Reviews

Binary Domain – Review

 

Release Date: Out Now!
Developer:
Publisher: SEGA
Singleplayer: Yes 
Splitscreen: No
Multiplayer: Yes 2-10 players.
PEGI: 15+

Thanks to SEGA for providing a copy of this game for review.

My overriding memory of Binary Domain is screaming “CHAAAAAAAAARGE!” down the microphone at 2am and waking up the entire household, who, for obvious reasons, were not too impressed by my early morning antics. But the vengeful wrath of my family wasn’t my primary concern as my in-game allies had actually interpreted my enthusiastic command as an insult and were now refusing to obey further orders, leaving me up the metaphorical creek without an imaginary paddle. This, ladies and gentlemen, is Binary Domain: a third-person cover-based shooter where you can talk to the AI and shoot a lot of robots as you carve your way through a highly enjoyable tale.

It’s the year 2080, and in Binary Domain the world has suffered from a series of environmental disasters which has left many countries devastated. In the wake of this carnage robots have become commonplace, helping to rebuild and serve their human masters in this new quasi-dystopian world. They’re absolutely everywhere, be it serving drinks or acting as security robots  they are now a part of life, accepted by all as the next step in technology.  As Dan Marshall, nicknamed “The Survivor” for reasons only ever hinted at, you’ll be sent along as part of a Rust Crew tasked with infiltrating Japan and arresting a man named Amada who runs one of the worlds biggest robotics companies. Amada is believed to be responsible for breaking clause 21 of the New Geneva Convention, which prohibits the creation of “Hollow Children” or robots that look human and act human. Worse still these Hollow Children even believe themselves to be human thanks to implanted memories, making them virtually indistinguishable from humans. Of course this concept is hardly a new one: we’ve seen the idea of robots made human before in many mediums, and for the first while Binary Domain’s story doesn’t deliver anything special, but during the second half of the game the story picks up and by the end I was thoroughly immersed in the tale and twists and turns it took. It’s not a truly profound story, though, as there were moments where the game didn’t delve as deeply into the moral implications of Hollow Children as it could, or even should, have, yet the final hour of this seven hour single-player campaign had me on the edge of the seat, eagerly trying to anticipate what was coming next  Sure, it’s not going to have you questioning your moral values or beliefs too much, but by shooter standards this is some deep stuff, making Binary Domain’s story its greatest asset and worthy of your time.

Part of the story’s charm and success is because of the characters within it. Dan and his Rust Crew are often a fairly stereotypical bunch, yet fantastic voice acting, solid dialog, some witty moments and plenty of charm mean they’re an easy to like group. Dan himself is a little cocky, rough and always willing to crack a joke, yet when the situation demands he’s serious and focused. It’s just a shame that his past, which earned him the name, ” The Survivor” is never fully explored, though. His partner in crime is Bo, a massive black guy who throws around the typical “it’s a’ight” attitude like there’s no tomorrow, but his constant banter with Dan and is boisterous nature keep things rolling nicely. Then there’s Charlie, the British MI6 guy who has the slightly snobby attitude associated with the English. His more by-the-book style means he has an instant problem with Dan and Bo’s more freeform nature, but again he’s a well acted and written character. His partner, Rachael Townsend, is far  less likable and was the only character that I didn’t actually give a damn about. In all honesty I actually had to go look her name up for this review as I’d forgotten it. Then you’ve got Faye, a Chinese sniper who Dan immediately calls farm-girl, getting things off on the wrong-foot, but is deadly on the battlefield. The final addition is the most intriguing: Cain is a robot with a very cartoony french-accent, yet is easily one of the most fun characters in the game, constantly providing amusement. He also happens to be a combat robot who can kick some serious ass! It’s not often I can say that I felt invested in characters within games, yet with Binary Domain I did actually care about the characters and what happened to them, and that’s a hell of an achievement.

Things do start to fall apart a bit when it comes to gaining their trust, though, which is one of two fairly unique concepts that Binary Domain brings to the table – the other being voice recognition, but we’ll get to that later. Your performance during battle, responses to their questions, the orders you give them and more all affect each members degree of trust that they place in you. A high trust level means that member will perform better during combat and obey commands in an instant, whilst a low-level means they’ll perform poorly and ignore your commands. Their level of trust can even directly affect the story, altering events slightly. On paper this is a cool concept, but it fails to deliver thanks to a few key points. The first is that it’s far too easy to gain a high-trust level with them: it’s always very clear which answer is “right” during conversations with them and even the most stupid of orders during combat will only lower their trust by a small amount. The only real way to drop trust quite a bit is by shooting them, which will actually happen by accident a good bit as they have a nasty habit of stepping into your line of fire. Damn AI. Even if you do manage to drop their trust to extremely low levels, simply performing half-decently during combat will see if shoot back up again. You can in theory, get “bad” scenes due to low levels of trust, including, I might add, some that alter the ending, but the game so relentlessly pushes you toward getting the “right” scenes that it’s almost pointless having anything else.

