Looks can be deceiving. Take SEGA’s squad-based third-person shooter Binary Domain for example. On first appearance, we’ve seen it all before: Big genetic monsters of men wielding oversized weapons, blurting out a handful of expletives without any justification; a horde of never-ending enemies trudge forward with reckless abandon, halted only by a barricade of bullets. It’s gritty action injected with more testosterone than a doped up athlete, with bullish bravado and male chauvinism flaunted at every possible opportunity. The gameplay is a successful carbon copy of Epic’s Gears of War franchise, refined and expanded upon. And in all honesty, everything stated above rings true for Binary Domain. However, what it lacks in originality, Binary Domain completely surpasses expectations with its engrossing story, solid mechanics and humorous cast.
Set in the year 2080, the world as we know it has drastically changed. Stable climates have become erratic resulting in rising sea levels wreaking havoc throughout the world’s greatest cities and nations. With floods decimating the landscape, governments were forced to build skyward; a new metropolis that would sit above the rotting, damp remains. Conditions were treacherous, and with many lives already lost, labour was difficult to obtain. Fortunately, advances in robotics paved the way for a new workforce, a union of droids and machines bred to do mankind’s bidding.
Predictably, two companies rose to the forefront of advanced robotic development, competing for the substantially lucrative pot which would gift them more power than any business could possibly hope to wield. The American company “Burgen Industries” conquered the market with a 95% share of the robotics industry, vanquishing its previous competitor, the Japanese company known as the “Amada Corporation.”
Yoji Amada, the founder of the Amada Corporation, was adamant that Burgen Industries stole his technology, though the courts filed in favour of the US giant. Consequently, Burgen Industries prospered whilst Amada Corporation suffered.
To deal with the influx of intelligent AI, the world’s superpowers signed a newly drafted Geneva convention specifically forbidding the creation of “Hollow Children,” robots which are externally indistinguishable from humans. To make matters worse, a Hollow Child actually believes that they are indeed human. Artificial humans, walking amongst the living.
After the discovery of a Hollow Child in the US, the government decides to investigate the only other possible source of where such a monstrosity could have been created… the Amada Corporation in Japan.
Picking Up The Scraps
The game’s story takes place through the perspective of Dan, a charismatic and likeable individual known as “the survivor.” Partnered with Big Bo (one of the most loveable characters of recent memory), the American duo infiltrate Japan covertly, making their way from the lower run-down depths of the city to the upper echelons of a new-aged paradise.
Part of a special elite task force known as a “Rust Crew”, Dan and Bo join forces with a number of other operatives throughout the game’s 6-8 hour campaign, with each member surprisingly as appealing and endearing as the other. Even though the characters are blatant, ridiculous stereotypes of the countries that they represent – ballsy, loud-mouthed Americans, a sarcastic Brit, an eccentric Frenchman – you’ll quickly grow to love their individual quirks and distinct personalities. But what solidifies the relationship between the game’s characters and the player is the bonkers yet brilliant voice acting.
The voice acting in Binary Domain is an enigma. It shouldn’t work, yet somehow, it does; and marvellously. I found myself laughing out loud at some of the exchanges between the characters, shaking my head at the cheesy one-liners, genuinely disturbed by the spine tingling screams of the Hollow Children and completely absorbed in each and every cutscene. It’s the kind of engagement you’d come to expect from an RPG, never mind a generic third-person shooter. But what if I also told you that you could interact with your characters using your own voice?
“Beep Beep! Boop Boop Beep?”
Binary Domain receives a refreshing dose of individuality thanks to the ability to converse with your teammates through a headset.
Binary Domain receives a refreshing dose of individuality thanks to the ability to converse with your teammates through a headset. You can either issue commands using buttons or via the headset, but believe me, once you say “Love You” to a female companion after a romantic scene you’ll never want to go back to simply pressing buttons. It’s stupid, childish fun.
In certain situations, your squad members will talk to you during the game allowing you to speak back a number of potential phrases. During combat, commands can be spoken to tactically control your squad asking them to “Hold”, “Charge”, “Fire” or “Regroup.” Naturally, the system isn’t flawless and you will find that some of your commands will go awry, but if anything, it adds to the overall hilarity of the game. Abruptly spoiling a conversation with an NPC by saying “Damn it!” instead of “Definitely” will usually involve a humorous, though unintended response. There’s an impressive number of words to utter including a handful of expletives. Finally, you can now contribute your own dose of macho to a game.
