So you like playing third-person shooters you say? You say you're tired of killing the same old enemies? You go on to say that you're tired of the zombies, the aliens, the terrorists, and zombie aliens? Well, SEGA feels you. They know what you want, what you really really want is to shoot many robots.
Binary Domain is a futuristic squad shooter created by Toshihiro Nagoshi, the same person responsible for the Yakuza series. Players take on the role of (generic white American hero) Dan Marshall who has to infiltrate Japan to find and capture the leader of a robotics firm, called Amada, that may have broken the Geneva Code, Clause 21 about … I’ve lost you, haven’t I?
Yeah. Sorry ... my mind was on something else.
Look it’s Blade Runner and Terminator trying to raise their baby to be the next Gears of War. All you really need to know is some Japanese business guy made a bunch of robots that look a little too human and you’ve gotta put a bullet in all of them.
Each of your team members feels like a grab bag of good-natured stereotyping tropes. The foul-mouthed African American strong man, the dry-witted British tactician, the uptight Chinese lady sniper, and so on. At the start of your missions you get to select two teammates to go on the mission with you. The game is clever with how it alters the script based on who you bring along. Pick two guys and it becomes a ‘hoorah’ good time, select two ladies and you get accused of being a perve (their word not mine). At least the script gets a good laugh out of me. The whole thing feels like the Japanese writing staff binged themselves on 80s & 90s American sci-fi action flicks and went about trying to pay the genre an homage. Now I may personally find the story a bit derivative, but that by no way means the game as a whole is.
One of the game’s major selling points is the Consequence System. During gameplay you will have opportunities to increase the levels to which each of your squad-mates trust you as a leader. This is judged by how well you perform in battles (if they have to revive you a lot they lose faith in your abilities), how well you command (sending a sniper to do something a demolition expert should do makes you look stupid), and how you answer various questions they might ask of you.
So do you think I'm the Barney of the group ... or the Ted?
You can choose to use the optional microphone support (sorry Kinect owners, you’ll have to use a headset) to communicate with your team. It works ok, it even recognizes a few swear words, but too often in the heat of battle a command of “Regroup” is mistaken for a “Charge”. Luckily you can opt to just hold down the left trigger and tap a face button instead. It's a novel idea for a squad system. It does feel good when you answer a question with the 'right' answer and see that little blue arrow of approval next to their name. However, when you say 'cover me' and they reply 'I'm on it' before doing nothing of the sort, it really makes the whole thing seem moot. Worse, they will frequently run into your line of fire while you are firing, which then causes them to like you less making it even less likely that they will follow your orders. Annoying, but you soon get in the habit of keeping an eye out for your brain dead pals.
Luckily, the other gameplay hook is where the game truly shines. All of the enemies have proper hit zones and show damage as they take it. There is something oh so satisfying about unloading an assault rifle into a bunch of metal humanoids. If you shoot their legs off, they’ll crawl at you like you won a Sarah Conner look-alike contest. There is even a clever feature in which getting a head shot doesn’t kill them, they just can no longer see and will begin firing at friend and foe alike. This is far deeper than just mixing up how you dispatch your enemies. You are awarded in-game credits for every busted robot and bonuses for doing it with a little flair.
Bonus points for making them beg
These gunfights take place in small areas that are dressed up to look like huge areas. This gives you that sense of scale while keeping the action concentrated on your location. There are impressive weather effects, destructible environments, and other slick visuals all running on the CriWare engine. There is the standard “Gears of War” cover system which works, but somehow often lets you get shot a little anyway. It's hard to tell if this is a flaw in the cover or the flanking strength of the enemy A.I. Either way, it keeps you on your toes.
The action never lets up on the throttle through any of the 10 hour long campaign. You will surf on robots. You will have to escape from giant transforming biker robots. You will hi-jack a fallen robot and make it your mech. While the run and gun sections toss a bunch of cannon fodder your way, the boss battles will test your abilities. These bosses generally need to be damaged with set pieces, or have their armor blown away with rocket launchers before they are able to fall. You will have to destroy a massive missile launching robot spider, leg by leg. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a huge mechanical spider bouncing around while balancing on its final leg.
Spider-Robot, Spider-Robot. It will kill you unless you shoot his weak spot.
Since a majority of the game was designed to have three characters at a time, it's a shame there is no co-op support. Instead, the online multiplayer consists of the usual variants on deathmatches, capture the flag, and a Horde mode called Invasion. It's all totally playable and all totally the same as every other time you've seen these modes before, so 'tried-and-true' instead of innovative. At least there is some replay to be had in single player by going through the campaign again only taking different teammates along with you. There is a big difference in being backed up by a tactician and sniper verses a heavy gunner and demolition expert. That and the dialog during the mission will be different with the different characters.
Binary Domain isn't that game that instantly jumps out and grabs you like a rampaging mechano-man. It's one that will grow on you and one that becomes very hard to put down until you reach the end. It doesn’t have the character depth of Mass Effect nor the highly polished visuals of Gears of War. It is, however, the best Terminator game ever made without the Terminator license.
This review was based on a PlayStation 3 copy of Binary Domain, provided by the publisher.