[Review] Binary Domain

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In the massively overcrowded shooter genre, new games have a lot to accomplish to be considered an ‘OK’ game, let alone a standout.  Binary Domain is the latest title to try to rise to the challenge and attempt to persuade gamers to part with their hard earned cash. So how does it fair when compared to other shooters of a similar ilk such as Uncharted, Gears of War, the upcoming Ghost Recon and Spec Ops: The Line?

Is it just another by the numbers shooter destined for the bargain bin or does it add enough originality to the genre to be a contender?

Story

This is a third-person shooter set in 2080, a time that has seen technology reach a point where robots are our abiding servants, friends and soldiers capable of fighting wars. Japan have been accused of building a “Hollow Child”. To find answers, the lead character and a squad of soldiers from around the world have been sent to covertly infiltrate Japan to discover the truth about the Hollow Child.

It sounds very woolly, clichéd and it shares a lot of its ideas with the likes of I-Robot, Terminator and Robo Cop but the story in Binary Domain will be your reason for staying with it until the very end. It’s gripping, the cut scenes are extremely well animated and acted and feature some awesomely corny lines much like the Yakuza series.

In this area it is so easy to see the development style of Toshihiro Nagoshi, the creator of Yakuza. The characters are all likeable and can be very funny, especially the Englishman with the really bad attitude who is in charge of the mission and team. It has that quintessential Japanese style that Sega are so great at installing in their more adult games and I love it!

Gameplay

Binary Domain is a third-person cover-based shooter at its core and it uses mechanics that anyone who has played a third-person shooter in the last four years will recognise and feel instantly at home with. Where Binary Domain differs from a lot of other games released in recent years is that it makes use of squad commands. These are basic commands and anyone hoping for a new Rainbow Six-style strategy shooter might be a bit disappointed .

You have four main commands; Charge, Cover Fire, Regroup and Fire. In practice it has to be said that the commands make little difference to the overall feel and I’m yet to work out what the difference between Fire and Cover Fire actually is, as they seemingly achieve the same end result.

I have found that when I order my team mates to lay down cover fire they tend to just do something completely different. I still use the commands in battles as occasionally they will work which adds to the overall immersion of the experience and makes you feel like your leadership in the heat of battle really made the difference.

You can also communicate with your squad through scripted dialogue moments which occur when one of the NPC’s asks you about or talks to you about something that just happened. You then have the choice of what you would like to say back and in a similar fashion to Mass Effect you can either be positive, negative or neutral.

Based on what you say, your team mate will either like you more or less. This then translates into how well they will follow orders in battle or if they will follow orders at all. Again the game falls over a little here. You obviously want everyone to like you so that battles go well and everyone does as they are told. Because of this I found myself agreeing with what everyone said all the time just to keep them happy which takes away from the personality of the game and makes the dialogue moments feel like a chore rather than a neat feature that adds depth to the overall story.

The bulk of the gameplay will be spent in battle taking out squads of robots and at times huge, screen filling bosses that require a specific solution to beat. The fighting never gets dull as there is a great stream of differentiation to the gameplay. You will be constantly changing your plan to deal with new threats such as snipers or bigger robots or tiny spider-like mechanical beasts that cling to you and blow up.

The weapons are great fun too, albeit a little generic. There is everything you would normally expect and there are no cool surprises waiting for you. They are solid though which is the most recurring thing about the gunplay in Binary Domain. It’s totally solid and very difficult to flaw. The development team have clearly spend a lot of time getting the shooting just right to make it feel the right amount of challenging and fun.

Enemies are very satisfying to destroy, as you shoot the “scrapheads”, they will shed parts of their armour and you can even shoot off their heads which will cause them to become confused and begin shooting their fellow robots. Similarly you can shoot the legs off your enemy which will temporarily disable them before they very creepily start dragging themselves towards you, all the while still shooting.

I love the gunplay in this game, it is some of the best I have seen in a game this generation. It continues to challenge and reward after hours of gameplay.

Verdict

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In a lot of ways this game is one of my favourite shooters of not only this generation, but ever. It’s graphically very impressive and has great personality. It’s funny and has a great story that is both familiar and different in equal measures and overall has some of the most solid shooting mechanics on the PS3. But it does have its problems and these problems, such as the flawed squad command system, are just enough to hold this back from true greatness.

I would love to see a sequel to Binary Domain. If they could fix the few niggles here and put together another great story, Sega would have a pretty perfect shooter on their hands.

It is a giant shame that this game isn’t going to get the recognition it deserves and its Sega’s own fault as I haven’t seen a single TV advert for this and very few magazine ads when the game came out a couple of months ago. Ultimately this is a game that will end up in the bargain bin. Not because it is a bad game but because nobody knows about it and gamers haven’t got the cash to take a chance on an IP they’ve never heard of.

I’m glad I took the chance as I have found a great world here that I’m very proud to have been a part of.

Binary Domain is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 through Play-Asia and Amazon. To learn more about Myles read his intro article here.

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