Binary Domain Review

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Date Released: February 28, 2012
Date Reviewed: March 13, 2012
Genre: Third Person Shooting Adventure
Players: 1 locally, up to 10 players online
Length: 8-15 hours for campaign, multiplayer modes can extend this
Replayability: High

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Introduction

Binary Domain is a modern third person shooter action game designed and directed by Ryu ga Gotoku Studio whom are best known for some of the highest profile releases by the entirety of SEGA in the past decade, including, but not limited to the Yakuza (Ryu ga Gotoku in Japan) series, the original Super Monkey Ball games and F-Zero GX. A departure from all of their past few games in terms of mechanics and setting, Binary Domain maintains their high quality standard of cinematic, yet engaging story telling with fast arcade-styled action and excellent production values.

Concept

Binary Domain is a cover-based third person shooter, but does not limit itself to basic engagements like many others in the genre do. The game excels in it’s presentation with a sizable cast of well thought-out characters, relentless and diverse robot adversaries and great overall pacing that is never slowed down by it’s narrative, but instead intertwined to constantly engage the player in anticipation for what will happen next.

The most distinct feature of Binary Domain is it’s Consequence System. Throughout the game players are given the chance to speak with their squad, depending on how the characters react to what is said it can impact their morale in battle or feelings of you. Although this is a very common thing in modern games, Binary Domain‘s take on it is unique in that it does not effect how the story is told, but how the gameplay is presented. Depending on how the character’s are treated attitudes will change dynamically and they will make their own decisions or become hostile with you, but never to the point of harming the player’s character or purposely put the mission in jeopardy. Along with this, regardless of how stupid the player’s choices are in dialog, the characters will also give you respect on how well you handle situations or how fast you can fix a problem. Likewise, attacking them or putting them in danger specifically will also make them like you less.

A huge design choice is the voice command option players are able to use if they have a headset available, allowing them to speak with the cast. This is an attempt to have an even stronger attachment to the cast, and when it works the outcome is almost hauntingly enjoyable and engaging. The system works more often than not and adds a lot of dialog to the game, but as soon as the system misunderstands you or picks up your sneeze as an obscenity, the experience is really hurt. Players will need to adjust the settings of these for them to work best with their own voice, but the game does a poor job of informing the player how to use them correctly, making the option to just use buttons on the controller to issue commands more and more appealing. Regardless of this, we highly recommended that others try their best to get it to work.

Story

The year is 2080 AD, life is easier for supposedly everyone due to advancements in robotics and security. During this time a man upset to the point of lunacy attempts to massacre anyone within firing range at Bergen Industries, the supposed leader in world robotics. Before he is killed, the man rips part of his face off in despair revealing himself to be a robot. It is discovered that there are a group of robots hidden within society so advanced and so convincing to be real humans that even they themselves are unaware of the truth. These ‘Hollow Children’ have been within the world for a possible 30 years and could be potentially be everywhere, putting humanity in danger of extinction.

It is decided that the only company capable of all of this is Amada, the Japanese superpower in robotics. A crew of soldiers from all parts of the world are assembled to sneak into Japan and capture the man they believe possible for it all, but are quickly discovered and must fight against the country’s entire robotic resistance. Starting with two North Americans that are old friends, Binary Domain continuously expands it’s cast with people from all different walks of life, none of which have similar mentalities. Not only does this give the game a lot of personality, but it also gives it a lot of heart.

Created by the same people who crafted the heavily praised Yakuza/Ryu ga Gotoku series of games, Binary Domain is in itself a very emotionally engaging story with a strong cast of characters and a deep sense of human morality, asking the player to question their actions and how they should feel about the Hollow Children. At the same time, some lighthearted moments are snuck in every now and then with a joke or a silly reaction to something all to make sure the game does not take itself too seriously. This is not to the point it hurts the storytelling in anyway like many Japanese action games tend to do.

Visuals

The futuristic settings of Binary Domain can be compared to the worlds of the film Blade Runner, Konami’s Snatcher or the Ghost in the Shell series. What sets it apart from these is how Japan has been split up by an almost pathetic garbage-infested slum with an advanced nirvana-esque setting built over it, separating the poor from the wealthy, the lower and upper cities respectfully. The titling of Binary Domain resonates with the fact this fictional future Japan is split into two and how humans and the Hollow Children are so different, but coexist in the same civilization.

The cutscenes in the game are easily competing with some of the most notably well done in the entire medium, such as Uncharted or Metal Gear. More than just proper lip syncing, Binary Domain goes above and beyond to ensure that characters feel distinct to their country or race with high quality motion capture technology used for almost everything. This translates well into the actual gameplay itself, but has some unusual quirks, such as a character’s head moving too much when the player turns them, or the running animation when a turret gun is held.

