Reposted Review: Binary Domain

y2lp

                                (Originally posted on Retro Retreat before its hiatus.)

Every so often a title comes along that gets a lot more flak tossed upon it than it actually deserves.
Valid criticisms are brought to light by a few, but they somehow become blown out of proportion in the gaming community. The next thing you know something that is actually a decent title (Or sometimes above average title) becomes a pariah among average gamers.

That isn’t to say one should give everything a free pass, or should dilute their opinions. Quite the contrary. In recent years we’ve seen controversy over just what happens when somebody does. But sometimes something worth seeing, reading, hearing, or playing will be overlooked, and either unfairly fall into the same category of nefariously bad titles or become forgotten. Sometimes that’s simply how it goes in any entertainment medium. Unfortunately for Sega that seems to be the sad fate of Binary Domain.
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PROS: Fun gunplay. Cool enemies. Awesome bosses. Likable characters. Voice work is wonderful.

CONS: Not very original. Some underwhelming parts in the story. Multiplayer doesn’t do much to keep long-term interest.

HUH?!?: A plot point so over the top critical players will pause the game, and spend hours trying to make sense of it.
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Binary Domain really isn’t a bad game at all. In many respects it’s quite good. It has very responsive mechanics most of the time. It has some of the best voice acting around when compared to many other games of it’s ilk. The story, while absurd, and even mildly pretentious at times, is told fairly well. It’s got a few really cool (If cheap at times) bosses. It even throws in a few old school action game staples like multiple endings, waves of cool enemies, and a fast frame rate (Minus a few areas of slowdown).

Where the criticism starts to become justified however is Binary Domain’s voice recognition software. Throughout the game you will meet NPC’s who join your quest, and require you to have conversations with them through dialogue trees. Instead of simply choosing responses from a list as in games like Mass Effect however, the default setting has you saying one word replies to move the conversations along verbally. Which on paper seems really cool, and it is… when it actually works. All three versions have this feature, and all three have the same quirks. The game also has moments where you can communicate with your NPC members during firefights telling them to hold a position, cover you, or engage enemies. Again, this gets finicky, and doesn’t always work. Many times you will simply try to answer a question with the word “Yes”, only to have the game think you used the phrase “I love you” which only nets weirder results. Moreover, in order to get the better endings you have to get on your NPC crew’s good side by telling them what they’ll want to hear. With such imprecise voice commands this is hard to pull off.

Fortunately you can shut this feature off, and pull up a text menu in it’s place. Purists however may feel disappointed the biggest touted feature of the game isn’t nearly as responsive as need be.

Binary Domain is a third person cover shooter. Much like Gears Of War you will find yourself ducked out behind barricades, posts, furniture, and the like popping up to shoot at enemies. But the game while admittedly as similar as most of the genre does blend some ideas from it’s forebears. In many instances the game feels like a marriage between Platinum Games’ Vanquish, and Flying Hog Software’s Hard Reset. Like Vanquish, you will have huge firefights with a lot of on-screen hordes. Also, like Hard Reset the story, and characters focus largely on robotics, and the ethics of playing God with science seen in many examples of Science Fiction. It doesn’t hide the fact that it’s inspired a lot by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Isaac Asimov’s I Robot collection of short stories.

The game’s story centers around two rival robotics corporations, and government interventions during a cataclysm after a terrible climate change disaster swallows most of Japan. One of the companies, Amada of Japan falls under scrutiny when evidence comes to light that they have been releasing human like robots called Hollow Children into various societies. These robots are programmed to think they are actual people, and as such are dangerous because they can find their ways into power positions before Amada can possibly turn on a switch, and control the world through them. As such, governments around the world forge their best ex military forces into groups called Rust Crews. Teams sent in to find, and destroy threatening robots. Why is this evil corporation supposedly doing this? Because it’s American rival Bergen Corp. steals some of it’s robotics patents, and causes Amada to lose billions.  There are a few twists, and turns that will keep most players intrigued, including one bombshell that does admittedly jump the proverbial shark. It won’t be enough for you to give up on finishing it, and it does go out of it’s way to explain the plot point. But it will likely take you out of the story due to it’s absurdity.

