Sega is simply full of surprises. Whenever I hear about one of their games via word of mouth from a friend or take a chance on one on a whim, I usually find myself walking away a fan of a new franchise. Whether it be recent games like Valkyria Chronicles, or an older game like Landstalker, I go in with little to no research and zero expectations and come away with a smile on my face. Binary Domain is another one of those games.
I sat down to play the demo based on the reputation that Yakuza Studio built for itself with the excellent Yakuza series. The brief period of time I spent with the game made me optimistic for the end product, not to mention impressed by how solid the gameplay was for a title with little to no press behind it. However, being a reputable developer and being full of potential only means so much if you can’t deliver on the final product. So just how does the latest third-person shooter from Sega fare amidst the onslaught of other first quarter releases?
Binary Domain takes place in a future where many of the world’s most populated areas have been flooded out, resulting in humans having to build on top of the remnants of what was left behind. This was done rather quickly, as robotics have advanced to the point where they can perform much of the manual labor. What few know, is that they’ve also advanced to the point where they can appear as regular people, indistinguishable from other humans on the surface. They are known as Hollow Children, and they themselves don’t even realize they are robots.
Since creating humanoid robots with self aware A.I. is against the New Geneva Convention, a group called a “Rust Squad”Â that consists of some of the world’s best soldiers is dispatched to take them out as well as anyone responsible for creating them. You play as Dan Marshall, a member of one of these Rust Squads, in an attempt to infiltrate a Japanese robotics company called Amada in order to capture the man in charge and learn the truth about Hollow Children and their true purpose.
The game has a lot in common with a number of sci-fi movies and series that I’ve seen, particularly Battlestar Galactica (the new one). It explores the horrors of finding out you’re not what you think you are as well as the fine line of what actually makes us human. It’s all been seen before, but it’s a story well told and is weaved in and out of gameplay with minimal downtime. There are also some very powerful scenes introduced that are just well presented in general. For a game of this genre, this is definitely one of the better written stories out there.
Aside from the single player campaign, there are a few multiplayer modes available to you. For competitive play, you have Free For All and Team Deathmatch which are pretty par for the course as far as shooters go. There’s also Domain Control, where you have to capture checkpoints and maintain control of them for as long as possible. Team Survival is much like Team Deathmatch, except it’s all about being the last team standing. Data Capture works a lot like a capture the flag type mode in other games, where you have to capture the data module for the other team and bring it back to your base. In Operation, the game is split into two teams where one has to defend supplies and the other has to blow them up. Finally, Demolition is much like Operation, except instead of having phases where one team attacks and the other defends, both teams are out to destroy the others’ supplies simultaneously.
If cooperative play is more your flavor, there’s an Invasion mode that works very similarly to the Horde mode in Gears of War 3. A team of up to four players have to survive 50 waves of a robot onslaught and can be played across several different maps. Overall, there’s a lot of variety here, even though it’s all been done before.
Story/Modes Rating: Great
Character models in Binary Domain look very convincing, particularly with facial expressions and emotions. It was also nice to see that environments were reasonably varied, some of which could be mildly destroyed during crossfire. Your robot adversaries look like something out of I, Robot, complete with armor plating that flakes off as you shoot at them. This is great not only as a visual effect, but as a way to tell how worn down your enemies are as well.
The multiplayer modes seemed scaled down in comparison to the main game, as I noticed textures that took awhile to load and choppy frame rates. I had a lot of lag issues during my matches which could have contributed to the latter, but everything as a whole just looked less impressive in those modes. Especially when compared to other games of the genre.
Graphics Rating: Enjoyable
It’s tough to notice the music amidst all of the gunfire, but it manages to bust out a pretty rocking soundtrack as you move from point to point blasting enemies. It doesn’t leave a lasting mark, but it definitely gets you in the mood to shoot off some robot faces and really, that’s all I needed.
While the Yakuza games may have been left in their original Japanese voices for most of the games, Sega managed to put together a pretty decent voice cast for Binary Domain. Characters such as Dan, Charlie, and Faye manage to stand out above the pack, delivering not only believable lines but with some convincing accents. I was also amused at Cain, the French speaking robot. Some of the Japanese characters that you are introduced to are left untranslated, but are subtitled so you can understand what is being said. Those same characters will also speak English when addressing the foreign characters while also applying a heavy accent, including one voiced by Johnny Yong Bosch (I told you he was in everything!)
