Binary Domain Review

By Jeffrey Matulef - Posted Mar 07, 2012

Binary Domain is Japan's answer to Gears of War, with exciting, energetic third-person shooting. The multiplayer is lackluster, and the optionally voiced squad tactics are largely inconsequential, but the campaign's sharp shooting and smart story make for a vision splendid romp through Japan's future.

The Pros
  • Robots react to damage in unique ways
  • Sophisticated script
  • Convincing vision of the future
  • Amazing boss fights
The Cons
  • Squad commands are underdeveloped
  • Voice-recognition is inconsistent
  • Tacked on multiplayer

Binary Domain Review:

Binary Domain's protagonist Dan Marshall spends most of his time shooting robots, while the player spends most of their time talking to robots. Well, sort of. One of the game's most unique features is that it allows you to use voice-commands to communicate with your comrades. While most of them are human in the game, in real life they're merely Artificial Intelligences. Casually conversing with AIs hammers home the fourth wall-breaking message; we're already entering the "machine age" Binary Domain prophesies where the line between humans and machines is blurred.



The Deathly Hollows

The premise is that 70 years in the future global warming has flooded most of the civilized world, so mankind created robot labor to build new cities above the waterlogged ruins. Of course, things don't go as planned when robots called "Hollow Children" start resembling people and thinking they're human. This violates the Geneva code, so you play as part of a specialized robot-killing task force sent into Japan to infiltrate the supposed Hollow Children production company, Amada.

Despite the Japanese setting, your entire crew is made up of foreigners and this conflict between Eastern and Western sensibilities is inherent in the game itself as Binary Domain is a Japanese game that mimics Western cover shooters like Gears of War. In fact, the default control scheme is nearly identical to Epic's franchise, right down to stodgy maneuverability where it's too easy to accidentally roll alongside a wall when you mean to take cover or hunker down against a crate when you intend to run. It may not be as fluid as Vanquish, but for the most part it works.

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Perhaps the biggest attribute that sets Binary Domain apart from Gears of War and its ilk is the enemies you face. Every foe is a robot of some kind that can be dismantled piece by piece. Blow a drone's leg off and they'll crawl towards you like the Terminator, amputate their gun carrying arm and they'll pick up their fallen weapon with their other hand, and best of all, shoot off their head and they'll become confused and fire upon their mechanical brethren. There's plenty of in-between states as well. A sentry missing a leg may crawl, but damage their shin just enough and it'll be reduced to a peg, causing them to hobble. The game encourages you to be precise in how you strip down each enemy by rewarding extra currency for dealing more damage before delivering the final blow. It's a very dynamic system that ensures the moment to moment combat never gets old throughout the duration of the eight or so hour campaign.

To spruce things up further there are plenty of on-rails sequences where you take the gunner position of a vehicle, as well as a generous supply of boss battles. These colossal machinations are truly inspired and react different based on how you take them apart. A giant mechanical spider can be killed by launching rockets up a hole in its torso, but you can also pick off each leg one by one. I tried to blow off all the legs on one side, assuming it would collapse and scuttle along helplessly, but instead it started walking upright on its remaining three legs. Even with one limb left it would hop around resembling a giant mechanized desk lamp, showering the playing field with bullets and missiles.

Binary Domain

Master of Your Domain?

While the gunplay is absolutely solid, the more ambitious squad mechanics are underdeveloped. In theory, your squadmates are supposed to trust you based on your tactical decisions and performance. Bring a sniper and brute into battle and they'll ask if you want to charge or hold back. The answer will only please one of them. Friendly fire is also in play, so your teammates tend to get miffed when you shoot them. An unhappy squadmate is less likely to follow orders, so you have to find a way to please everyone.

It's a fascinating idea, but one that's poorly implemented. First off, it's hard to make people mad at you. They'll usually ask very simple questions like "should I throw this grenade?" and there's no reason to tell them not to. Secondly, you can't make specific directives. There's no way to tell your sniper to take out a certain target, nor is there a way to address teammates individually. When one comrade saved my hide I said, "Thanks," but then my other teammate replied "I don't know why you're thanking me." I wasn't talking to you!

Binary Domain

Using a headset to talk to your squad opens up a larger vocabulary, but this comes with its own share of issues. For one, voice recognition is spotty, only working about 80% of the time. This is not reliable enough when it confuses words like "thanks" for "blitz." The bigger problem is most of these words don't serve a purpose. You can play without a headset and pick the few core orders like "charge," "regroup," and "fire," so the chatting option mostly gives you more ways of saying the same few things ("yes," "yeah," "sure," "affirmative," etc...). If you're like me, you'll just try spouting out the funnier phrases like "I love you" to see the surprisingly varied funny reactions. It's amusing to mess with in a Siri sort of way, but never impacts the game as it should.

It's a shame the player/character interaction isn't better, because the interpersonal relationships are interesting. The characters aren't always likable -- in fact, Dan can be a brash jerk much of the time -- but the clever tale puts the cast in a variety of scenarios where their beliefs are put to the test and watching how they cope with the hand they've been dealt is thoroughly engaging. Binary Domain's script borrows heavily from Blade Runner, Battlestar Galactica, and I, Robot, but it does so in a brilliant way with some genuinely surprising twists that raise complex ethical issues. This isn't a world of heroes and villains, but rather a society on the cusp of a major change in humanity.

Binary Domain

The fiction is further rounded out by a shockingly believable sci-fi world. Binary Domain's ultra slick rendition of Japan isn't always attractive, but it feels like the type of consistent, sterile, utilitarian city robots would build. It's clean, efficient, and soulless. This might be the only time where I felt ugly gray corridors actually enhanced a game.

Unfortunately, all the elements that make the single-player campaign so special don't extend to the multiplayer. The versus modes remove the robots, so they feel like unremarkable Gears of War clones, while Infestation mode tasks players with fending off waves of foes, but is suspiciously missing the dynamic dismemberment system that kept the single-player so enthralling. There's nothing terrible about Binary Domain's multiplayer, but the lack of weapon types doesn't do it any favors, and there's nothing that elevates it above any number of shooters out there. It's clear that multiplayer was an afterthought.

Binary Domain

Judgment Day

Ultimately, Binary Domain an extremely impressive third-person shooter with powerful feeling guns, an interesting story, well-realized world, and the enemies are some of the most fun to fight in any shooter. It's not perfect as the multiplayer is utterly forgettable, and the squad dynamic is a half-baked novelty, but this feature can be ignored completely and the game does not suffer for it. Robots may have a ways to go before they can be worthwhile conversationalists, but Binary Domain proves that they still provide great target practice.

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Editor's Note: Binary Domain was reviewed using an Xbox 360 copy of the game; however, if further investigation reveals any differences between the 360 edition and the PS3 edition of the game, this review will be updated to reflect those differences.