Sometimes, when you try out a game the potential in the demo is so strong you can smell it. And while I don’t like playing anything that relies mainly on guns and aims with the camera on a controller, I had already decided when the price dropped, I would get this game on my PS3 because of such a smell. And then something wonderful happened… Binary Domain was announced as a Steam Download! Once the demo showed me just how right this game feels on my good old mouse, I couldn’t resist and this became my big Steam Summer Sale game. Now, I have finished it. It did not disappoint. Step inside.
Story: The year is 2080 and we’ve come a long way, baby. The polar icecaps have melted and flooded the world, but from that carnage mankind has risen like a phoenix and with the help of two robotics companies building an instant work-force, this new world has flourished.
In order to keep mankind on top, a new Geneva Convention has made certain technologies illegal to research or produce. Among these restrictions are robots that can not be told apart from human beings. But this law has been broken. The first report of this came in the form of an elderly man walking into the main headquarters of the major US robotics company threatening the CEO with a handgun! It didn’t take long before the man demanded to know why they did “this” to him before showing them… by ripping his own face off and revealing the skeleton-looking mechanical nature he hid within. And then finally, shooting himself in the head to end his pain.
The man was a Hollow Child: a robot designed to pass off as human, even to himself. And he had remained undetected in the US for 30 years as a legal immigrant. Nor was he alone. The Secretary of Defense was executed in the meeting briefing the top of the government about this “invasion,” himself detected to be nothing more then steel.
In response, Dan Marshall is sent to meet up with an international strike-force in Japan where the only other major robotics company in the world exists that could potentially have the technical knowhow to create such things resides. Their mission: infiltrate the Amada Company’s headquarters, gather the evidence needed to prove their international crime, and bring the head of it to justice.
You join the game controlling Dan as he and the first member of the group, Bo, meet up at the sea-wall that protects Japan from the oceans. Since Japan treats any foreign military action as invasionary, you are supposed to do this quietly. This, as you can expect in an action game of this nature, does not last, and before long, you will find yourself wrapped up in an action-packed thrill-ride where you will lead a small team in their mission.
That is not to say that things stay straight forward, though. You can not trust everyone you meet to be who they say they are… or perhaps even as human as they themselves believe.
Nor am I entirely sure the story plays completely the same for everyone. Im saying this because there are several things that happened in my play through that could not if I did not pick certain members of the team to stick with me for those points in time. The results of this ranged from only lasting for that battle to emotional motivation for Dan in the main plotline later on.
On top of that, I got achievements that suggested things could have gone FAR worse between team-mates at the end of the game then they did. This suspicion comes especially strong from knowing that I got an achievement for gaining the loyalty of one of my team-mates when he took his gun out of my face just before the last boss… and not everyone who finished the game got this achievement. I don’t know how much the game changes, but at the very least making it feel like some major changes were possible is a good mark for the story.
As for the general feel of this plot, I can say nothing against it. It would feel at home in a sci-fi action flick. The twists it does throw really only happen at the end and they are not very big. They won’t shock you, but they are fitting of the world the game presents you and will surprise you in the “you mean you didn’t use that cliché?” way.
Graphics: Let me be up front: Binary Domain is a console port, and this shows strongly in the way the game looks. As a result, there is a glass ceiling here that most games of this generation never get past, and Binary Domain is no exception.
That isn’t to say the game isn’t gorgeous, however. Choosing a futuristic setting that isn’t war-torn has allowed the developers to give a lot of variety to the world you will see… from the cement-grey sea-walls to the grimy-but-alive-with-neon underground, to even the high-class offices of Amada, expect to see a lot of great work go into the world you are playing in.
Not that the work on the characters are a slouch either. The realism in the faces and form of your team compares easily to the Mass Effect Trilogy. The exception to this are the robots, however… be them the enemy or the ally you gain early on, Cain. Rather then give these characters faces to animate, they generally have face-shaped plates on the front of their heads to varying degrees. The end result is something that is different enough to be interesting, fitting to the world they are sold into, and yet human enough to be fairly familiar enemies. I would call this a solid design choice.
But the best part of the robot designs are their destructibility. Armor, arms, legs, and heads can come off of just about every robot design in the game. But we can cover that further later on.
Sound: Sadly, the sound track of this game is a faltering point. It isn’t so much bad as unmemorable. Seriously, I haven’t played the Single Player game for a few days and the only song I remember is from the main menu. It fits the game well, but it’s not going to stick with you.
Nor are the sound effects particularly great or endearing. All your guns sound about right and the enemy robots clank around to your satisfaction, but that is probably the big limitation this game has. Since the entire game involves pretty much nothing but you, your team, and the endless hoard of robots in gunfights of one form or another, there really isn’t a lot of room for wow-me sound effects. This game is simply put, a much more visual than audio affair.
But that isn’t to say there are no highlights to look forward to. The voice acting here stands out, both for good and bad. The bad side is pretty much any non-main character. If they are random people on the streets of Japan (or in any specific place) it seems Sega hired one guy to do the voice for them all and used one set of responses should you wish to get them to talk. The result is the kind of “NES RPG” one-or-two lines just about everyone of the same type of character says and quickly becomes not worth your time. Thankfully most of the game seems aware of this and leaves you with few places to find out.
Main characters, on the other hand, just ooze character from their lines. Be it the bro-mance going on between Bo and Dan, the sharp wit and French accent of Cain, or even the “I just met you but I already hate you” reaction Faye has to our “Bros” when they first meet, everyone sounds right for what’s going on in their heads, and have pretty good lines to work with (although I will say Bo does occasionally get the short end of the stick here). Enjoy this one.
