Binary Domain Review
Posted by Christopher Ingram
Global warming has flooded Earth, killing millions. With human manpower severely diminished, the mass production of robotic workers went into full force to assist with rebuilding the devastation around the world. Governmental powers crippled in the wake of the disaster, laws and regulations weren’t properly enforced: in Binary Domain, mankind sits at the bottom of the totem pole. Technological advancement has gone far too far: living, breathing and bleeding humanoid robots known as "hollow children" live secretly among humans, and when a hollow child is publicly exposed, Earth hits a breaking point. The events that unfold will decide if the threads of human life can be unravelled by the mechanical hands of those it created.
Enter brawny, sarcastic American solder Dan Miller, the perfectly fitting main protagonist of this third-person cover-based sci-fi shooter. Dan leads a rust crew – independent mercenary soldiers with no governmental affiliation — that’s out to put an end to the Japanese Amada Corporation, the company suspected of creating these hollow children. Dan’s crew is made of an ever-growing group of stereotypical men and women from around the globe; he’s joined by his former war partner and best friend Big Bo, who’s a heavy machine gun totin’, trash-talking, African American human tank. They’re soon acquainted with a staid duo of British soldiers who enjoy throwing around quick quips towards the Americans for their constant boisterous actions. Last, but not least, the curvaceous Chinese sniper Faye Li pairs up with the team, which hysterically has the Americans wanting to follow in the rear of the pack from then on.
Throughout the ten-hour single player campaign, every single character is remarkably brought to life through the use of spectacular cut scenes and witty dialogue, with hysterical quips thrown at each other’s cultural differences. While Dan’s dialogue is voice acted during cut scenes, his voice is also your own too — with the use of a USB or Bluetooth headset, you can give orders to your crew in the thick of battle, or to answer the many questions asked of you as a leader and friend throughout your mission. Think carefully before speaking though, because your crew is human and unlike robots they hold emotional feelings; words can hurt them in ways that no bullet can. While there’s no Mass Effect-esque branching storyline here, the likeable characters's dialogue leaves a long-lasting impression. Not only do these characters grow on you, but as the story unfolds, they all become incredibly human when painted upon the canvas of their robotic counterparts against them.
Voice recognition actually works quite well, with a substantial word bank at your disposal. The optional ability to test all of the words in the database to see how well they’re recognised with your voice is recommended, as it’ll have you efficiently commanding orders in no time. There are times when words are incorrectly recognised, but it’s quite rare and hardly ever ends in disaster. If it does and you start spouting off expletives, your crew will think you’re cursing at them and their admiration for you as a leader will take a hit. While the option to simply use quick command prompts via the controller is available, give the voice recognition system a try, because when you’re actually conversing with your crew mates it creates a deeper connection with these virtual characters than is typically found in this style of gameplay.
A great cast of characters and twisting sci-fi storyline are great attributes for sure, but there’s one aspect that Binary Domain does so well that everything else pales in comparison: the shooting. Robots have proved to be the perfect cannon fodder for well over a decade now, but here it’s better than most: each connecting bullet sends bits of robot shrapnel flying into the air, making the gunplay impact oh so satisfying. It’s not just visual gimmickry either, as you can strategically dismember the robots at will: take out a leg and they’ll perch up on an arm and continue attacking; shoot off both legs and they’ll crawl toward you and self-destruct; blast off their heads and they’ll turn against their allies. Not only is it awesome to take down the machineheads piece by piece, but it also rewards extra credits that can be used to upgrade weapons and stats.
You’ll want to be upgrading your weaponry too, because the enemy AI constantly keeps you on your toes as they pull off every trick in the book, from ducking and diving behind cover to a full-on onslaught that has them blitzing at you in massive numbers. From the onset, even the weakest of enemies can sustain a healthy barrage of fire before malfunctioning. Headshots can take 3-5 solid hits to see their ironclad heads rolling to the ground, and while taking out limbs is a bit easier, having the enemy focus on their own can give you just enough time to push the crew forward, or hightail it back when caught in a pinch.
The basic assortment of weapons that we’ve become accustomed to are all present and accounted for (assault rifle, shotgun, rocket launcher, grenades, etc.) but only Dan’s primary assault rifle can be upgraded. Secondary weapons can be acquired and dropped or swapped at leisure, but it’s the starting weapon that’s used most often. Purchasing all of its upgrades will turn the rifle into a robot-shredding beast that packs a heck of a mean punch, but it would’ve been nice to have had the option to upgrade the other weapons.
In line with other recent SEGA titles like Bayonetta and Vanquish, the massive boss battles and action sequences here are some of the best in the business. Racing down a highway in a truck pursued by a massive rocket-spewing robotic motorcycle that’d give Optimus Prime a run for his money, or one of the many times you’re mere feet away from some gigantic robotic recreation of a fierce jungle beast fighting toe-to-toe for your life, the battles are always overly intense and will keep you on the edge of your seat. Constant explosions, gunfire and environment sound effects create a sensory overload to the ears, and the large amounts of colourfully armoured robots brilliantly gleam in their HD lustre. The futuristic environments are wonderfully brought to life as well: from the filthy slums the humans reside in, to the colourfully lit neon towers in Japan’s Shibuya District, there’s always a new sight to behold around the next bend and the promise of an even more violent battle than the last, keeping the game from falling into repetition during its lengthy campaign. There’s also quite a few short alternative action sequences added in to change up the pacing at times. These sequences task Dan with an assortment of different challenges, from rapidly sliding down embankments tying to dodge outcroppings, swimming through canals trying to evade sentry bots or jet skiing down a sewage canal. While they’re a bit hit-or-miss, these short sequences do a great job of breaking up the action, not to mention it’s also where some of the funniest dialogue gets spouted off.
Once the campaign has unfolded unto its dramatic conclusion, there’s a full multiplayer mode to delve into. The standard run-of-the-mill modes are all accounted for — Free-for-All, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag are all here — as well as Invasion Mode, which allows up to four players to battle through 50 consecutive waves of enemies from the single player campaign. While the assortment of modes is appreciated, uninspiring map design, a weak levelling system and lag issues find the multiplayer as more of an afterthought in the wake of the awesome single player experience. The real missed opportunity though, is the complete lack of co-op throughout the campaign, which just begs to have a friend right by your side, and would have sky-rocketed the game’s replay value far more than the stodgy online options.
SEGA is well known for its great arcade gaming experiences and Binary Domain shows why it's still one of the best in the business after all these years. Despite the lacklustre online multiplayer that’s been tacked on, the explosive campaign’s action packed set pieces will constantly find your finger squeezing on the hammer one minute and tugging on your emotions the next with its diverse cast of likeable characters, as they fight to right the wrongs of morality towards mankind. Shooting robots has never felt so good as in this domain where robots can be freely dismembered at will. It’s just a shame you can’t bring a friend along for the ride.