When I had seen early versions of Binary Domain at events, I always came away thinking that futuristic tale of an upcoming robot revolution had potential. Produced by Toshihiro Nagoshi of the Yakuza series fame, the gameís visuals always stuck with me and I was intrigued by how the relationship system would play out. At the same time, I had a great deal of skepticism coming into Binary Domain having played plenty of failed attempts by Japanese developers which tried to mimic western-style action games. The first level of Binary Domain confirmed a lot of my preconceived concerns. There was really dry dialogue, mechanics that borrowed heavily from Gears of War, and generic characters that personified racial stereotypes. But I kept playingÖ and suddenly this game about shooting robots transformed into one of my favorite early experiences of 2012. How did that happen?
As I stated, the visuals were what kept Binary Domain on my radar, so letís start there. The manner in which the robots rip apart is fantastic. Outer casings shatter off and sparks fly, but itís not merely graphically pleasing Ė it serves a strategic purpose as well. Destroying robotsí legs cuts down on their mobility and their ability to use cover. Theyíre resilient however, relying on their arms to crawl towards you in hopes of latching on and self-destructing. Should you not choose to shoot the legs out from under them, blasting off an arm also has advantages. This causes Scrapheads (the humansí derogatory name for the machines) to scramble for their handguns or rush for discarded firearms since one-arming power weapons like sniper rifles is difficult even for killer robots. This de-arming tactic in particular is essential for effectively dealing with the swarms of varied enemy types the game throws at you. Of course, a good headshot is always nice as well. This befuddles the now headless humanoids into firing upon their fellow automatons. Mechanically speaking, the aiming system itself feels a little loose at first and tries to snap to enemies you may not be intending to aim at, but I was quickly blasting apart androids limb by limb once I got a handle on it. And the game certainly isnít shy about giving you more than enough robots to terminate.
Binary Domain breaks up the potential monotony of chewing through so many T-800 look-a-likes with healthy portions of Japan-infused wackiness. For instance, how about a giant water slide? Sure, why not. What about a jet-ski level? Itís not the greatest rendition of Sea-dooing ever, but itís in there. Are there small communal areas where you can inquire about sailors? HmmÖ well I donít remember any seaman-themed conversations, but you can definitely chat up the locals as they go about their daily activities. There are also more traditional action-game diversions such as quicktime events, gunfire-laden car chases, and boss battles against towering machines of destruction. Throw on some mild puzzle solving and a light RPG uprading system for good measure and this game covers a lot of territory Ė yet all these elements never feel overwhelming. The cutscenes in Binary Domain are the kind of stuff that only comes out of Japan. Theyíre lengthy, but wonderful to watch Ė whether they are super-choreographed fight sequences or incredibly gross exhibits of synthetic human flesh being torn slowly from robot skulls. They also convey a good deal of emotion through detailed facial animations and well-done voice work. Iím a sucker for a well-told story in games, and while Binary Domain has several plot missteps, the general premise of having human-looking robots secretly living amongst us is crafted nicely.
The characters in Binary Domain carry the show. Despite the fact they are pretty generic looking, full of racial stereotypes, and have moments of extremely clumsy dialogue, these are individuals that are enjoyable to watch. As proof, my wife was engaged in viewing nearly the entirety of Binary Domain and watching me play games rarely holds her interest. The Consequence System between my squadmates and me went a long way in making me invested in the characters. I havenít talked about it yet, but this game actually has you talking to your squadmates by speaking into the Xboxís headset. This isnít just barking orders Ė thatís in there too Ė but itís also for dialogue discussions that influence how much your companions are enamored with you. In turn, having characters think highly of you will lead to them performing better in battle and be more likely to follow your orders in battle. Iím not sure this mechanic is developed enough, but it does offer an extra level of immersion and had me consciously trying to win everyoneís approval. Throughout the game, you are faced with situations where you must choose which two of your squad mates will accompany you. This also effects their feelings toward you as they like you more if you do a good job of killing robots and, funny enough, like you less if you happen to partake in friendly fire.
With everything that is going on in Binary Domain, itís bound to have some issues and Iíd be remiss if I didnít bring a couple of them up. On the technical side, the voice recognition often required me to repeat myself, but it correctly understood what I was saying probably nine out of ten times. As far as game design goes, an issue surfaces in the way the gun upgrading works. Each character has a primary weapon that can be upgraded by spending points at vending machines. This includes your own weapon, so once youíve started upgrading the Assault Rifle, youíre going to be using that Assault Rifle for ninety-five percent of the game. Heck, it did a good job mowing down all the robots, but a little more variety wouldnít have hurt. Flaws aside, Binary Domain succeeds in blurring the lines between Eastern and Western game sensibilities. Get through that first section of the game, and the remainder is truly a unique, captivating experience.
Outstanding | Very Good | Fair | Poor | Awful
Recommended Buy Price: $40.00
Current MSRP: $59.99
Binary Domain was provided for review by Sega. I finished the campaign in 11 hours accumulating 27 out of 50 Achievements for 455 GamerScore. I also briefly tried the online functionality. The online multiplayer has a plenty of options including team deathmatch, objective based modes, and a Horde style mode. Unfortunately, when I tried playing there werenít a lot of people playing online. Binary Domain is also available for PlayStation 3.