E3 2011 Impressions: Binary Domain (Sony Playstation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360)

Yesterday I had a chance to sit down and watch a demonstration of Binary Domain, an upcoming action title being published by SEGA and developed by the same team that worked on the Yakuza series. The developers walked us through some of the game mechanics and explained a little bit about the ideas behind what was going on in the game.

Binary Domain takes place in a future where robots are common, though there is a law against making them humanoid in appearance. This law is broken, and a multi-national team tracks the source of the issue to Japan. They didn’t mention specifically if the story was inspired by Blade Runner or perhaps Snatcher, but it certainly sounds familiar. Anyway, the portion they showed had you choose two squad members, from a choice of four, to join the main character. These squad mates are AI controlled, and when choosing them, there is a bar next to the character that shows the level of trust that they have in the protagonist. They said that depending on the level of trust, it can open up different options for what happens within a level in the game.

Once the level started, they showed that the AI can be controlled both by voice commands or by quick controller inputs. I thought that was great, since there have been games that have used vocal recognition for squad control to great effect in the past, except that the mechanic has been hardly used for any games, especially in the last few years. Maybe I was imagining this as well, but it appeared that the on screen character also would move his lips along with the person presenting the game when he spoke or used the voice commands.

Aside from the squad voice commands, the game plays a lot like Gears of War. I had a chance to play the game on the E3 floor, and these controls will be easy for anyone who has played Gears to pick up and play. I tried it on the PS3, so the roadie run/cover button was mapped to X. You can pop in and out of cover for firing, throwing grenades or switch between cover on the fly. Where it differentiates from Gears was with the enemy design. The robots in the game aren’t easy to kill; even the grunts have armor protecting their weak points. There are a lot of ways to take enemies out. The basic enemy robot is humanoid in design, so you can shoot out their legs, then they’ll crawl after you and can be melee stomped. You can take out their arms/chest, and interesting enough when you take out their head they just start firing blindly at whatever is near, including other robots. This distracts all nearby enemies and makes them concentrate on the rogue robot.

Multiple enemy types where on display, each with different weak points. At the end of one level that was shown there was a gigantic spider robot where you had to take out the armor covering weak points, and then take out the weak spots. Once each were destroyed the enemy grew more aggressive. Even though the game was pre-alpha, the AI was working great both for the squad AI and enemy AI. It looked great with a lot of detail and cool little effects.

The demo also showed off little things, like how the squad partners would talk to the character you control and ask questions that had different answers, which in turn effected trust levels, which in turn effected how things could play out or the effectiveness of that character responding to commands. While the game controlled like a Gears of War clone, Binary Domain is certainly a different style of game.

One thing I had asked was if there were any versus or co-op modes. While versus mode wasn’t something that was planned, they mentioned that they were working on a co-op missions that were separate from the main narrative. Which, after playing the demo, makes sense. The squad trust/dialog system and how it effects the levels would not work in a co-op story, but I’m glad to hear that they are going to include some type of co-op functionality.

Again, this was an early build of the game; even though it was impressive, they are still adding more to it. Considering how well it already looks, Binary Domain could really be a AAA game when it eventually is released.

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