At first glance, it’s quite easy to dismiss Binary Domain as yet another ho hum squad-based, third-person shooter hopelessly riding on the coattails of Gears of War. After all, its combat mechanics don’t redefine the genre, its storyline is fairly predictable and somewhat unoriginal, and its Japanese developer has never attempted to create a game like this before.
Sounds like Binary Domain has a lot stacked against it? Well, that may be true, but if you give the game a chance, you’ll discover that Toshihiro Nagoshi and Yakuza Studio have taken the tried and true American-developed, third-person shooter formula and reimagined it with a flair that only a Japanese developer could create.
I mean where else are you going to find a modern day shooter that so nonchalantly adds in jet ski levels, gigantic robotic gorilla and panther bosses, incredibly awkward sex scenes and robot ninjas? It seems like the only thing it’s missing are Quick Time Events. Oh wait, it has that too!
It’s all about the story!
Before we go on, allow me to ease you into Binary Domain’s story. The game is set in futuristic 2080 Tokyo, in a world where, after catastrophic natural disasters nearly destroyed humanity and left most of the world under water, humans have turned to robots to perform everyday tasks for them. Two companies, the American-based Bergen company and the Japan-based Amada Corporation, are bitter rivals in robotic engineering. A New Geneva Convention was passed that banned the practice of creating robots that look like humans. For some reason, they think this is unethical.
Well, here’s where you come in. You control Dan Marshall, an enlisted soldier who is a member of a Rust Crew – a military unit that is formed by the International Robotics Technology Association to enforce the New Geneva Convention. Your team is sent into Tokyo to investigate reports that the Amada Corporation has violated the convention by creating robots that not only look like humans, but they actually think they’re humans. In fact, some of these “Hollow Children” have lived 40 years or more thinking they’re human and leading normal lives only to be “activated” by the Amada Corporation for their own nefarious purposes.
Like I said before, the story isn’t entirely original, but it’s certainly interesting. The rest of your team, while stereotypical (especially Big Bo, who plays the part of the large, loud-mouthed black guy), is generally likable, and towards the end of the game, you’ll surely have one or two characters you genuinely care for. I particularly grew fond of Cain, a laidback, French robot that could pass as a C-3Po-style character except he’s actually useful and far less annoying. The voice acting is done fairly well, but it if you don’t like it, you have the option to listen in French, Japanese, Spanish and more, which is unusual in most games today.
Story? No, I meant gameplay!
While the combat doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen before, Binary Domain stands on the shoulders of the games that have come before it and has pushed the genre ahead. Whether that’s by a few inches or leaps and bounds it’s hard to say, but I definitely believe it’s evolved the third-person shooter.
While playing through the game on the standard difficulty, I found the enemy AI to be sufficiently challenging. Enemies will attempt to flank you, and if they get in close, they’ll grab hold of you and try to blow you up with a suicide bomb. Because of this, you’ll need to use cover often, and even then, I still died at times. Thankfully, you’re able to resuscitate yourself with first-aid kits, and if you’re out, you’re able to beckon a nearby teammate to bring you back to life.
There are a variety of scrap heads that you’ll encounter through the game, but for the most part, you’ll fight against generic, humanoid robots that simply shoot at you with an assortment of assault rifles, pistols and occasionally chain guns. Even still, the game mixes them up in such a way that you don’t feel like you’re fighting the same enemy over and over again.
During the beginning of each stage, you’re usually given the choice of selecting your two- to three-person team. Each character has a different primary weapon – some specialize in sniper rifles, heavy artillery or even pistols. While playing through the game, you’ll ease into the combination of characters that best suits your play style, but I usually stuck with the characters who had the best personalities, despite if their weapons or skills ultimately made my team the most effective. Often times, it proved to not be the smartest move, but I wanted them to be apart of my story, if you know what I mean.
Throughout your adventure, you’ll also get opportunities to raise your team’s attributes, upgrade your partner’s primary weapons and purchase ammo, health kits and other items at Ammunition Transit Japan terminals. Since Binary Domain doesn’t have an RPG-style leveling system, these terminals essentially serve that purpose.
Like most games of the genre, you’re rewarded for playing through a level with an enormous boss fight, and Binary Domain certainly doesn’t disappoint. You’ll battle against a multitude of gigantic, animal-inspired robot bosses, each more ridiculous than the last. For some reason, I couldn’t get over how incredibly unrealistic it was when I found myself battling against a King Kong-sized gorilla robot. But battles like that are part of the charm of the game, and you just have smile and take it as it comes.