As Dan, a Rust Crew member you will play through the game’s six stage campaign. Throughout the campaign you will be tasked with infiltrating Amada, and taking down it’s mechanized forces.

Combat in this game is very satisfying, with spot on gunplay so many other games fail to capture properly. Like the best TPS games, cover actually works in your favor, AI allows for most enemies to behave believably, and with the rare exception even NPC help does what it’s supposed to most of the time. Enemies crawl toward you after having their legs blown off. They zig zag between cover as they try to engage you. They duck behind cover after sniping at you from rooftops. They try to guard weak spots after you destroy protective armor. Along the way you will have several NPC’s team up with you. You start out with Dan’s best friend, Bo. Later you’ll run into British, French, Chinese, and Japanese forces who will join your quest. Staying on their good side will get you closer to the best ending the game has to offer, again if using the voice commands this will prove difficult so most players will shut this off.

Voice actors do a surprisingly great job. While the characters themselves are your typical B Action movie cliche’s, all do manage to fit nicely, and are never offensive in their roles. In fact, the game does a pretty good job at attempting to build depth through the relationship tree dialogue to break out beyond the typical “Tough Guy” characterizations it starts with. When comic relief is thrown in it doesn’t overdo it, and breaks tension like it’s supposed to. Things do get a little goofy, and pretentious near the apex of the story but again, not so horrid you’ll set your gamepad down.

Stages are fairly linear, a complaint I can’t really harp on too much as this has been an issue with nearly every action game released since Call Of Duty 2 hit the Xbox 360. Binary Domain does go out of it’s way to give a few minor tangents of exploration for secret document tablets you can find, but it doesn’t do much to hide the hand holding. It does however break up some of the blastathon areas with some really fun rail shooter moments including a really impressive boss battle against a giant robot that looks like a cross between Marvel Comics’ Ghost Rider, and the Go-Bots villain Cy-Kill.

Speaking of bosses while they all have a great aesthetic, and bring a sense of dread when encountering them (Something all bosses should do). They can be cheap at times. Namely, when they get in too close, and stay on top of you. This leads to a death/revival/death loop as you run out of medkits, and your teammates cannot get to you in time until you ultimately die, and have to restart at the last checkpoint. Some bosses also have one hit death weapons, so avoiding contact with them is even more paramount. Fortunately, one other element borrowed from Hard Reset is the idea of  weaponry vending machines. These allow you to spend the points you earn killing hordes of minions on upgrading your weapon effectiveness, as well as on ammo, and nano technology to boost your life bar. You can also buy your crew medkits, ammo, and nanomachine upgrades.

Throughout it all, despite the flaws, Binary Domain’s campaign is a fun ride while it lasts, and the multiple endings do ensure you’ll play through a few times just to see what changes doing well, or barely scraping by will bring to the story.

After seeing all there is to see with the campaign there are a few multiplayer bits in the game to keep players invested. This is where the game does suffer somewhat as there isn’t enough to keep people playing. There are two main attractions: A very solid deathmatch mode that you won’t play much because you’re likely already vested in a more multiplayer focused shooter. The other one is a horde mode which again, has been done in countless games. These modes do look, and play well but don’t have enough going on to distinguish them from other games.

The game’s squad focus really would have lent itself better to a 4 player version of the campaign with built-in support for voice over IP. Players would likely have been more receptive to this idea as few third person shooters have allowed for this.

All in all however, Binary Domain is a really good single player affair. Despite it’s faults it is a lot of fun to play, and the Yakuza guys who made it really did a bang up job. Graphically it can hang with some of the better looking console shooters, it doesn’t have many technical hitches (I only ran into a tiny bit of slowdown during one wave of zombie droids walking near exploding gas tanks) bogging it down. PC gamers can also tweak settings like AA, Texture Quality, Vsync, Resolution, as well as bind their control scheme. It’s a well crafted, fun to play, even if not entirely original video game.

Final Score: 7.5 out of 10.

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