There are very few games (or any form of entertainment media) today that can boast that they were developed and produced with passion and enthusiasm, that come off as an auteur project more than just another game. It is rare for a game like this to be made, but it is even harder to find it underneath the masses of games that are available today. Binary Domain is one of those gems.
PLATFORM: PS3/Xbox 360 (Game reviewed on PS3)
AGE RESTRICTION: 18
Binary Domain is brought to us by Sega, directed by Toshihiro Nagoshi (the man who brought us the Yakuza series), but is the incredibly unfortunate position of being released at pretty much the same time as Mass Effect 3. If you haven’t heard of Binary Domain, don’t be worried… very few people have. On the outside, it does sound like a generic cookie cutter game. It’s a third person, squad based shooter set in the future, with the central combat revolving around cover based shooting. The premise is as generic as it comes, but it is what Binary Domain does with the premise that sets it apart from other games in the same league.
Visually, Binary Domain is highly pleasing. The character models are well made and look highly realistic, aside from very blocky fingers. Textures on characters faces are beautiful and definitely on par with the best looking games out there. Additionally, the facial expressions are astoundingly good, conveying the emotion of the characters incredibly well, which really adds something to the charisma of your characters (more on that later though). The environment is varied and beautiful, switching from stormy ruins, clean corporate buildings, sunlit cafés, grimy garbage areas and plenty more. Each area has been meticulously designed (albeit still highly linear) to set the mood appropriately. Enemy and boss designs are astounding, with some highly creative, gorgeous and intimidating boss monsters. Enemy robots lose parts of their armour or limbs when shot enough, some limbs explode into shards or molten metal, making the carnage a spectacle to behold.
The game’s GUI is also incredibly simple and polished, making it a breeze to do things in the menus. On screen there is very little to distract you from the action, except when your weapon console pops up, which takes up just a bit too much of the screen space, sadly. It has to be mentioned that at a few parts there was a very slight framerate drop, which was slightly hindering the flow of action.
Overall though, the graphics deserve a solid 4.5/5.
Sound and Music:
The audio in Binary Domain is highly impressive. The soundtrack mainly consists of soft futuristic techno music and considering the subject matter, there’s no other type of music that would be more suited. The music is a pleasure to listen to and sets the mood accordingly, especially during cutscenes.
The sound effects in the game are a joy to listen to, especially with the effects when enemies are shot. You can hear as enemy armour starts chipping away from their bodies and you get the satisfaction of hearing limbs crack and fly across the room. Bullets sound loud and realistic and the stronger monsters sound powerful, to go along with their intimidating looks.
The voice acting for the game is incredibly well executed, despite a few cheesy lines here and there. The actors sound convincing and fit into their roles, something which is rather rare in this gaming genre. Special mention needs to be given to the voice actor for main character Dan Marshall, who made his character come to life. The realistic facial expressions combined with the voice acting go a long way into turning these characters into vivid memorable individuals.
Overall, I couldn’t fault the audio in the game and thus feel it deserves a 5/5.
It’s the year 2080AD and global warming has struck years back, changing the climate of the world and flooding the majority of the cities in the world, killing most of the population. Mankind then rebuilt their world on top of the ruins of their old world, but there was a severe lack in work force. Thus, two companies (Bergen and Amada) designed and built robots to serve humanity and assist in rebuilding the world.
After the advent of AI and robotics, the New Geneva Convention was signed, including an act that prohibits the development of robots that look like humans. However, after an attack at Bergen Industries by a robot with a human exterior, the USA realized that the ruling from the New Geneva Convention was broken and that the robot was made at Amada Industries.
You play Dan Marshall, a Rust Crew unit, sent to apprehend the leader of Amada Industries. Along with him, you team up with several other team members of varying nationality, gender and ethnicity. Together they venture through Tokyo on a rollarcoaster ride, learning more about the state of robotics in the world and the Hollow Children, robots who look and act like humans and believe they are human.
The story is not the most sophisticated, but it is handled very well. The story is explained to the player at a very manageable pace, delivered both during cutscenes and during gameplay. The balance between the two is spot on, never giving the impression that the cutscenes impede on gameplay.
The story handles some philosophical issues about racism, robotics and AI, having one very touching scene where a Hollow Child discovers he is a robot and talks about how it feels like he is alive and that he doesn’t want to die. This scene may not be incredibly original, but was handled with finesse and care and, in my opinion, made it a highlight of the game.
The characters in the game are mostly two-dimensional with little to no back story and there are no character arcs for any of them, aside from the main character and one other, so the characters are very flat. However, the dialogue between the characters does a lot to add depth to them, making up for what they lack in history by giving them charisma and strong character traits.
Overall, the story of the game is not the best, nor are the characters the most in-depth, but the execution is what makes it shine, landing the story a solid 4/5.
