Binary Domain (XBOX 360)
Binary Domain is a console only squad based Third Person Shooter (Xbox 360 and PS3) developed by Yakuza Studio and published by Sega. Walking the fine line between being inspired by other media and being the focus of a lawsuit Binary Domain is set in a world where civilisation has created extremely intelligent robots that look human and unsurprisingly, they have started to run amuck.
We play as Dan Marshall part of the "Rust Crew", an internationally sanctioned military squad sent to infiltrate the isolationist Tokyo of 2080. Hidden in the city someone is creating illegal androids called "Hollow Children", blurring the line between man and machine as these robots not only look and act human but they think they are.
The games starts with a short cinematic scene showing an attack by a Hollow Child on the world's largest robotics company, the US based Bergen. Following the attack it is concluded that Tokyo based robotics company, Amada (not to be confused with the real international company of the same name with premises in Japan specialising in machine tooling!) is responsible for the creation of the Hollow Children.
The Tokyo of 2080 is divided into two, the lower areas of the city are crumbling against the rising sea levels and high crime; it is run down derelict and poor. While high above a new upper city exists; clean, affluent and safe. We must make our journey through these contrasting environments in search of our foes.
We play in the third person with an over the shoulder camera view and standard left stick to move, right/shoulder buttons to interact and fire style of controls and at the start of each mission are given the option of choosing squad members with skills of sniper, heavy, and demolitions to assist us which opens up one of the key gameplay features.
The Consequence System is artificial intelligence which tracks and responds to everything we do from combat performance to squad conversations in and out of battle. It gives us feedback on squad attitude and the squad treat us based on how we have acted, they don't just do whatever we have asked them and trust plays a big part. Low trust is a result of putting the squad in situations where they get injured, making inappropriate comments or issuing bad commands. High trust is built by working with their fighting style and using good tactics. As a result of high trust the squad member will offer strategies and suggestion as well as offering more help. Whereas with low trust our commands are ignored and the team offer no help, they fight uncoordinated and on their own.
The Consequence System doesn't just impact on our squad's effectiveness in battle; it changes the path we take through the game story. Different team members will see different things in the environments and use different tactics. They require us to adapt to them as much as they respond to us.
Binary Domain also features voice recognition which adds an extra element to freshen up the gameplay over more standard first and third person shooters and this along with the Consequence System (dialogue exchanges, cinematic sections and the infrequent Quick Time Events) blends seamlessly into one combat heavy narrative.
Throughout the game we are assaulted with a wide variety of murderous robots, thirty two different types in total including varying classes of security to more advanced but less frequent boss bot near the end of each chapter, often more animal based in design.
Dealing with this assortment of aggressors is not merely as simple as blasting them with the biggest gun. While that tactic does work for the run of the mill psycho bot, all the boss bots have a specific point on their body that we need to shoot. It becomes more about laying down accurate fire than total destruction. Should we keep our team trust level high then the other team members advise us where to shoot, however if we have jeopardised these relationships we can still see the target area, which is always glowing and a distinct colour from the rest of the robot.
To achieve our destructive intents we have access to thirty different weapons. We are equipped with four weapon slots, two of which we cannot change and the other two are designated as explosive and secondary weapon. We are equipped with a pistol with infinite ammunition and an assault rifle with underslung single energy weapon as our primary weapon. These weapon slots cannot be changed but we are able to change to a secondary weapon when we acquire one or use our explosive when available.
Alternative armaments are acquired in three ways. They can be taken from destroyed robots; these tend to be pistols, assaults rifles or shotguns. Weapons caches are located at the start of the boss fights and final way to a secondary weapon is through the shop device that is scattered throughout the game. "Currency" is gained from every robot destroyed and can then be spent on additional weapons or upgrades. The upgrades take the form of improvements to our primary weapon or nanomachines, which improve our stats. It is also possible to improve the weapons of our team mates and equip them with stat boosting nanomachines.
Keeping our team mates well equipped is important as they are able to revive us when we keep their medkits stocked up and having them survive is equally key because if we lose a team member then it's game over.
Binary Domain also has a multiplayer offering which features a limited number of maps and the usual modes. The maps are made of areas copied from the campaign game and the combat "rules" are shared too.
Graphics and Audio
Binary Domain is a good looking game. The environments are highly detailed and each location has a very different look and feel. The weather effects at the beginning of the game are particularly good, giving us a real sense of the rain soaked misery the character is experiencing. Character models are also good quality, while it is not to be considered photo realistic, certain elements of the faces are not far off.
Although the game is mainly a linear corridor set up, the few open areas are filled with the population of the city. This is a slightly more densely populated cityscape than we have seen in any of the recent games of this style. Most of the inhabitants are interactive, while conversation is limited and repetitive; the sheer numbers in the interactive crowds is impressive.
Generally speech is also repetitive, as is common with pseudo RPG titles. While background characters generally only have one thing to say the team members repeat a complimentary or derogatory phrase during combat, depending on our performance. This coupled with the cringe worthy stereotypes of the French, English and American characters makes the voice acting quickly and acutely annoying.
The sound track also leaves a lot to be desired, while less annoying than the voice acting it is also less well done. The music stops and starts abruptly and occasionally pairs fast paced music with dramatic scenes and slower paced music with combat.
The sound effects are the saving grace of this game's audio. The weapon sounds, explosions, robot and vehicle sounds all have a unique element and a chunky robust feel to them. Then when appropriate we get a bit of haptic feedback through the controller which adds some depth to our gun toting experience.
When we first heard about Binary Domain it sounded like another Science Fiction shooter featuring homicidal AI... another Philip K Dick inspired unoriginal offering. Whether this game traces its roots back to Philip K Dick's literature, James Cameron's Terminator film, Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metropolis or even the seminal play by Karel Čapek R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), published in 1920, the success of Binary Domain would always be based on the indefinable quality of gameplay rather than the plot being based on ideas almost a century old.
Overall Binary Domain started well when it bucked the recent trend for FPS and opted for an over the shoulder squad based style of gameplay and while we applaud the idea of adding in the Consequence System and voice recognition the former doesn't have as dynamic an effect on the plot as we would have liked, especially on lower difficulty while the latter is a nice touch but sadly the voice recognition is not great.
That said when it comes to actually playing through the game the combat is good and there are some impressive sections to break up the run and gun main gameplay. The cinematic plot advancing scenes are short, interesting, well timed and skippable then at points we also found ourselves riding jet skis through the sewers, climbing mechanical tentacles and lining up an explosive trap to take out a marauding Gorilla bot.
Like the B movies we love to watch, this game is enjoyable but not excellent. It does have potential though and if the developers are given a sequel to fine tune their ideas it could well make for a grade A gaming experience.