Sound Rating: Great
If you’ve spent any time at all with the Gears of War franchise or even similar titles like Army of Two, you should fit right in. The thumbsticks allow you to move and aim your gun, while left trigger zooms in if you need to. If you’re under fire, the A button will “glue”Â you to a wall or some form of cover so you can avoid taking damage. Right trigger will fire the gun and doing so without aiming will allow you to blindfire, lowering your accuracy but keeping enemies suppressed. Right bumper will reload as well as do a charge up shot if you are using Dan’s main assault rifle. This shot can be used to clear debris or just knock enemies back if you need breathing room.
If you do manage to get knocked out, B button will allow you to use a med kit to resuscitate yourself. Wait long enough, or if you call out to them, one of your teammates can pick you back up if they have a med kit on hand as well. Likewise, if they get knocked out, you may have to use one on them as their death means game over too. You can use X button to melee enemies in your way or while they are on the ground, though it’s not a one shot kill like in most games, even in a multiplayer setting.
Guns are swapped by tapping on the directional pad, though the main assault rifle can’t be dropped in favor of another weapon and you always have to have a sidearm (though it can be switched). The other two slots are reserved for grenades and whatever other random weapon you happen to pick up. Dan’s main weapon as well as those belonging to your teammates can be upgraded at shop stations found throughout the game, allowing you to increase effectiveness by boosting damage or increasing accuracy. You can also purchase ammo or med kits from these stations, as well as nanomachines that can augment your characters.
Since you travel in a squad, commands can be issued by using an attached headset. The game recognizes nearly 70 words across multiple languages, including most curse words. Not only can you order your teammates to charge ahead or open fire, but you can give them complements in battle or reply to requests they may have of you. As much as I enjoyed this concept, I really had a lot of problems with it. The idea was so that you didn’t have to stop and mess with buttons to command your soldiers, you can just say random things and they would react accordingly. However, many of the commands I gave would not register, even when I spoke them clearly. I ended up just taking the headset out at one point and using left bumper to give commands instead. It’s a shame too, because it was a great idea, I just don’t think the voice recognition technology in this game was quite at a level where this concept is effective.
Every member of your team has what is called a Trust meter. You earn trust by the encouraging them, answering their questions a certain way, or just overall performing well in battle. It can also be dragged down by replying nastily or even shooting at them. The higher their trust for you is, the more likely they are to follow your commands. High trust will even influence certain cutscenes in the game as well as a number of things in the endgame, so it’s worth your while to be nice to all of your comrades.
In short, it feels very much like Gears of War and other similar games. But everything feels so polished, you’ll hardly care. This is a very well done package as a whole.
Control/Gameplay Rating: Great
There are three different difficulty settings to be conquered, not to mention some alternate scenes that can be viewed as outlined before. The competitive multiplayer, while fun, does not offer the same kind of staying power as other games like it. During my time online, there was usually only one game of each type going on at once, if I could find any at all. And most matches were incredibly laggy to the point of being unplayable. This is something that could be rectified with a patch, but in the meantime it’s best stayed away from.
I’m not sure if lag plagues the Invasion mode or not as there were no joinable games that I could find. I tinkered with it a little by myself, and it’s about what you would expect. One thing I found that was unfortunate is that you cannot join a game that is already in progress, so if you have a friend log in that wants to play with you, you’d have to quit out to the menu and let them in. I’m not sure what happens if a player gets dropped, though I’m betting the situation is the same. Still, it seems like it would be a lot of fun if you manage to get four people together for this. Sadly, there is no co-op campaign or even the ability to play the main campaign together with someone either online or off.
There’s also a level up system where you gain ranks based on points you earn on the various modes. It seems you are able to carry the same rank for both the competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes. There are different classes to choose, each with a different starting weapon much like Battlefield 3, though not quite as in-depth. Each one can be outfitted with its own nanomachines, which act like the perks from Call of Duty. I noticed empty spaces for more nanomachines than ones I had to originally choose from, which leads me to believe you can unlock more with higher ranks. You can also use points earned from combat to purchase med kits and more powerful weapons, though you drop anything you buy as soon as you die, so hope you’re feeling lucky before you blow all of that cash on a shiny new rocket launcher.
Replayability Rating: Enjoyable
As mentioned before, the single player campaign has three different difficulties that can be played though regardless of which one you choose, checkpoints are fairly plentiful. On the standard difficulty, enemies are pretty smart, but things are pretty manageable until you get near the end. The fact that you are battling robots opens up some possibilities in terms of ways you can dispose of enemies. For starters, shooting off their legs will cause them to crawl after you, which can be your downfall if you’re not paying attention. Not only can they still shoot if you haven’t already blown off their arms, but they can grab onto you, causing you to have to shoot them off with your sidearm in order to escape.