Sounds like a lot of the same, no?
The Procedural Damage mechanic works remarkably well. With it, your robotic enemies take damage precisely where your bullets impact them. All enemies have metal plating that protects their internal structure, and as your bullets fly, their plating will begin to chip away. For example, if you blow off one of their legs, they’ll begin to hop around on their one good leg, still attempting to shoot you all the while. Wanna blow of the arm it’s using to shoot at you with a rifle? They’ll drop the rifle, pull out a handgun and continue blasting away with their remaining good arm. And to take it even further, if you blow off their head, the robot will no longer be able to determine friend from foe and will haphazardly attack anything that comes in its path, fellow robots included.
Sure, this has been done before, but I’ve never seen a developer so seamlessly weave it into combat as well as Yakuza Studio. Blasting through dozens and dozens of scrap heads is pure fun and never feels like a chore. In all honesty, I found myself wanting to stay in areas even longer just to get more opportunities to mow down my foes in different ways. It’s almost like when you were a kid and you tore the legs off an ant one by one to see how it’d react. Yeah, it’s kinda like one of those times.
Aside from that, the developer has also added a couple other noteworthy features; perhaps most notable is the Consequence System, which governs how loyal your squad mates are to you. Every decision you make will alter the loyalty of your teammates, and this is important because it effects how well they’ll follow your orders during combat. If you accidentally shoot a partner, their loyalty will decrease. Conversely, performing heroic acts in battle will cause it to increase. Depending on a character’s loyalty to you, it can also effect the game’s storyline, as well.
Additionally, Binary Domain’s advanced voice recognition feature allows you to communicate with your team through a headset where hundreds of different commands are at your disposal, ranging from “cover me,” “stay there,” or “heal me” all the way to “you idiot,” “sh*t,” “f*ck” or “God damn.” I played through the first third of the game with my headset attached, and the recognition software worked pretty well, but since my headset sucks and was painfully crushing my ears, I opted for the game’s standard controller commands.
It appears Yakuza Studio put most of its efforts into expanding the voice commands as they usually had a proper response to each situation I found myself in. However, the controller commands are severely lacking, and I found that more often than not, the standard options never quite fit what the expected response would be. It would have been great if the commands dynamically changed based on each conversation to help the conversation flow. As it stands, it’s not a huge issue, and if it annoys you, you can always throw on your headset and play the game how Nagoshi intended.
There are also instances during the game where you’ll be forced into a Quick Time Event. These can be incredibly frustrating as there’s an arrow quickly moving back and forth across a bar. You have to press the correct button and stop the arrow within a certain segment of the bar. The catch here is the longer you wait, the area in which you have to stop the arrow gets smaller. I can’t count on two hands the number of times I died because of a frustrating QTE. Honestly, I wish developers scrapped this mechanic altogether. Its only purpose is to give the player a sense of control over what would otherwise be a cutscene. I don’t need that control; just let me watch the damn video and get back to playing the real game.
There’s multiplayer too!
If the game’s eight-to-10-hour campaign isn’t enough for you, you can also engage in online combat, as well. There’s the standard fare here with an Invasion mode where you and a partner choose from several predefined combat classes like Soldier, Scout, Sniper, Heavy Gunner and Striker. After you selected your class, you’re dropped into a level where you fight against up to 50 waves of enemies.
The traditional multiplayer includes Free For All, Team Deathmatch, Team Survival, Operation, Demolition, Data Capture and Domain Control. While I haven’t played these modes very extensively, none of them seemed like they add anything new to the multiplayer experience.
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t playing this game for its multiplayer, and I’m not sure why Yakuza Studio felt the need to include it. The game could have stood perfectly fine with its great single-player campaign. Actually, I would have rather they spent more time adding an online co-op mode instead of the online multiplayer.
Binary Domain certainly surprised me. I wasn’t expecting to experience such a polished game, but given the track record of Yakuza Studio, I should have known better. The game’s story and gameplay aren’t anything new, but it builds upon the squad-based, third-person shooter in some very interesting ways. I love the Procedural Damage mechanic, and I’ve been waiting for a developer to bring it along for a long time. I certainly hope Nagoshi plans for a sequel or even some DLC at some point because I’d love to come back to its universe to continue battling scrap heads.
+ Great new features and mechanics that build on the genre
+ Likable characters
+ Insane boss fights
– Frustrating Quick Time Events
– Characters repeated same lines over and over again