Of course, the cynics out there will dismiss Binary Domain’s voice control as nothing more than a cheap gimmick, and perhaps they are right. However, there’s simply no denying that shouting “Awesome!” as you smash through a wave of enemies or “Big Bo?!” “Love You!” at the top of your lungs is infinitely awesome.
You’ve probably figured out what type of enemy you’ll encounter in Binary Domain by now (and if you haven’t hears a clue – ROBO_S). Figured it out yet? That’s right, robots. Waves and waves of mechanical nasties stand in Dan and his team’s way, and it’s up to you to bring them down, one angry AI at a time. And once again, the word “fun” applies.
Blasting the bolts of the backend of an advancing robot is throughly satisfying and strangely addictive. Armour plating and metal flies off your target in a crescendo of sparks, buzzing and explosions. Aim for the scrawny legs a robot and the terminator-esque enemy will crawl towards you sadistically, undeterred but thankfully slowed. Shoot off a robot’s head and he’s as good as useless, firing at everything, unaware as to who is friend or foe. Alternatively, you can unload every bullet in the chamber straight into the body of the maniacal machine and watch it convulse and twitch and then explode. Sweet.
Credits are earned for every enemy you destroy, with extra bonuses awarded for specific dismembering. The battle-won credits can be used at Ammo Transit Supply Terminals, a cooky little hub which allows you to upgrade each characters’ primary weapon, purchase other equipment and obtain specific upgrades for your squad members. Final Fantasy VII fans may notice a particular musical chime which sounds awfully familiar should they win the bonus offered with each transaction.
The gameplay mechanics in Binary Domain closely mirror the aforementioned title, Gears of War. Take cover, fire from cover, blind fire, melee – rinse, reload, repeat. From the over-the-shoulder camera angles, revival system when your downed, the burly squad members and the oversized boss battles; Binary Domain unashamedly adapts the enjoyable formula that Gears of War created. What your left with is a solid, familiar and successful experience. Thankfully, Binary Domain throws up enough gameplay variants throughout the campaign to keep things relatively fresh and exciting. You’ll find yourself gunning down enemies in a moving vehicle, sliding down a drenched seawall at 100mph, with many more perilous situations to look forward to.
Faith No More
Though many will initially presume that Binary Domain’s consequence system is nothing more than the standard ‘right or wrong’ affair, it’s actually one of the game’s main most intriguing aspects. Trust plays a pivotal role in the game’s story, specifically as to how the squad views Dan. Depending on your reactions and recklessness on the battlefield the squad will gain or lose their trust in Dan. The amount of trust a companion has for Dan will directly affect the storyline and the gameplay, for example, a character will refuse to listen to your commands. Experimentation is encouraged and completionists will be eager to discover how there actions affect the story the next time around.
The visuals throughout Binary Domain are clean, and at times, excellent.
The visuals throughout Binary Domain are clean and at times, excellent. Facial animations take centre stage, with the enhanced in-game cutscenes truly showcasing the graphical prowess of the game. After each in-game cutscene, the camera swings back to the player’s viewpoint, resulting in an effective, almost seamless transition. Sadly, the environments are slightly dull and generic, and the linearity of the game results in trudging a lot of bland corridors. That being siad, Binary Domain is no slouch in the looks department.
Predictably, Binary Domain has an ample multiplayer component for those who desire it. There’s Invasion mode (survive waves of opponents) and a variety of Versus modes to choose from such as the classic free-for-all, capture the flag and many more. The online code was stable throughout my time with the game, and it’s a viable alternative should you tire of the single-player campaign.
Binary Domain was reviewed on Xbox 360.
Ridiculous Robo Romp
Binary Domain is this year’s quintessential sleeper hit. With one of the most compelling stories in recent memory, an appealing cast, a clever gimmick and solid gameplay throughout; it’s difficult to find much to complain about. Fun, enjoyable and even hilarious, Binary Domain is totally insane and totally… our kind of game.