Enemies initially seem basic and easy, but quickly become complicated and challenging. Players will fight several dozen types of robots, all with unique designs, coloring and methods of offense and defense. Attacking them will result in their armor and limbs falling apart with some incredibly impressive shrapnel physics. Their parts do not simply come off, but deteriorate to the point where they will limp, hop or switch the arm they use for shooting. The relentless nature of this is both frightening and engaging, it is clearly some of the best artificial intelligence found in games today.

[The game constantly introduces new locations and characters, but never unfolds the plot faster than players can follow]

Sound originalreviews

In fitting with its futuristic setting, Binary Domain‘s soundtrack features a very distinct electronic influence throughout. All manner of electronic music is explored here — everything from fast and energetic dance-inspired drum beats to droning ambient pieces and more. Stylistically, the soundtrack draws from many ideas and techniques commonly seen within the genre, such as a heavily layered sound production, textured soundscapes, and the use of samples to name but a few. It’s by no means limited to one particular style of music, however, with sweeping orchestral pieces and the haunting acoustic tracks being used to great effect, though these too will often give way to the processed sounds and samples heard elsewhere in the game world, creating a sense of uniformity across the entire score. Like the world in which the game takes place, Binary Domain‘s soundtrack can be oppressive, brooding, and atmospheric, and to that end it absolutely succeeds in creating a rich and unique sound world.

Similar to Vanquish, Binary Domain offers numerous language options for the cast’s spoken dialog with English and Japanese being the only ones that adhere to the quality of the overall game. Similar to the Yakuza series, Binary Domain‘s Japanese cast is a large group of very well known actors and while the choices for the English dub are nowhere near as extravagant a lot of investment and thought was put into how the main cast move and looked, with only a few secondary background characters coming off as flat. A minor annoyance is that sometimes the main cast will repeat what they just said, but it hardly impacts their humanity, especially when the player can talk to them to say something else.

The artillery in the game is given a similar amount of thought and love put into it. Even with the majority of weapons being pretty basic as to what would be expected in modern shooters, they are all realistic and believable (no laser weapons, for example). There are over 50 kinds of guns and explosives, but none share the same sounds and they each make a different noise with each use, they even have different sounds based on distance and what type of terrain is hit. All of this is fairly standard for high profile shooting games, but is completely unheard of for Japanese shooters. It is a minor touch, but it is examples like this that prove the development studio’s dedication even with the odds against them.

[New play styles and set pieces are introduced throughout the campaign]

Controls

This game console generation has had many Japanese-made third person shooters attempting new forms of control methods, many of which have failed or confused players already accustomed to the genre. Binary Domain takes the very popular Gears of War as a model of what to base itself on and builds from that. Like Gears of War, one button is context sensitive to roll if tapped, run if held and take cover, although the cover mechanics are somewhat different to Gears in a way that may take a few people time to adjust with initially. Furthering the similarities is a button that focuses the player’s view on important current happenings such as a plane flying by or special item being available, but the majority of the game feels unique in itself and (as previously mentioned) constantly throws new ideas at the player to keep the overall design of the campaign very fresh in nature, such as a chase on jetskis or a quick time event. None of which are done at times when the player would not expect something to occur.

Another similarity with the genre include on-screen indicators that inform the player on what they can do with what button, but Binary Domain has some very original mechanics to itself, such as the ability to dash and shoot at the same time or the character trait building menus where the campaign squad and multiplayer characters can be customized by several non-visual factors. The sensitivity of the aiming also feels unique in that it is a significant amount looser than most other games in the genre, but this can be adjusted in the main menu and pause menu at any time. Once changed, the targeting feels spot on and is instantly comparable to modern shooters with the highest quality controls and highest budgets instead of the unorthodox aiming found in the majority of Capcom or Tecmo Koei shooters. Some aiming issues still exist however, but this is mostly due to the reticle changing color when facing an enemy the weapon’s shots can not necessarily reach or how team players in multiplayer will also make the reticle red as if they are an enemy – A very minor, but very strange oversight.

[Enemies will continue to fight even after they have lost their limbs, constantly changing the dynamics of their AI]

Gameplay

Progression in Binary Domain is unique in that players will almost always be doing something new. Within the first few minutes of gameplay, players are given a strong sense of familiarity to the majority of other games in the shooting game genre, only to mix it up with a swimming section and later to a portion where the characters are falling down a building in a water-slide fashion. Neither of these are ever replicated in the game again, and because the way players traverse or fight is always unique it only serves to make every new level feel incredibly special and diverse. Many levels will even allow players to choose who will come along with them in missions. Due to the entire cast having unique statistics and abilities this greatly increases the player’s options with how to play and eventually re-play.