If you manage to blow off their head, the robots can still fight, but will target other robots instead. I had a blast causing their heads to go pop and then start a fight amongst themselves. Aside from the standard robots, you’ll also have to contend with ones that use shields, small spider-like ones can can attach themselves to you and cause damage, and robot ninjas that can warp around and bounce off walls and such. The various bosses manage to put up a pretty good fight too, often having targetable weakpoints that must be exploited or environmental hazards that need to be utilized.
Having certain squad members with you in a given situation may make things easier for you as well. Each one of your teammates has a specialization that you can utilize, such as sniping or close range combat. You won’t always know ahead of time what’s waiting for you, and you can’t always switch who you have in your party at a given time, but having the right comrade with you at the right time can really help in a pinch. It works very much like Mass Effect, having the “right”Â teammates may make things easier, but doing without doesn’t necessarily mean the impossible.
Balance Rating: Incredible
I hate to say it, but if you’ve played a cover based shooter in the last few years or watched any science fiction shows in the last couple decades, then you’ve experienced much of Binary Domain in some form. Not that this is a terrible thing, mind you. The story is well written, the gameplay is tight, and everything comes together well. This is a game I would recommend to someone who has played games like Gears of War or watched movies like Blade Runner and says to themselves “I want more of this.”Â
The one thing that I found was somewhat unique as the ability to communicate with your squad via headset, even though we’ve seen it in games like SOCOM and will eventually see it in Mass Effect 3. The number of phrases recognized by the game is impressive, it’s just a shame that the technology didn’t work a tad better than it did. If this game is fortunate enough to become a franchise, I would love to see this idea expanded upon and touched up a bit for functionality.
Originality Rating: Poor
While the demo left me wanting more, I wasn’t sure what the main game had in store for me. For all I knew, what I had played was just cherry picked portions of the best the game had to offer. Turns out, I was wrong.
Once I got started on Binary Domain, I didn’t want to stop. The story had me intrigued, first of all, which rarely happens for me in games like these. On top of that, there was just a lot of variety to the gameplay. You’ll be doing your cover based shooting one second, and then the next scene you may peeking out the top of a truck shooting at pursuing enemies, or perhaps trying to infiltrate a city via jet ski, and the list goes on and on. For a ten hour campaign, there was plenty to keep my attention.
The multiplayer modes have potential which it could very well reach if it wasn’t for all of the lag. Invasion mode has all the capacity to be a great time waster among friends, and even the vanilla competitive modes offer a nice change of pace from the Gears community. Hopefully this can be patched in the near future before players decide to give up on it.
Addictiveness Rating: Incredible
It may a Japanese take on what has been traditionally a western dominated genre, but I think Yakuza Studio did a great job. My biggest fear for Binary Domain is that it’s going to get overlooked in favor of Mass Effect 3 since they are only a week apart in terms of release dates. That would be a shame, as I would like to see this become a franchise if possible. Fans of third-person shooters should enjoy the hell out of the campaign, and the multiplayer is very solid when it works. Quite simply, if you like the Gears of War campaign, you will like this game.
Appeal Rating: Good
Since I don’t own a Kinect, I have no idea how the voice recognition in Mass Effect 3 is going to turn out. The reason I bring that up, is I have the feeling that the Kinect may have better technology for such a thing. Otherwise, why else would Bioware choose that over a standard headset in order to utilize voice commands.
If I’m right, and the Kinect is in fact better for voice recognition, I think Binary Domain could have benefited from perhaps giving players the option of using one or the other depending on what they own. It’s certainly possible that the programming for each is quite different, so this might not actually be feasible. Regardless, the speech recognition is a cool feature that I would like to see improved upon in a future iteration should there be one, even if it has to use the Kinect to do so. No sense in keeping it the way it is now if I end up taking my headset out in favor of using buttons, right?
Miscellaneous Rating: Good
Appeal Factor: Good
Final Score: Good Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
The best way to describe Binary Domain is that it’s the Darksiders of third-person shooters. It borrows gameplay concepts from Gears of War, Mass Effect, and SOCOM, as well as story elements from popular science fiction like Battlstar Galactica, Blade Runner, and I, Robot. And you know what? That’s okay, because it simply WORKS. Everything controls well, gameplay is varied, and the story will have you glued to its conclusion. Being able to actually speak to your squad with the headset is a neat idea, though it doesn’t work all that well. Also, the multiplayer was incredibly laggy in a number of my online matches. Despite all that, Binary Domain is in my running for one of the most underrated games of the year. We might be getting into a busy release schedule, but don’t let this one slip between your fingers. It’s a hell of a ride.