The game is a third person squad based shooter with some very light RPG elements. You control Dan Marshall, equipped with up to 4 weapons and gun down hordes of robots for the majority of the game. Cover based shooting makes up a big part of the game, so you can expect to be sitting behind walls and rubble, peeking out and shooting enemies. This is pretty much the staple of 3rd person shooters these days and it may sound like this game was borrowing heavily from games like Gears of War. The game has a few features to set itself apart from the rest of its stable mates though.
The first is the voice command system, where you can issue commands to your squad by speaking into your microphone. The system works well enough and you aren’t forced to use it, though it makes the commands a bit easier, but when the tutorial level asks you to yell “charge!” at the top of your lungs, the majority of the audience would probably rather just use button commands than being classified as mentally unstable by anyone in the nearby vicinity. Fortunately, button commands are easily issued and will probably be favoured by most players.
The other system that goes hand in hand with these commands is the trust system. Throughout the game you will have different squad members on your team and you need to win their trust as their squad leader. There are multiple conversations with individuals and your reply to them will win or lose their trust. The higher members trust you, the better chances are they will listen to your orders. Additionally, the level of trust your allies have in you affect the outcome of the game, changing certain scenes. Allies gain trust in you if you perform certain tasks fast enough and conversely lose trust in you if you take too long. If you accidentally shoot your allies, you will also lose trust from them. Although the trust system is really just a karma meter with a different name, it works quite well for the game, but some of the dialogue options are very silly, with a very clear ‘bad response/good response’.
Aside from that, the game also has some very light RPG elements as mentioned earlier. Nanomachines can be collected with different attributes which can then be equipped to each character. These add a small tactical edge and can be customized depending on the current situation. Some scenarios you may need to carry more med packs or need more base health, others you will need more accuracy and need to reload quicker and changing your equipped nanomachines based on the situation will make the battles slightly easier. Defeating enemies will grant you credits which can be used to upgrade weapons and purchase nanomachines and ammunition. You can also rake up combos to get additional credits on enemies.
Overall, the combat is highly satisfying thanks to the accompanying visuals and sounds which make the shots look and feel real and make the impact on your enemies seem authentic. The RPG elements are a very pleasing touch and are kept simple and easily accessible to not deter the fast-paced action of the game. The game is very easy to pick up and the controls are intuitive and easy to get used to. Despite the gameplay being very similar to that of Vanquish and Gears of War, it is still very visceral and highly satisfying.
Gameplay scores a 4.5/5.
Binary Domain has two online modes: Versus and Invasion.
Versus is the standard multiplayer death match and is, honestly, very bland. It lacks the passion and the originality found in the single player campaign. There are five classes for the player to choose from and there are a handful of maps where players can juke it out.
Invasion mode is a 4 player co-op mode where players must survive for as long as possible against hordes of enemies. This is a lot more fun than the Versus mode, but unless you are doing it with three friends, it gets boring rather fast.
The biggest problem with Binary Domain’s multiplayer is that it is a ghost town at the moment and that is a huge problem. Finding games is very difficult and even when you do, there are some lag issues at hand as well. Finding and playing online games for this review was very difficult and thus left a very sour aftertaste. It would most likely have worked out a lot better if the game had added a co-op campaign mode, which would translate the intrigue and passion of the game’s story into the multiplayer domain, but unfortunately this was not the case. However, were there more people playing this game, the multiplayer would have been more rewarding, but it will most likely fade very quickly in comparison to the other big online shooters out there.
Overall, the multiplayer deserves a 2.5/5.
On normal difficulty, the single player takes roughly 10-12 hours, depending of course on how meticulous you are with farming enemies and searching every corner for ammo. The game has a series of collectible intel discs hidden throughout the game and finding all of the nanomachines may take more than one play through, unless you have a guide for it.
Overall though, the only real replay value comes from the game’s different endings and higher difficulty levels. It’s a shame the game has no NG+ option, as this would’ve added a bit more. Still, the game is very fun and deserves more than one play through, but I doubt this game will be played over and over.
The replay value thus gets a 3.5/5.
As mentioned in the beginning of this review, Binary Domain is a game that is currently sitting in the shadow of some much bigger releases and will unfortunately not get the attention it deserves. This is a game that was brought to us by a team that put a lot of love and passion into their project, aiming to entertain their players with a compelling, interesting story. The game may lack depth and it may lack some originality, but it makes up for it with its execution, which is ambitious and passionate. It is a refreshing auteur project in an age where the market for digital entertainment is saturated mediocrity.
This game is by no means an exemplar of the third person shooting genre, but it deserves the same attention as its more popular counterparts, such as Gears of War. If you are a fan of science fiction, shooters or just fun action games, do not miss out on this game and do not let it fade away into obscurity.
Final score: 4/5.
- Genuinely intriguing story
- Very well presented
- Tight, intense combat
- Sounds amazing
- Very charismatic
- Online mode is easily forgotten