Scoring also keeps gameplay interesting by how players can take out the enemy robot masses. Each foe variation have their own patterns and tactics for how they will deal with the main cast, but if the player wants the most points they will need to destroy them in portions (such as their arms or legs being blown off first and then their head), if the head is removed the robot will instead attack their squad, creating a diversion for the player to either hit them all with a grenade or to flank them with a sneak attack.

[Different squad members will offer their unique knowledge and expertise in all types of situations, but not always with the best outcome]

Furthermore, attempting to obtain as many points as possible will also mean the player will lose bullets faster and the enemies will become even more relentless in their attacks. This wonderful win-lose gameplay strategy is made brilliant as even players who do not care about points will try the best they can as the points are also currency of the game and rewards the player with better weapons and upgrades depending on how well they have scored. Players who find the genre hard will not be discouraged as the ability to purchase all kinds of objects through kiosks hidden in the levels are scattered throughout the game, but those who are looking for a challenge will enjoy the several difficulty levels and incredibly hard ‘Invasion’ multiplayer more (more on this later).

The pacing is also kept interesting with the use of a large amount of boss battles – All of which are very large and challenging in very different ways. Usually ironically based on things found within nature, these are conceptually some of the most impressive bosses in a SEGA game since Bayonetta and are easily far more diverse. Some are not as unique or memorable as others, but they all make up for it in sheer number of appearances – With the exception of one, none are ever seen repeated or recycled. Long fights with these bosses are very common and can sometimes confuse the player with how complex or relentless their patterns are, but it never becomes exhausting and the player always has their squad to help them with these fights, sometimes offering suggestions.

[Some bosses take place throughout whole levels and some are as large – Or moreso than entire buildings]

Online multiplayer is fairly standard to those familiar with the genre would expect. The standard modes where players all over the world attempt to defeat one another are there, but Binary Domain‘s strengths come from the team-based events, such as variants of the tried and true ‘Capture the Flag’ modes. Depending on how well one plays, they are awarded by an in-game currency that allows them to purchase better weapons and gadgets, similar to the Call of Duty series of games. These can be overwhelming to novice players, but as the game offers unique classes with different load-outs it proves to be a surprisingly balanced experience. An especially enjoyable element to this is how players can purposely stock up on credits until the very last round and then come back with a vengeance. However, there is a development oversight where players of different skill rankings are rarely paired up correctly, which can lead to some seriously frustrating matches, especially to those new to the game.

The co-operative nature of the game is especially apparent in the ‘Invasion’ mode which completely steals the entirety of multiplayer’s thunder. Two or more players will team up against waves of progressively stronger enemies and can build up their own arsenal of items and weapons depending on how well they play. Confusingly, there is no way to stop the mode and continue at a later date, which can be extremely daunting as it will take players several hours (!!!) to take out the entirety of all 50 waves. An investment that only the most talented of gamers will be able to accomplish, but one that is still fun regardless of it’s conclusion. However, no version of multiplayer in the game has any local play options. It is disappointing that this mode in particular does not offer it and it is especially confusing that there is no mode similar to the campaign that focuses on playing with friends, local or online.

These type of components have become a necessity in the shooting genre within recent years and Ryu ga Gotoku Studio made a strong attempt at competing with some of the most played games online. Sadly, the multiplayer in Binary Domain suffers from lack of use from the community. This is in no way the game’s fault, but those interested in purchasing the game should be aware that not many people are playing it online.

Special Notes

The marketing for Binary Domain has been very strong with numerous commercials and advertising campaigns. One of the most prominent was a web series starring a robot character named Assault-kun who tries to blend in with society but always manages to screw up in comical ways. None are translated into English, but the majority of them are universally enjoyable based on Assault-kun’s reactions.

This video shows Assault-kun and a working accomplice being scolded by their manager. Once the manager leaves the disgruntled worked writes a “Die Manager!” on the dry erase board and then leaves. Click the video below to see the conclusion.

Conclusion

With incredible pacing in an action filled and thought provoking campaign that offers four possible conclusions to outstanding gameplay mechanics in almost every way, Binary Domain‘s only major downfalls come from it’s only fairly enjoyable multiplayer experience that does not focus on the title’s strengths or key features. The single player component is easily comparable to the highest budget and best action games available by studios that have been part of the genre for decades, and for that it is incredible how well Ryu ga Gotoku Studio’s first attempt at a modern shooter with Binary Domain compares and in many regards also excels them. Binary Domain can easily be SEGA’s stand-out game for the year and is possibly the best modern third person shooter ever designed by a Japanese studio.

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Formats: Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3, and Windows, downloadable demos exist for all for all three.

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