Every now and then a game comes along that is better than expected. All the information leading up to its release is a little underwhelming, there is little in the way of advertising and maybe an average demo lowers expectations. Then the game is released and not only does it blow away the average opinion of the title but it puts the game towards the peak of the genre. This is one such game.
At its core, Binary Domain is a Gears of War style cover shooter. But leaving the description at that would be doing the game an injustice. It starts with the player and his partner infiltrating a futuristic Japan. They are part of a “Rust Crew”, soldiers put together to investigate and stop breaches of the international robotics code. They’re particularly interested in robots that look and act like humans. Known as “hollow men”, these units have been found in the USA and are suspected to have been made in Japan, hence the infiltration. After a short while, the player meets the rest of the crew and continues with the mission of getting evidence of these “hollow men” and capturing the man responsible.
To share the plot in detail would ruin it, but be assured it is a tightly told tale with more than a few twists and turns along the way. The team members consist of two cocky Americans, two upper crust British officers and a sultry yet silent Chinese sniper. While they are all somewhat stereotypical, they are also well fleshed out, allowing the player to become invested in the story. The banter between the characters is excellent and later in the game (after the introduction of a French robot into the team) it becomes quite humorous. The story and characters of Binary Domain are a cut above what is usually served up in this genre and is certain to be a highlight of any player’s time with the game.
The gameplay is very similar to just about every cover based shooter with a few notable exceptions. The first difference is the tactical teamwork. The player can order teammates to undertake certain actions like firing, regrouping or charging by using the LB on the controller. This adds a nice element of strategy to the mix, enabling the player to set up roadblocks, flanking manoeuvres and sneak attacks by using the squad effectively. This can also be achieved by using voice recognition, but this is problematic at best. Whether the system has issues with the Australian accent or simply isn’t quite good enough is hard to say, but there are a lot of problems with the voice recognition. Words fail to register and are sometimes misinterpreted. Most will turn it off before long and continue to play using the controller alone.
The efficiency of the team depends on their level of trust in the player. Trust is measured using Binary Domain’s other touted innovation, the Consequence System. Unlike the voice recognition, this works very well. When the player agrees with a squad mate’s opinion, performs well in combat or revives a team member, their trust will increase. Conversely, if the player disagrees with a mate, shoots them accidently or forces them to do something against their will, the level of trust will decrease. The benefits of trust are simple. An ally that trusts the player will perform better in combat, follow orders without question and offer useful tactical advice.
The shooting feels weighty and satisfying. The player faces a multitude of robot adversaries from basic grunt types to Shinobi bots and epic bosses. All are fun to face and take down. Shooting away armour and limbs is a joyful experience. There is a slight issue with the time it takes to get up after being knocked down. Getting bowled over by a mammoth boss often leads to frustration. The player is repeatedly squished simply because it simply takes too long to climb off the mat. Apart from this minor problem, the combat is a lot of fun.
The multiplayer component of Binary Domain is average at best. There is a simple Horde mode and a basic selection of the standards such as Deathmatch and Capture the Flag. There is nothing new here and the slower nature of cover based shooters means that it is nowhere near as much fun as hectic FPS titles such as Battlefield or Call of Duty. It is a crying shame that there is no Campaign co-op. Playing through the story with a friend (or three) would provide an excellent incentive to revisit the game, especially as it seems almost tailored for it. It can only be assumed that co-op was left out due to time constraints because there is no other logical reason for its absence.
Binary Domain is a great game. The combat is punchy and fun, the consequence mechanic is a breath of fresh air and the story is a real treat. The only things holding it back from being truly excellent is some minor gameplay issues, the broken voice recognition system and the average set of multiplayer options. Binary Domain deserves to be played by fans of sci-fi shooters or indeed anyone looking for a well told tale.