You know what I learned by looking into my blog’s metrics? It is the most beneficial for page views if I talk about games that are a year to three years old, as they tend to get the most traffic from me due to the internet algorithms. That is not what I am reviewing Binary Domain, curiosity and a $3.75 price tag did that. Not that I would justify it for much more than that, with my reasoning being listed below.
Binary Domain Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), XBox 360, PS3
Developers: Sega, ported by Devil’s Details
Binary Domain is set in a future where robotics technology has advanced to the point where they are not only an integral part of life to most people, but have reached a level where they can be programmed to emulate humanity themselves, so well that the machines are unaware of their lack of humanity. These robots, referred to as Hollow Children, are the beginning point in Binary Domain, as a group of multinational soldiers are sent to infiltrate the origin of these illegal hybrid creatures. Said origin is located in an isolated futuristic Japan, because the game was made by the Yakuza team and I would be surprised if they ever made a game set outside of Japan. A fact I would like to make clear due to how from what I know of Yakuza, the franchise has a very complex narrative with decades of carefully crafted relationships and apparently shares many team members in this game. Binary Domain’s story feels like it was either regularly rewritten, or built bit by bit as time went on.
The basic structure of the plot is pretty simple. You start out with the cookie cutter white american man named Dan and his black partner, Big Bo, needing to infiltrate into Cyber Tokyo and kill a swarm of robots with the ultimate goal being to get into a building and arrest a man. However, as the storyline progresses and eventually concludes, the oddities in its world building and actions begin to raise many a question. Aside from why there is a giant robotic chandelier as a boss battle, how money is earned from killing robot men, and where the hell Japan got all the metal to make these “scrap-heads”. For example, one character is quickly killed off near the end of the fifth chapter in a manner where it is not clear if they did die, and their death is never questioned or even really acknowledged by the other characters. In fact, that happens once more about twenty minutes later.
I could go on by mentioning loose ends like a group of Japanese detectives who Dan vividly remembers despite never seeing them, but things got especially dicey around when those two unimportant characters did their most important action, which was separating the team. In most cases, this would be an easy to solve solution that one would expect to be resolved within the hour. Yet, strangely enough, the game spends about five hours building a team who is then separated, removing three characters from the plot for over four hours in this ten hour long game.
This act is confusing enough as it is from a narrative perspective as possible, especially when you consider how the game built a very unique and appealing system around the idea of choosing and gaining the trust of allies. This trust system is based on the ability to converse with your party members at certain inter holes and impress them during combat for points, or friendly fire to lose them. The problem? Well, the Trust systems really only exist to be maximized in order to achieve one of three endings, and in spite of trying really hard to agree with every character in the very simplistic and difficult to interpret responses you can give out and be good at the game, I got the worst out of the three. My reasoning being how nobody could have expected for the team to shift, and figuring out how to maximize your trust levels with everybody is very difficult due to the game’s linear nature. It got to the point where I only maxed the trust of two characters because of an instance where I fought over 100 robots with Dan alone, which allowed me to max the trust of one character, who is ultimately pointless by the way, in twenty minutes.
Taking the utterly bafflingly implemented system and the very awkwardly worded script that left me unsure if the localization team for North America was either trying or just failing at being humorous in jest, Binary Domain is a surprisingly competent shooter. I would be hesitant to call it anything along the lines of unique, being a cover based third person shooter with limited commands to give to your team mates, but the ability to alter your enemies mobility through the destruction of limbs was something of a joy in its own right. However, the layout of the cover based levels and enemies does not offer constant opportunities to take advantage of the system.
This is something of a problem, because of how the best manner I could device for gaining trust with allies was to get limb destruction bonuses, so whenever you did not get these bonuses, it felt like something of a failure. Not that the game needed any help in that regard, as I had Dan fall to the ground many a time when going through the game on normal. In fact, it was probably more often than every single other squad member combined. Yet, that only happened because of how it feels like a good half of the damage, if not more, comes only from Dan as the other one to three members tend to huddle around one spot and play very safely even though they have regenerative health and their own supply of regenerating med-kits. Yet, that would likely hamper the Trust system as it only matters that the squad sees you as a paragon of excellence and dishes out the same compliments until they grow annoying.
Much like the majority of Binary Domain’s boss battles all of which involve the destruction of larger mechanical threats, often at the cost of practicality, and almost all of which suffer from feeling like very large damage sinks at a certain point. When that is not the case, the game often shoves a rocket launcher into Dan’s hands. Having him act as the sole bringer of destruction as you need to grow accustomed to an unfamiliar weapon that is dropped whenever you switch to deal with threats not warranting one of your three rockets before needing to reload because of how slow they are in comparison to the enemy. Not that the bosses are lacking in terms of their scope as they are all very large and at least somewhat intricately designed behemoths that do pose a threat due to Dan’s frailty.
In fact, I would argue that they are very much the visual highlight of the game, but when you are assembling a post-apocalyptic world which only has bursts of a utopian cybernetic future, environments tend to be very easy to forget. This leaves the armor shattering effects of bullets piercing metal casings to act as the highlight, and while the visual and auditory response to inflicting damage is nice, the number of humanoid robots that are slaughtered very much keep the effect at a novelty level. As for the humans, it is clear that Yakuza’s team is best at modeling faces that have faults to them, instead of bland mugs of what the game would have as its male and female leads.
I actually found myself rather enjoying Binary Domain as things began, with everything feeling remarkably fine considering it was a cover based shooter made by a Japanese team. However, whenever it tried to branch out into being anything more than a serviceable romp, more faults came into my field of view, whether they be narrative, gameplay, or just the structure of events when considering its most unique gameplay system. Regardless of what interesting avenues are explored, the game feels cobbled together not from a core gameplay standpoint, but from the standpoint of everything else.
Not quite solid or liquid, these are tough to recommend while not necessarily being a bad title. As the game does still have plenty of pleasantness, but ultimately comes out feeling a bit too meh.