Binary Domain (Xbox 360) review
"I'm not afraid to admit I wasn't expecting great things from Binary Domain, the latest third-person cover shooter from Sega..."
I'm not afraid to admit I wasn't expecting great things from Binary Domain, the latest third-person cover shooter from Sega. In fact, when I found out it's based in a futuristic setting involving robots, I reduced it to a Vanquish copy that didn't include the boost ability. What really didn't help first impressions is the somewhat sluggish opening chapter that acts as a tutorial, explaining the basics of cover shooting and introducing an awkward play mechanic, swimming around flying surveillance bots, that's never used again. Worse, you're glued to an AI buddy that's annoyingly lively at times, constantly yelling repeat phrases like "That was sweeeeeeeeeeet!!" that makes you want to punch his face in. The chapter gets better towards the end, when it stops being a tutorial and you meet up with the rest of your Rust Crew, a multinational gang consisting of experienced soldiers secretly sent to Japan to nab an important figure. But I was concerned this is as good as Binary Domain was going to get, just another typical cover shooter.
However, something incredible happens: the game improves. Big time. You'll go on quite the adventure, fighting your way through legions of robot security in the ruins of old Japan, to the Japan of new, built atop due to devastating floods that ruined the world. In the second chapter alone, you'll have shootouts on rooftops, jet ski through the sewer system as mines are being dropped by a tiltrotor you'll eventually have a standoff with, attack a four-legged, towering contraption in the Shibuya district, and trash a colorful, high-tech casino with a gatling gun. Fighting the endless spree of androids, too, is really enjoyable, since you can destroy nearly every aspect of their bodies before they explode; shoot off a leg and they'll crawl to grab yours; knock off an arm holding a gun and they'll pick it up with the other; blow off a head and gleefully sit back as the robot attacks its comrades! Considering the battlefield can fill to around a dozen robots, you'll always see variations in approach at any given time. It's also not just a silly fun thing to do, because the developers actually reward you for knocking off individual parts, giving more points to use at upgrade vending machines.
As you make progress, you'll notice the production values for Binary Domain, a cover shooter of all things, is shocking at times. The attention to detail is fantastic, since simply walking out into the ruined streets will net you a view of tall, deserted buildings, highways incredibly high up, and the blinding sun. Even areas that show briefly during in-game cutscenes get love, like the bathhouse you fall in at the end of chapter one, featuring sharp tiles, a row of facets seen for 2 seconds, and a pretty painting on the wall behind the tub. Once you make it to the top where civilization strives, the dev team did a wonderful job making you believe you're in a futuristic rendition of the Rising Sun. It's not super advanced, but the little things inserted into modern society, like humans being served by robots in an outdoor cafe, an indoor farm being managed by giant mechanical arms, jumbotron TV ads on a rotation, and uniquely-shaped vehicles, like a truck with a see-through oval design, makes the world of Binary Domain easily distinguishable from other cover shooter games.
The team also did a commendable job constructing the robots for the game. A lot of the droids you encounter have such a simple look, but that's what makes it work: most have smooth plating around important areas, while the rest of the body exposes the mechanical insides. Shoot these robots and watch in awe as pieces fly off, one by one, displaying their skeleton in greater detail. The animations are also a sight to behold, watching normal bots shuffle like... like robots, shock troops charging forward and performing dive kicks at the last second, and even witness police-esque robots twirl their handguns while talking you down with RoboCop-style voices. It's very entertaining seeing these robots function during combat, and there was even a moment where one robot gracefully rolled from one cover to another during a heated firefight. I actually had to stop what I was doing and absorb the smoothness of said transition.
As mentioned earlier, you won't be alone on this ride, since you'll normally get back-up from two AI partners of your choosing. Each character has a different weapon set they're good at, from sniper rifles to shotguns, and for the most part they're competent helpers. I mean, they'll occasionally do something stupid, like run towards seven robots, but that can't be helped. Thankfully, you can bark orders through button presses or optional (and gimmicky) voice commands to make them regroup or retreat, but sometimes they intentionally ignore you. This is usually due to overwhelming firepower by the opposition, but also based on how much your teammates trust you. This trust either goes up or down depending on how you respond to questions, if you hide and let them do all the work, or how many times you "accidentally" shoot them. Not only does this change the flow of battle, but also how certain cutscenes play out in the game.
Yes, this means there's a lot of back and forth talk nearly everywhere you go. It could have turned sour, but the writing staff and the excellent performances by the voice actors inject the characters with enough down-to-earth charisma to make them come off human. This is especially true during the cutscenes, some as long as five minutes, where little reactions, movements, and expressions are animated impressively. The often quiet and focused Faye will surprise by attempting to stay cool in front of kids that watched them take down a monstrous foe in an intense battle, the stern Rachael will catch you off guard by saying you should smile more, and your character, Dan, usually cool-headed and smart-mouthed, has his serious moments. The time and effort put into these interactions place more weight on the plot, questioning whether Hollow Children, robots that look and act human, should live equally among everyone or be destroyed without much thought. There's enough twists to keep you on your toes about specific aspects of the plot point, and makes you care enough about the characters to start worrying when things get rough later on.
Hell, Binary Domain is worth playing just to experience Cain in action, an AI French robot partner that wears a handkerchief, six-pack chest plate, and kicks ass with just a handgun. And he does so while speaking with a magnificent vocabulary compared to every character in the game combined.
Hundreds of robots destroyed, a dramatic highway chase, and one pissed off gorilla later, Binary Domain grew on me immensely. Even when the game was closing in on the finale, it refused to fizzle out, continuing to offer thrills right to the end. The only big disappointment is how multiplayer is already dead, making me wish they would have just done a co-op mode instead. The lobbies are a ghost town, and when I found one lone match filled with six players, I got voted out before I had a chance to jump in! Unfortunately, it's easy to see why the multi is dead so soon, since Binary Domain had next to no advertisement, which is understandable considering Sega's current financial woes. Not to mention it came out a week before Mass Effect 3, which was then followed by Silent Hill, Operation Raccoon City, Ninja Gaiden 3, Armored Core V, and Riiiiiiiiiiiidge Racer Unbounded. Now what would you spend money on: a game in an established franchise or a new IP that doesn't look too hot at first glance?
Sadly, Binary Domain flopped and most likely going to be a forgotten name in the coming years, but I hope you still give it a chance, as it's easily one of the most underrated titles of 2012.
Community review by pickhut (June 12, 2012)
Alternative tagline: Hit the Road, Jack.
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