Call me ‘kooky’, but for some unbeknown reason I recently found myself sitting down with a friend discussing a videogame title in extreme length. We pondered over the various, multi-faceted meanings of the two words “Binary Domain”; SEGA’s attempt at a third-person shooter, designed by the incredibly talented Yakuza team. Our conclusion (and on reflection – what I imagine is probably the only correct interpretation of the games’ title) was that the game would have us fighting in a world – or in this case a ‘domain’ – where two binary oppositional forces are stationed, battling it out for supremacy. And we were sort of right. The world is a somewhat dystopian, futuristic 2080’s Tokyo and the battle focuses on relationships between man and machine. An entertaining concept, but not exactly one that oozes with originality as Will Smith, Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Keanu Reeves would have you believe. Yes, for a game that’s core ideology centres around the advancement of technology, Binary Domain really owes a lot to pre-existing game mechanics, narrative structures, archetypal clichés and film iconography. This is ultimately okay though, because at its barest level Binary Domain is a fine attempt at a third-person shooter with enough variety, longevity and well-executed gimmicks to keep fans of the genre coming back for more.
The story is relatively “fleshed” out, if you’ll excuse the pun. In 2080, The Amada Corporation – one of the leading organisations in robotic engineering – have begun producing humanoid robots that are slowly but surely converging with mankind. You play as protagonist Sergeant Dan Marshall (and subsequently his squad of super-soldier mercenaries) as he attempts to seek out ‘Hollow-children’. These are SEGA’s answer to Blade-Runner’s ‘Replicants’, in so much that they are machines living ordinary human lives, completely unaware that they’re not human at all. As you progress through the game you undoubtedly encounter various twists and turns which, I must admit, are executed extremely well – especially as you head deeper towards the high-octane conclusion of the 10-hour-long campaign. The game also raises important questions (as these games always do) towards the morality of creating AI, and does this all neatly under the guise of a relatively straight-forward narrative quest – you must infiltrate Amada and put a stop to android production before its too late.
Before delving into the debatable gameplay, controls and graphics – I’d like to quickly mention one of Binary Domain’s most charming and seductive features, and that is voice control. Never before have I played a game in which you can speak through your headset directly to the characters in the game – although I’m sure similar gimmicks do exist in other games out there on the market. It’s a feature that works well both on and offline and allows you to freely give commands out to your squad – such as “charge”, “regroup” etc. etc. You can also talk directly to your partners even when there’s no action taking place, in order to try and increase your friendship so that they perform better for you during any firefights. Whilst this is a nice idea, it’s an inherently flawed tool – as no amount of cruelty and prickish behaviour you can inflict on your friends will ever blemish your working relationship. They might not like you, but they’ll still kill robots with you. The reason why I’m so drawn to this feature, however, is that because of something which happened organically during one of my first missions. I was partnered by a large, black cliché of a soldier called Big Bo, a character who I genuinely find funny due to some well-written dialogue, and as he told me a joke about finally working together again I laughed in real-life and said “Oh Bo I love you.” That’s just the kind of guy I am. What happened next? The game actually responded to that, and had the phrase “I love you” appear on screen (not a command listed in any of the games’ manuals or non-headset options) and he replied with something along the lines of “Hell yeah man, you too. It’s all about the bromance!” This immediately brought our friendship levels up; it seemed he liked it – what a homosexual! Still in a state of disbelief and not quite believing what just happened, I repeated “I love you”, however this time Bo replied more angrily, telling me to “cut it out”. I then tested how extensive the formula was, screaming curse-words down the microphone and asking any random questions I could think of - all amazingly of which registered and quite often elicited certain responses from my teammates. Wonderful stuff.
Graphically, the game isn’t up there with any of the greats in the third-person genre. It has a very CAPCOM-esque arcade style to it, which is no bad thing, but it certainly doesn’t come anywhere close to matching the stunning visuals of the ‘Gears of War’ franchise of which it adopts many gameplay features. Yes, it’s the return of the chest-high walls, “A” button locking into cover, blind-fire and roadie run – and whilst it’s not original by any means, it’s all executed well under the refreshing environments in and around future Tokyo. Where the graphics do succeed, however, is in these environments. Whilst murky grey crate-ridden corridors litter the game like a plague of locusts, the variety of settings – from the gutters of Neo Toyko to the gorgeous skyline of its upper class – provide much eye candy, and also succeed in creating a sense of grandeur and scope. One of the earlier things the game will have you doing is water-sliding down the side of a huge building in order to avoid a giant death-machine robot. The cinematic before that sequence was incredible in wetting my appetite for what was about to follow. I immediately noticed the giant water-slide feature, yet the characters paid no attention to it. Instead they tried to get in touch with their “chief”. As I resigned myself to thinking the cool slide was merely a redundant, aesthetic choice – both men leapt onto it like Zorro and began sliding down. Whoopee!
Finally the core combat is very responsive and well developed, adopting a more ‘Dead Space’ dismemberment technique (which I appreciate) and transcending the bullet-sponge ‘Terminator: Rise of the Machines’ approach. You can shoot out robots legs to see them crawl around like metal snails, or you can aim directly for the head-shot – which causes them to malfunction and attack their own kind before eventually dying. The gameplay is as reliable and solid as you’d expect from a popular next-gen release, although it suffers from a lack of polish compared to many of the other high-end third person shooters available today. This is a real shame too, as it really prevents Binary Domain from reaching the lofty heights of aforementioned third-person shooters and resigns it to a life of (what I imagine will be) soon-to-be straight into the bargain bin. That hurts to admit, too, as the game really features a lot of bang for your buck. There’s a whole host of online features although they aren’t executed well (your standard fair of team deathmatch, horde etc.) and suffer from the irritating ‘Call of Duty’ disease in so much that they predominantly feature bland maps and often clumsy visuals. That said, the voice control aspect between team mates can be hilarious and uplifting – so I guess you could say peaks and troughs on that one.
In conclusion, Binary Domain is a fully immersive, rich third-person shooter experience. While it’s not the best looking game on the market, or the easiest to handle, it still provides players with vibrant, high-octane entertainment, huge set pieces and radical firefights. It’s a fine first attempt at a non-Yakuza game by SEGA’s development team, but the lack of polish and the dependence upon tried and tested formulas created by the talent of others (here’s looking at you, Epic) will probably make it one of those games you’ll play when you get round to it, and not because you desperately need it. If you’re a fan of the third-person genre, however, definitely check this one out when you get the chance. You won’t be disappointed.