Having heard a great deal of praise for “Binary Domain”, I have been meaning to play through this supposed sleeper hit for a while now. Created by the same mind that produced both the “Yakuza” series, Toshihiro Nagoshi, and garnering comparisons to 2010’s sleeper hit “Vanquish”, this title had a lot to live up to in my mind. That being said, it far exceeded my expectations, and is well deserving of all of its hype.
The focus of “Binary Domain” is its clever sci-fi story. In the game world, the robotics industry has advanced to the point where it is possible to create “Hollow Children”, robots who look, feel, and believe they are human – as such, they are unable to be distinguished from normal humans. Robotics are a major industry though, due to the need to build upper levels of major cities and serve the elite members of society who live in the upper levels – the majority of cities are flooded due to global warming. You come in as a member of an agency tasked with enforcing the New Geneva Convention, which happens to put laws on robotics, including the banning of any technology regarding “Hollow Children”. To delve further into the story would blemish your experience in seeing the plot unfold. Quite simply, the plot is extremely intriguing. Through the many twists and turns, you and your team uncover many secrets surrounding this technology and the corporations behind it, and this results in some very unexpected conflicts and plot twists. Having played many (and I mean many) video games, I am used to the clichés of most standard genre plots. As such, when a game can keep me on the edge of my seat, and has a story that develops in so many unexpected ways, I am very pleased. “Binary Domain” accomplishes this and creates a great experience for the player to back it up.
This experience that supports the story keeps the player involved in the game world, and eager to continue playing, both to find out what happens in the story, and to see what challenge you can overcome next. “Binary Domain” does a nice job of adding a healthy dose of player choice in the game. There is a trust system in place where by different actions and responses to various dialogue affects each member of your squad’s trust in you. This comes in to play in the story, with certain characters choosing different paths depending on their trust in you, and in gameplay, with your teammates either choosing to obey or disregard your orders in battle. The system is a refreshing change from the standard, where you are forced to pick one of two or three outcomes to a situation, and instead places the pressure on you to act as you see fit, and having your AI allies react at certain (unknown) instances depending on their level of trust in you. In fact, the system is so well implicated that you may not even realize that a certain character’s trust is involved in a scene until you play through again differently, or look up various scene differences online.
The storyline in “Binary Domain” has a sci-fi basis, unexpected twists, and touches upon some heavy ethical subjects, creating one of the best shooter stories out there.
With character interaction an important part of “Binary Domain”, it is good to know that the game features some top-notch voice work. If you have experience with the “Yakuza” series (whose studio developed this title), you know they always ensure their voice acting is well done. “Binary Domain” is no exception, as every character, no matter how insignificant, is voiced professionally, and given some well-written dialogue as well. The rest of the sound department is great as well – the soundtrack is nicely fitting (varying from aggressive to calm tracks depending on the scene and battle intensity), the weapons sound great, and the effects for the robotic enemies are perfect.
The presentation in the graphical department is exceptional as well. Character models are intricately detailed, facial animations are great (even in gameplay), and the animations are well implemented and designed. For example, each robot you encounter can be dismantled in nearly any way, from taking out its legs, arms, head, or any combination of the above. Yet, no matter what you do, they will always animate themselves in a way to best be able to still fight – a robot will switch the hand its holding its gun in when it loses an arm, or will support itself with one arm after losing a leg. This attention to detail makes the battles intense and enhances the gameplay.
With the presentation out of the way, the last thing to mention is the gameplay itself. The game is set up like your usual third-person, cover shooter. Yet, where “Vanquish” is focused on fast-paced combat and style, “Binary Domain” is slower and more strategic. You are encouraged to take apart enemy robots in various ways, as the more parts that you destroy, the more credits you earn to upgrade your characters. This adds an RPG-style progression to the game as at each shop you can upgrade you or your teammates weapons (more damage, higher fire rate, etc) or purchase nano-machines that give stat boosts (more health, damage resistance, etc). The system works nicely, and there is always a nice sense of progression throughout the game. Back to the action, the game features a wide variety of enemy robots for you to dismantle, and some creative, intense boss fights.
“Binary Domain” has a slew of crazy boss fights for you to tackle. Each one requires a different strategy, and it is a thrill taking down each one.
With all of these great aspects in the game, is there any downside? Well, there are a few minor setbacks, but nothing that comes close to marring the overall experience. For example, with the trust system, friendly fire causes a decrease in ally trust. There are times though that your allies seem content to walk right into your line of fire, then get mad that you shot them, when clearly they could have just stayed in cover. Also, movement is slightly sluggish which makes avoiding some boss attacks a little more difficult than it seems it should be. Last, cover is a little too sticky, and at times your character will stick to the wrong side of a barrier, putting themselves directly in harm’s way. Again, none of this is a major setback, and most is infrequent, but still it should be mentioned.
Overall, “Binary Domain” is one of the finest third-person shooters out there. It is a shame this game has gone largely overlooked, and any fan of action or shooter games (especially those who enjoy sci-fi) should pick this title up and enjoy a high-quality experience. With an intriguing story, great presentation, and solid gameplay, “Binary Domain” gets high praise from me.
Final Score: 9.0/10