A key aspect of gaining your teams trust is the ability to actually stop and speak to them mid-game using your microphone or scream orders at them to ensure victory on the battlefield. On paper this is a fantastic concept, allowing you to become further immersed in the game and characters, even going so far as to let you swear at them should they do something truly stupid, but in execution the voice recognition simply isn’t capable of doing the concept justice. It often failed to recognize my commands, despite speaking in a clear (well, clear for  Scotsman) and loud tone. Some words and phrases would cause the game no problems, such as “cover me”, but other times a simple phrase like “thank you” can be interpreted as you actually calling Bo an idiot, thereby lowering his trust level. It can be frustrating to have battlefield commands misunderstand, but even more so when it’s a quiet moment and the game still fails to recognize command. The other problems that this concept suffers from is that you’ll often sit through long speeches from your allies, only to have to usually say “yeah” at the end of it. The idea of immersing you further into the game is an honorable one, but simply saying yay or nay when prompted doesn’t really help with immersion, especially when the “right” answers are so clear. It’s not the fault of the developers, though: the technology simply isn’t at the point where such a concept can truly be done justice, but it does leave a feeling that perhaps it shouldn’t have been included at all. Still, as I said, credit to the developers is well deserved for attempting something different. (NOTE: A microphone is not required to play Binary Domain. You can simply select answers using regular controls.)

When it comes to the gameplay Binary Domain plays it safe by going for a straight cover-based shooter experience that mimics Gears of War in many ways, albeit one that lacks the polish that makes Epic’s title so popular. With a tap of A you can slam into cover with the usual triggers controls for aiming and shooting. As said it doesn’t have the same level of smoothness as Gears, but it’s still a satisfying, solid system. It’s the actual act of shooting things where Binary Domain manages to set itself apart somewhat, all thanks to the enemy who you face: robots. Binary Domain actively encourages you to virtually take these foes apart with gunfire, tearing off armor to expose circuitry. The more damage you inflict before actively finishing an enemy the more credits you’ll be awarded with which to spend on weapon upgrades, such as a damage boost or better accuracy. It feels immensely satisfying to rip these robot enemies to shreds, carefully picking away chunks of armor with careful gunfire or simply going nuts and unleashing lead upon them. Their reactions serve to add to the enjoyment: shoot off a leg and it’ll carefully regain balance and continue to fight; blast off an arm and it will pick up its weapon from its severed limb and attempt to blow your head off, blast off its legs and it’ll crawl toward you,  but best of all shoot off its head and it’ll start blindly firing, taking out allies and enemies alike. Watching these robots crawl toward you minus their legs really gives you the sense of, “Just die, you f*cking b*astards!”. It’s surprising just how much fun it is to blow these walking machines to bits, and while it does become a bit too easy in the later stages of the game thanks to weapon upgrades, it remains immensely satisfying throughout, especially as the level of detail displayed when ripping through armor and internal machinery is fantastic.

To further help keep things interesting there’s several different types of enemies to fought, such as incredibly fast ninja robots whose sole purpose it to slice up your face with their deadly blades or massive minigun toting behemoths intent on turning you into a lovely bullet-ridden corpse. But it’s the boss fights where things get really interesting, despite following the generic “shoot it in the blowing bit” design philosophy. You’ll face off against a robot gorilla, spider-thing and, in what is easily the highlight of the game, a giant transforming motorcycle robot whilst travelling along a road at high-speed. Best of all these nasty foes use the same concept of ripping off armour with gunfire, lending a nice visceral feeling to every battle, proving that you don’t need enemies that resemble flesh and blood to create a satisfying shooter. The fights are well designed, fun and challenging, helping to break up the action and keep things interesting.

The only time the gameplay falters is during the few moments when Binary Domain leaves its pure cover-based shooting roots and attempts to mix things up with some different sequences, such as racing jet-skis down a river or on-rail vehicle sections. While these moments do serve to mix up the gameplay they’re also quite poorly implemented and feel closer to a chore than a joy to play, but happily there is not too many of these moments. And did I mention there are zombies in here? Well, zombie robots, but zombies nonetheless. They appear in a fairly brief section where you’ll fight through corridors of shambling robots who that have been thrown in the trash and who bare a striking resemblance to the undead. They really do get around, don’t they?

Binary Domain is also a visually impressive game, in both its artistic style and technical prowess. As you progress through the story the art style changes as you move from the grimy, dirty, neon lit city underside to the clean, white, almost sterile looking upper city, filled with towering buildings. There’s a pleasing level of detail to be found in the environments and on the character models, especially during the games fantastic cut-scenes which stand as some of the best in quite some time. The graphics also serve to make the combat even more satisfying as bits and pieces fly off your mechanical foes, really giving the impression that your bullets are ripping through metal. Slick animations finish off the package. The audio aspects of the game are also impressive with some truly brilliant voice acting bringing the main cast to life, though there are a few instances of some dodgy delivery with the minor characters. The sound effects are likewise impressive, especially when it comes to blasting apart those robots. The only area where the audio disappoints is the music, which is composed of generic and forgettable techno. Yet you won’t notice it often as the game chooses to keep music to a bare minimum, which quickly proves to be a wise choice, helping to give scenes a better ambience.

