March 02, 2012
Ghost in the Shell, Terminator, I, Robot (the novel, not the movie), Blade Runner, Battlestar Galactica... All seminal sci-fi classics and all clear influences upon SEGA and Yakuza Studio's latest entry into the third-person shooter genre that more people really ought to be playing. Binary Domain hasn't really had much in the way of fanfare in the run up to its release, which is a shame really, as it turns out that it's actually an incredibly accomplished action title with a compelling story and more than a few tricks of its own to bring to the crowded shooter table.
The setup is pretty straightforward. You play as Sergeant Dan Marshall, one of the members of the Rust Crew, a crack team of operatives sent in to Tokyo to investigate a breach in the New Geneva Convention, a law that governs the creation of robots that look and behave human. Taking place in 2080, technology is advancing at an alarming rate and human-mimicking robots known as Hollow Children that think they're human have found their way into society, unbeknownst to the world at large.
When Hollow Children start discovering that they're not entirely human, things take a turn for the worst, and the Rust Crew must break into Japanese robotics corporation Amada, to discover what exactly it is that's going on. In essence then, Amada is like Skynet, while US rival Bergen has been busy stealing Amada's research and building its own robots. What follows is a narrative that tears along at a fair old pace, bouncing you from one set-piece to the next, while gently introducing you to the game's interesting squad mechanics, skill allocation and weapons.
You start out with long-time buddy Big Bo by your side, working your way through the rainy slums while drip-fed with the game's mechanics, which soon become second nature as you progress. Once you run into more squad members, like French combat robot, Cain, demolitions expert Rachael, steely Brit, Charlie, Resistance member, Shindo and slinky Chinese sniper Faye, you can assign each a set of nanomachines to enhance base skills like weapon accuracy, health, healing and defence, adding a layer of strategy to proceedings.
As you progress, you'll run into all manner of hostile technology, including some pretty impressive bosses, including the Grand Lancer, Spider and frankly insane Tsar Runner, which provide some frantic wars of attrition as you chip away at layers of armour plating to expose glowing blue drive engines. These glowing blue bits are invariably a boss's weak spot, but knowing which bits to shoot first is vital. Thankfully, there's ample feedback in the game's meaty combat that sees chunks of metal flying off enemies in showers of sparks and flame, and smaller, more common enemies can be picked apart limb by limb, which again has tactical implications.
Speedier foes can be stopped in their tracks by blowing their legs off, while ones with too much firepower can have their arms disabled to ease up on the projectiles coming your way. However, the best tactic is to shoot off an enemy's head to send it haywire, attacking its fellow 'scrap-heads' in the process. At face value, Binary Domain is a standard cover shooter, and to a degree it is. But it's the little touches that make it more than the sum of its parts. For instance, there's the voice recognition, which in fairness is an additional frippery that the game doesn't necessarily need, as commands and responses are a couple of button presses away, but it's a great option to have in the game regardless. It also works exceedingly well, despite getting a little muddled on a couple of words in the extensive list. Nevertheless, we still favoured the button-pushing approach, which requires you hold the left bumper and select a face button for dialogue responses in certain situations or squad commands the rest of the time.
Your responses to questions and statements, as well as you actions in battle have an impact upon your trust levels in Binary Domain, which is yet another aspect you'll need to keep an eye on. Fail to follow an urgent order, prove to be inefficient in a firefight or behave like a moron, and your trust level among your fellow squad members will plummet, while positive actions like pummelling scrap-heads with a melee attack, protecting a teammate or choosing an appropriate response in a conversation leads to a trust boost. Maintaining the trust balance among your squad isn't always completely black and white either, so it's worth thinking about your approach rather than going with what you think the game wants you to do.
Binary Domain's story is well-paced and absorbing then, making it an indispensable single-player experience, but we're not entirely sure that the same can be said for the game's multiplayer, which mostly consists of standard online fare. Hell, there's even a co-op horde mode among the usual variations on capture-the-flag, free-for-all and team deathmatches. It plays in the same way as the rest of Binary Domain, so the action is immediate, fluid and fun, should you manage to find your way into a fully populated 10-player match. During our time with multiplayer, we encountered some minor instances of lag, but on the whole Binary Domain's multiplayer offerings are solid, yet unremarkable. Modes like Operation, Demolition and Domain Control offer something a little more interesting as far a multiplayer is concerned though and the points currency system for buying new equipment helps keep things fresh.
There are a handful of achievements attached to multiplayer too, much as you'd expect, with the interminable task of reaching level 50 being the most arduous. The other MP achievements are less of a ball-ache though, asking only that you complete all 50 waves of the horde-like Invasion Mode, win a game in all modes and complete all of the challenges, of which there are hundreds. It'll take an age to obtain a full 1000G then, but you can nab an easy 600G by finishing the story on Survivor difficulty and then again once you've unlocked the No Mercy difficulty. There's nanomachine and Security-Com collectibles to track down during the campaign too. It's a fairly uneven list, with more interesting achievements to be found in single-player, pertaining to the trust system and certain twists in the story.
And that's really where Binary Domain shines. Its story is superb, with characters that you actually end up caring about, a labyrinthine sci-fi plot with plenty of twists and turns, and an intriguing vision of the future in its A.D. 2080, Tokyo backdrop. Binary Domain's campaign is also a substantial size too, so you won't feel short-changed, and given that the action barely lets up for the game's 8-10 hour duration, with towering bosses providing long battles of attrition and plenty of varied set-pieces, Binary Domain is definitely well worth a punt.
Music is subtle and fits in perfectly, while the dialogue is well-written and at times humorous. Weapons sound raspy and satisfyingly vicious too.
All vertiginous pristine tower blocks and clinical interiors, contrasted with rain-slicked slums, dank sewers and rusting underground facilities, Binary Domain's futuristic world is varied and interesting. The bosses and characters look fantastic too.
It may not redefine the third-person shooter, but Binary Domain plays impeccably well. It's a cover shooter that favours strategy, but doesn't punish you for making brazen attempts at gung-ho heroics either.
There's a nice, big slab of game here, especially in the single-player campaign, which is compelling from beginning to end. Multiplayer is deep and full-featured, but lacking that all-important 'X-factor' to set it apart from its numerous other competitors.
An achievement list with a good single-player portion that'll take multiple playthroughs to unlock everything, and a handful of annoying multiplayer achievements require hours and hours of time invested in the various modes, levelling up and completing challenges. It's a fine list, but lacking in invention.
Binary Domain is a fantastic third-person shooter that'll be criminally overlooked, when it deserves to hold its head high among some of the best in the genre. The game's trust system, arsenal of weaponry and narrative are all excellent, and we hope that the game's conclusion, which has oodles of potential for a sequel, doesn't prove to be the last we see of SEGA's exciting new shooter IP. Binary Domain is a superlative sci-fi shooter that takes a good stab at innovating within a crowded genre, and for that reason alone, it's more than deserving of your time and attention.