Playing catch-up: Binary Domain
My first experience with Binary Domain was back in 2011 at Eurogamer Expo. Back then I said: Binary Domain was a real surprise. It looks and plays wonderfully, and the boss battles are on a huge scale. My only concern is how well the story will be developed, and if there will be any changes to the scenery. It’s now up to Sega to ensure that the story and setting can keep up with the intense gameplay mechanics they’ve created. Now available at a ridiculously good price, it was time to take on those blasted robots for real.
What grabbed my attention was two-fold. First, even through the dudeness of it all, the typical ‘everyman’ lead had charm. So did his partner. While the initial setup and dialogue would hardly have Herzog abandoning film for the depth of video games, it was delivered with more humanity than most. Seeing the two leads dryly smile and actually look at one another during conversation had effect.
“There’s a plot”Secondly, there’s a plot. Backstory is provided about how the world came to be as it is, following one of gaming’s longest introductions. AI machines were brought in for manual labour and to try to balance an ever growing population alongside economic concerns. But the US is unknowingly amidst an AI so advanced it’s indistinguishable from humans; even to itself. And so our specialist squad is sent to Japan to discover the root cause and kick arse.
Binary Domain has a great start through some entertaining cutscenes, QTE sections aside. This is an ‘80s sci-fi action flick where you get to play the hunk with the bulging biceps and even bigger guns. Your initial comrade, Mr Big Bo, is a stereotype run so far into the ground it comes out the end of the Earth feeling strangely fresh and ludicrous. Throughout our time blowing mechanic limbs apart and backing each other up via voice commands, my hopes were held high that at any moment he’d scream ‘room service muthafuckas’ whilst kicking down a door. It didn’t happen but the rest of the dialogue was close enough.
Yet throughout all this insanity, including the obligatory female squad member with extra slim-fit pants to reveal every possible curve, which does not go unnoticed by her teammates, there was character. Accents are used to immediately brighten the nature of each individual. The lead, Dan, is a stereotypically vociferous American full of bravado, Faye is the slim and strong Chinese ‘farm girl’, Charlie’s a no messing about British soldier with ample regionality (piss off!), and more.
The local Japanese population speak in their native language which is then subtitled. A neat touch. This dialogue and intonation is supplemented via matching facial expressions which breathe existence into this squad and the people they meet. A touch of British sarcasm is always welcome too.
“Gunplay is tight”Back in the firefights, the gunplay itself is tight and satisfying. Even if the combat arenas are instantly recognisable: warehouses; taking cover in a bullet-proof cart; war torn alleyways; and so forth. Detailed animations bring to life – fitting for the overall theme – the robotic enemy forces; their dismembered bodies continuing to crawl across the ground until their core CPU has been destroyed.
The combat is tight and effective. The shotgun has real bang and a decent range – as it should – tearing away layers of metallic flesh and cable sinew. With very minor RPG touches, such as leveling weapons and augments that increase basic statistics, it’s one of the better over-the-shoulder systems.
There are some unnecessary and misplaced ‘press this now’ moments, from activating cranes to the QTEs. These are amongst Binary Domain’s low moments, slowing the pace and feeling crowbared in as a misguided attempt to appease a Western audience that the East has conjured in its mind. QTEs are crap, pack it in.
Occasionally they’ll be downtime between the carnage where Dan and the team will be waiting to meet someone, allowing interaction with your comrades and observation of the surrounding location. Unfortunately this is an idea implemented but not given room to breathe. There’s no style to the short conversations and anything but picking the option to agree with what they’re saying decreases their belief in you.
To be a leader you apparently have to lie all the time to agree with whatever whims of fancy your squad decides to sprout off about. Which is surprisingly flat and dull compared to the interactions outside of these areas, and a shame they weren’t maturely developed.
Where the East does reign victorious is the boss battle. As an Eastern concept about machines there’s no disappointment in these fights. Giant mechanical beasts several stories high are dispatched to thwart your progress. In true Godzilla style, defending the city ends up with most of it in rubble from the thousands of bullets, explosions and shockwaves unleashed in every square block. The Japanese authorities take notice of this, introducing a local officer and his partner who chase you down in an attempt to apprehend and cease your illegal activities.
Perhaps Binary Domain was largely ignored due to the name. Conceivably it suffered from not being a sequel. Maybe being a Japanese title now inherently carries a negative significance to gaming’s audience. Nevertheless, this was a pleasant ramp through familiar territory that retained a fresh sense of purpose. My concern about the story developing was unfounded. I smiled, chuckled and enjoyed it through to its syrupy, and very Eastern, end.