitely has some rough edges. But like Vanquish before it, Binary Domain melds Japanese and Western design in a way that, for the most part, works wonderfully. The combat is appropriately weighty, the story is intriguing, and the environments and enemies are full of diversity. The multiplayer may not be worthwhile, but Binary Domain has a solo campaign you shouldn’t miss.
This review is based on the PlayStation 3 version of Binary Domain provided to the reviewer by SEGA.
This entry was posted on Thursday, March 8th, 2012 at 5:00 am and is filed under Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.