But while Binary Domain delivers a strong singleplayer campaign featuring a compelling story, great characters and solid action, the games online offerings, both competitive and co-operative, are so completely generic and forgettable that I actually struggle to find much to say about them. They’re just……there. It almost feels as though the multiplayer was simply added in the last month of development after Sega informed the development team that third-person shooters absolutely have to have multiplayer. Part of the problem is that during my entire time with Binary Domain I only ever managed to a few games with a full server. The game supports just 5v5 multiplayer, but there just doesn’t seem to be anyone online to play with, suggesting that the online community is already dead, despite Binary Domain having only been out for two-weeks.

The competitive side of things delivers just a few bland maps on which to do combat, the fantastic feedback of shooting robots being replaced by human opponents who absorb bullets like a bloody sponge. Dull maps aside the game does at least offer  a fair modes to pick from, ranging from the standard Deathmatch options to objective based modes to keep things interesting. Sadly there’s nothing in the modes to separate them from the rest of the crowd. As is common now you’ve got your standard classes to choose from during a match, such as a plain soldier or a sniper, but unlike what most games offer you don’t get to customise these classes at your will, instead new equipment and weapons are bought during a match using points, earned for killing enemies and completing objectives, and are reset every time you respawn, forcing you to buy your gear back. Again, like the trust system and voice recognition, this is a nice enough concept on paper but ultimately falls flat in practice because the weapons available to purchase are some much more powerful than the default class loadout, leading to a vicious cycle in which those with the bought weapons can dominate those without far too easily, allowing them to buy even better equipment. And of course should you actually manage to take one of them down they’ll have more than enough points to buy their equipment back straight-away and start making your life a misery again. In other words it’s a poorly balanced affair, although one that could be sorted out with a patch. Until then the multiplayer might have you playing for a few hours, but considering the other multiplayer offerings out there it’s hard to imagine many people sticking around for long, as demonstrated by the already quiet lobbies. It just lacks any real personality and due to just being 5v5 it feels rather….quiet.

And then there’s the Invasion mode, which is your standard horde style more where you and up to three friends can duke it out with 50 waves of robotic enemies whose goal is to ensure that you end up as nothing more than a bloody puddle upon the ground. Ever 5 waves you get a chance to spend  points earned in battle on new gear, which you’re certainly going to need as Binary Domain’s Invasion mode is surprisingly brutal, ramping up the difficulty quickly. Actually getting past wave 10 will require teamwork and good player skill. At times the difficulty is a little too much if you don’t happen to have a full team working together, but it’s nice to have a challenge in a world filled with so many easy games. Sadly, though, there’s just three maps to play on, which gets pretty boring after a while. My only other real gripe here is that the game offers the ability to play Invasion on your own, by simply creating a private game, but doesn’t balance itself out if that should be your desire – you’ll quickly find yourself swamped. This isn’t a major issue, though, as I can’t imagine there’s many more people like me who enjoy playing such modes alone sometimes.

 

As a singleplayer game Binary Domain is entirely worth of your time, although at just seven or eight hours long it’s hard to recommend at full price, though there is some decent replay value to be found in experiencing all the different scenes available. it delivers a strong story, likable characters, a few genuinely funny moments and solid third-person cover-based gameplay with satisfying enemies to dismantle. As a multiplayer title, though, Binary Domain cannot be recommended at all. The Invasion mode is fun, but you can get a better experience in many other games, whilst the competitive modes feels tacked on in the final stages of developement, leaving them feeling bland and lifeless. Still, if you’re after a  strong singleplayer offering, Binary Domain delivers on almost ever account.

The Good:
+ Great story.
+ Fun characters.
+ Shooting up robots!

The Bad:
– Vehicle sections
– Multiplayer.
– Voice recognition is hit and miss.

The Score:

Graphics: 9
Binary Domain is quite the looker, featuring some stunning cutscenes and an impressive level of detail.

Sound: 8.5
Fantastic voice acting and great sound effects are only let down by boring music.

Story: 8.5
Not as deep or profound as I may have liked, but still thought-provoking by shooter standards and boasts a team of characters that are hard not to like.

Gameplay: 8
The core cover system is solid with just a few niggles and the gunplay is satisfying. The vehicle sections suck, though, and the multiplayer is disappointing.

Lifespan: 6.5
The campaign will last around seven hours which is about average for a shooter with a little replay value, but unlike other shooters the multiplayer won’t have you playing for long at all.

The Verdict: 8
Binary Domain should not be purchased by those looking for a great online experience, but rather by those looking for a great singleplayer game that tells a fine tale.

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