Guest Author - James Shea
A third-person shooter incorporating squad elements, "Binary Domain" is a simple concept with some high-quality execution.
"Binary Domain" is a third-person shooter centered around fighting robots. The player leads a team of multinational special forces in order to bring down the head of a Japanese corporation whose products may threaten the world. The story is told somewhat disjointedly at first - there is little setup until the proper briefing after the first chapter, and the various squad members you recruit are hinted at, but not fully revealed until you actually meet them. As such, saying any more would be giving most of the game away. It was this concept alone that helped draw me into the game - for once in a game, it felt like I truly didn't know what would be coming next, or how things would be developing.
Binary Domain is pretty standard game-wise. You play as Dan, a standard crew-cut marine who is capable of carrying an assault rifle, a pistol, and one other weapon as you see fit (the usual shooter arsenal of shotguns, machine guns, rocket launchers, and so on). Your team is a bit more diverse, but still fall within the standard range of roles - the sniper, the heavy, the close-range specialist, etc. However, handling the smaller details is where Binary Domain differs from many of its contemporaries. For example, the enemies in the game are all robots, and as such have different effects based on different hit locations. Shooting the head will disable its friendly-identification functions, causing them to shoot at their fellow 'bots. Shooting the legs will knock them down, though legless robots are still capable of crawling after you and grabbing on at inopportune moments.
In most cases you can only bring two teammates with you; the other two form a backup team who still play a part in the story (and in some cases are interacted with). Orders can be given to your teammates using either the controller or a headset; the former has more limited choices, however. Orders are more likely to be obeyed if the subordinate in question trusts you, and trust is built up through good performance in battle, dialogue choices, and completing objectives. Trust can be lost through accidentally shooting teammates, failing objectives, failing to protect teammates, and generally getting on your teammates' nerves. The orders themselves are pretty simple - the standard "cover me", "charge", "hold here" array - but the element of potentially not being able to give an order is neat.
Binary Domain has a few "RPG elements" in the form of weapon upgrades and "nanomachine packs", bonuses that can be applied to a character in a limited application. Each pack takes up space on a 2x3 grid, and once the grid is full new packs can't be added. It's pretty simple mechanically, since the bonuses are things like "more health" or "more defense" or "faster evasion", but they allow for some customization based on your playstyle. The game also seems to revel in having fairly limited supplies; there's shops scattered around the game world, but in many cases you'll just have to make do with what you have. It encourages a thrifty mindset; you could use a special attack now, or throw your grenades now, but chances are you won't get new ones for a long time.
The game has multiplayer, too, but it's nothing to really write home about. The standard array of almost-obligatory shooter game modes rear their heads - deathmatch, capture-the-flag, survival against AI-operated enemies, and so on. It's not great, but it's not bad either. It just isn't enough to really hold its own as a dedicated feature. Still, its corporate-versus-rebel design is at least connected to the events of the story and not wholly separate.
Graphically, the game is pretty amazing. The locations are sleek and futuristic, yet also highly recognizable, from low-rent slums to high-tech cityscapes. The character modeling is absolutely fantastic, and the cutscenes are well-shot and well-acted. Gameplay is pretty busy, yet the distinct designs of the characters and enemies help them to stand out in a firefight, and things like gunfire effects and shattering robot parts are done pretty well. It's almost cliche to say this, but the game really does feel like a big-budget action movie, yet at the same time the more "gamey" elements such as the trust levels make the gameplay feel more relevant to the experience and less like filler.
The game's weakest feature, in my opinion, is the lack of follow-up on the squad concept. About halfway through the game, the player's team is split in half, and they are stuck with three characters for basically the rest of the game. It's always the same characters, and much of the story proceeds the same no matter what your trust levels are (though some parts are affected later on). I enjoyed the concept of picking and choosing my team members and seeing their different lines and interactions (of which there are a lot), so it was disappointing when it was cut off at that point. That definitely marked the point where it seemed to go from a dynamic, interesting game where I was curious about what was around the next corner to "eh, it's a pretty good game I guess", and if it hadn't happened it would have been totally amazing overall. As it was, though, Binary Domain had a compelling story, good gameplay (that actually added to, rather than detracting from, the story), and amazing visuals. Absolutely worth picking up for any shooter fan.
I purchased this game with my own funds in order to do this review.
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