Sega decided to try to squeeze in Binary Domain a week before the highly anticipated Mass Effect 3. Unfortunately, the newly formed Yakuza Studio’s third-person shooter is now more likely to be missed and forgotten, and possibly end up on one of those “best games no one played” list, like Beyond Good and Evil. Sega should have given a bigger cushion to its Gears of War, Dead Space, Mass Effect mash-up that borrows plenty from Ridley Scott’s 1982 film, Blade Runner, set in a dystopian Los Angeles.
At first glance, Binary Domain feels like a generic Gears of War clone with none of the personality for which Gears is so well known. It starts off in the year 2080 where someone has illegally started creating robots that are indistinguishable from humans, so much so that they themselves don’t know that they are robots. The Amada Corporation in Tokyo, Japan is fingered as the culprit and that’s where you come in, Dan Marshall, an Army Sergeant nicknamed “The Survivor.”
The game drops you and your fellow American representative (members of the “Rust crew”) outside the fortified Japanese seawall. With a setting of darkness, concrete, and the ocean, as good as the textures are, the location isn’t likely to pull anyone in. Your stereotypical buddy, Bo, gives you a bit of tutorial and introduces you to the limited dialogue tree and command system. These can be executed with the controller or a headset.
The beginning is definitely the weakest part of the game. With uneven voice acting and unremarkable location many will give up on this game 10 minutes in. For some reason, many Japanese games have the same problem reaching western gamers with lengthy intros and the initial pacing. At least Binary Domain lets you shoot stuff and blow things up and you can turn off the voice commands that barely work.
If you’ve played Gears of War, you know pretty much how this works: A to dash and cover, left trigger aims, right trigger shoots, X is a melee, and the D-pad changes weapons. The only thing that is a little different is that Dan’s primary rifle has a shock burst that requires a special fuel and needs to be charged with the right bumper. The left bumper is used by those not opting for voice commands and will pop-up tactical orders unless specific dialogue is going on, where it will give you your response choices.
As you would imagine, Binary Domain’s Japan is a technologically advanced and well-defended place. The most advanced technology company, Amada, is well entrenched in the government and has supplied the police force with a more than capable robot army. These robots have varying amounts of armor that must be stripped away before one is able to dismember them. A shot to the head can confuse them and make them attack allies and body and limb damage can make them Terminator-esque crawlers but no less lethal.
Breaching the sea wall is only the first step though. Once you’ve broken into the island country, Dan and Bo meet up with a few more of the Rust crew and you get a chance to start building your team in earnest. Each character’s main weapon can be upgraded at kiosks. There are also implants than can add to each of the crew’s abilities although, none of this ever really feels like it changes much. Your crew’s trust level doesn’t change much either and they repeat lines on a regular basis. The whole mechanic has a very limited role in the story, which does fine on its own and unless you’re just a contrarian, the dialogue choices are useless except to highlight some uneven delivery.
Binary Domain’s Frankenstein–Blade Runner–Battlestar Gallactica story mash-up is pretty fresh, as far as videogames go but, the interactive squad commands and dialogue are nearly useless. Half the time, the dialogue with your squad makes no sense and like the QTE sequences seem inserted just to break up the shooting. Your squad is certainly not there to be effective in combat either. Except for when you’re in a tight spot and need reviving, it’s probably best to forget about them. The whole squad thing could, and should, have been ditched.
There isn’t much to do once the adventure is over. A chapter select is unlocked after completion in case you want to try to alter the cutscenes some. There is a multiplayer offering but, it’s pretty unremarkable. There are versus and co-op Xbox Live options but, there isn’t really anything new for shooter fans. That being said, the overall experience is fun and the narrative compelling.
Besides marketing, there are typically other reasons why some games get overlooked–even good ones–and it would be fair to dismiss Binary Domain for its flaws. There are areas where the game totally drops the ball, but where it really counts, offering something fresh, solid gameplay and graphics and in telling the story, it soars. There are few games that squarely take on such theoretic areas of morality. Titles like Deus Ex and Mass Effect touch upon similar themes but, Binary Domain is unique in its dedication.
Binary Domain is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes. This game can also be found on PS3.