Gameplay: At it’s core, Binary Domain is a 3rd person cover-based shooter and includes most of the plusses and minuses in being one. You will spend a majority of your time going from room to room where there are sets of cover, potentially some ammo to replenish your supplies, and an army of robots that need to be defeated before you can go to the next room. Rinse and repeat.
But this time, that is not quite true. By majority of the game, I mean “more time doing this than anything else” because you will actually find yourself often in much more varied situations. From keeping yourself hidden while swimming through a set of ducts leading from the ocean, diving through areas running like hell while the buildings around you literally come down around your ears and threaten to crush you to death, to protecting the vehicle you are in from enemy fire, this game will completely change what you have to do often enough that that alone will keep you from getting board and just waiting for the end of the game.
Not that the main combat is boring or unvaried either. During normal combat, the way you dismantle your enemies will often effect the battle. You can take off the legs of a robot and it will keep crawling to you to grab onto your ankles, slow you down, and break your legs. You can take off it’s gun-arm and it will advance under cover as much as possible before running up to slug you (and possibly take you down in one hit). You can even take most of their heads off, at which point you will watch as they turn around and attack the other robots the same way! Between this a handful of enemy robot types, and the weapons/shields they could well carry into battle, the main combat has plenty to keep you occupied.
Nor are the robots the only variation. There are some events that change up the mechanics, like a room filling with water that you have to reach the end of before your friends trapped below drown and you fail the mission or another room that fills with poisonous gas, requiring you to destroy the systems pouring it in while diving between “breathing stations” adding some additional challenge to some rooms on the way and again, keeping the variance high. The only real issue I could find with the combat is the same issue almost every game I’ve played that uses a cover system has. Since these games all like to make it used by the same button as running, sometimes you will stick to a wall you didn’t mean to. It is highly unlikely to hurt your game, but is annoying, especially during tense moments.
In addition you will also find “store terminals” throughout the game which will let you buy medkits, weapon upgrades, “skills” for you and your team as well as we weapons and ammo for yourself. Since your total equipment at any time includes at maximum, one type of grenade, your side-arm, your primary rifle and one slot for a gun of your choice, don’t expect to spend much on guns in here. The enemies will leave plenty around and more then likely you will already have a choice weapon set aside… assuming of course you haven’t done enough upgrades to your primary gun.
These upgrades increase how many rounds each clip has, how powerful they are, how far they go, how accurate the gun is, and even how fast it shoots…. for every member of your team. And after a while, you are just picking up a second gun off the ground just in case you somehow run out of ammo between these stores and pickups on the field. Rarely do you actually need that second weapon.
Skills are also very minor unfortunately, nor are they really named right. They are upgrades to the characters themselves, and while nice, the limit of 6 slots, the tetris-like system to fit what you want on each character, and the limitation that each character can only use upgrades made just for them makes this a relatively useless option as well…. basically used towards the end when you likely will have cash coming out of your ears and just “want to use it.”
But sadly, one of the biggest features to sell this game is the biggest flop…. the game was supposed to sport voice-controlled squad commands. And this works absolutely HORRIBLY. While I had my mic on, any sound that apparently even I couldn’t hear would cause my team to ask me if I said something. Annoying, but playable. What doesn’t work so well is when agreeing with a team-mate by saying “Yes” is interpreted by the software as saying “idiot.” I still don’t know how they sounded the same, but that was about the point I turned off the mic and relied on the TAB menu to select from 1 of 4 commands.
This didn’t work so bad. I’ve heard terrible things about how well your team listens to you, but the few times I actually had to tell my team to regroup, they listened and came running. I have to wonder if that has more to do with the trust system built into this game then the actual commands not working well. Basically, as you play, your in-game performance and conversations with your team will increase and decrease the trust each member feels for you. The higher the trust, the more likely you will be obeyed. The lower, the more likely they will just do what they want and you can bite them for all they care.
And also just as disappointing are the human players you can play this game with. While trying this game online, I was literally unable to find a single other player in vs or invasion mode. When I couldn’t find literally ANY online game to join, I made my own invasion game… and after five-to-ten minutes, closed it out. This game is a ghost-town online, so unless you and a few friends plan to get it and do this together, don’t bother with this mode.
Bugs: Outside of the absolutely abysmal mic-support this game sports, I could only find one bug in the game. During a specific boss-fight, my team-mate managed to get himself stuck under the floor. He could still shoot and fight from there, but he couldn’t get out and kept drawing the enemy to the mounted gun you are supposed to use to fight him. Thankfully you could still hurt him with your normal weapons and the game offers you a lot of ammo in the room with him, but it made that boss especially annoying.
Further adding insult to injury, I’m pretty sure the game was debating letting me get out of the room where my ally couldn’t join me… but it did after a short moment, springing him into position like a rubber band propelled him into place.
Overall: Binary Domain is going to surprise a lot of people who read the reviews already available, and frankly from my experiences I can only deduce that their complaints have been patched out since launch, because this game was absolutely fantastic. If you like action shooters, there is a lot to love here. I recommend this game for action fans who are looking for a good science fiction story with real thought behind it or just a really great and varied looking world to blow up their bots in. And with the single player game coming in at 10 hours, it’s going to probably outlast most single player shooters on the market. You are going to like this.