Review: Binary Domain (PS3)

Review: Binary Domain (PS3)

Going into last year’s E3, I was a bit skeptical about Binary Domain. I have an unashamedly vocal love affair with the 2010 SEGA-published Platinum Games third-person shooter Vanquish, and hesitated at the thought of another third-person shooter published by SEGA, set in the future against robots. How could I help but be disappointed when I would naturally draw comparisons to Vanquish? Seeing what Binary Domain had to offer in more detail at E3 gave me a lot of hope for the title, and when the game arrived on my doorstep Friday evening, I was able to put that hope to the test.

Binary Domain passed the test with flying colors. I spent around ten hours beating the campaign. I wasn’t meticulous in my search for collectibles, and I raced through the last hour or two in order to have it finished before lights out last night. If I had spent the time of a completionist on this game, I believe I could have added an extra hour or two without much difficulty. Don’t let the ten hour play time scare you away, though. A game may be short, but if it provides you with an excellent gaming experience within that time, it’s worth the money. Binary Domain is worth the money.

The story, for me, was engrossing. Let me set the scene for you: The year is 2080. The place is Tokyo. Man and machine co-exist peacefully, which robots serving as the workforce responsible for rebuilding human civilization after flooding and global disaster. Japan and America are the top economic and technological powers, but Japan has returned to its isolationist roots. Somewhere, a company is manufacturing humanlike robots, which is a direct violation of Clause 21 of the New Geneva Convention. Suspected to be a Japanese company, the IRTA, an international agency with the task of overseeing compliance with the NGC, sends an international team in to Tokyo to root out the culprit and put a stop to it. Upset at the intrusion, the Japanese military and police forces send out their robotic defenses to curtail your supposedly covert operation.

Get a brief glimpse at what Binary Domain looks like and what it’s all about in the launch trailer below:

A third-person squad shooter, Binary Domain puts you in the shoes of Dan Marshall, ex US Special Forces and member of the Rust Crew sent by the IRTA to apprehend Amada, the suspected manufacturer of the Hollow Children (the game’s name for robots that are indistinguishable from humans). Depending on the situation, Dan has anywhere from one to three team members in his squad, generally taking point, while the rest of the potential squad members form a rear support team. Each potential member of your squad has a different class type, specialty, combat style, favored weapon, and more, but each can also be customized and tweaked by using character specific nanomachines. Nanomachines can be found in the world, but are more often found in the many store terminals you find in your journey. Credits are awarded by killing enemies, and can be used in these store/upgrade terminals scattered throughout the world. At the terminals, you can buy med kits, ammunition, grenades, weapons, and nanomachines, along with upgrades to each character’s primary weapon. Weapon upgrades include ammo capacity, damage, firing rate, range, accuracy, and more.

Binary Domain stands out from the crowd in two ways: trust and voice recognition. Every squad member has a trust level. This trust level indicates how much trust they have in Dan, and affects their willingness to obey your orders in battle as well as their general combat effectiveness. If they don’t trust you, they aren’t as motivated to fight, and they aren’t likely to take your orders with a smile and a nod. Trust can be increased and decreased in various ways, but the two big ones are words and deeds. Superstar performance in combat will increase trust and respect from your squad mates, earning you some really good supportive commentary. Poor or stupid performance and friendly fire will reduce trust. This is where you run into your first problem with Binary Domain. AI.

For the most part, the AI that controls your squad members and allies is strong. They are able to defeat enemies and take care of themselves very well, and can be excellent support for you. These are not useless squad mates, they are functional and very effective. Until they walk directly into your line of fire in the middle of a combat session. Then, they complain about you trying to kill them, or you being unable to recognize friend from foe, and their trust in you decreases. Well you know what, Charlie? YEAH, MAYBE I AM TRYING TO KILL YOU NOW, YOU SMUG ASSHOLE.

Sorry.

The second problem is voice recognition. Binary Domain has made an innovative leap forward in how you interact with other characters in a game with their voice recognition implementation. Commands can be issued, conversations can be had, and insults/support can be given based on 68 recognizable words and phrases. Not only do you have group commands available (Regroup, Wait, Retreat, Fire, Charge, etc.), but you can call out character specific commands by calling out the name of the team mate you want to command first (Cain, CHARGE. Bo, FIRE.). That is…when they work. Binary Domain’s voice recognition system requires HEAVY tweaking in to the background/ambient noise threshold in order to be functional. Increasing the threshold results in you yelling into your microphone. Even then, not everything gets properly registered. This is a problem because at lower thresholds, you will find Dan yelling out “FUCK” in response to random things (he says other things too, but I found that one to have the highest frequency). Yelling “FUCK” in the middle of combat reduces your squad mates opinion of you, and therefore their trust. Yelling out “FUCK” in response to a suggestion or question reduces your squad mates opinion of you, and therefore their trust. I think you get the idea. The system is really fantastic, but you have to work hard at finding your sweet spot for the noise threshold.

The third-person shooter and cover mechanics are fantastically implemented. Cover works well, movement and firing are spot on, and the game just plays like a dream. Enemies take procedural damage, and can be really fun to toy with. If you shoot off a robot’s firing arm and they drop their weapon, they’ll bend over and pick it up with their other arm. If you shoot their legs off, they’ll crawl towards you while shooting you up. If you shoot their head off…well, that’s the fun one. Decapitating a robot results in that robot wildly firing at other robots. This also results in those other robots adjusting their focus from you to the rogue robot, which can create a few seconds of breathing room to regroup or plan out another stage of your attack. It’s wonderfully done, and makes for wonderfully entertaining gameplay. The only gameplay issue I had was with the occasional quicktime event. Escape scenarios end in a quicktime event that is extremely sensitive, and extremely fast. Failing these events will happen often, but the game mercifully puts you right back at the quicktime event (or not far from it) when death takes you.

Binary Domain is more than just a great single player experience, though. The same gameplay and entertainment (minus the story) that you get in the campaign, you can get in eight different multiplayer modes. The multiplayer is broken into two categories: Versus and Invasion. Invasion, which comes first because it is the only cooperative multiplayer mode, is a firefight/horde mode. Your team finds itself in a map with various entry points fighting waves of enemies. Score is determined based primarily on kills, so there is still a competitive edge to be the best. Versus contains the other seven multiplayer modes: Free For All, Team Deathmatch, Team Survival, Operation, Demolition, Data Capture, and Domain Control.

Some multiplayer screenshots:

[slickr-flickr search=”sets” set=”72157629469314313″ items=”20″]

For the most part, the multiplayer modes are common and well known to multiplayer fans. Team Deathmatch is a best of three rounds with unlimited respawns. Team Survival is best of five rounds with no respawns until the end of each round. Operation uses Team Survival’s rules, but adds in an objective: the attacking team must plant a bomb on the defending team’s supply. Demolition is Operation, but both sides have bombs. Data Capture is a capture the flag mode using Team Deathmatch rules. Domain Control has control points that need to be captured; as long as the defending team maintains control over one point, they win.

Binary Domain is a success. With the variety of squad members and the different directions your character can take, there is definitely replay value to the entire story. Chapter selection (unlocked after beating the game) gives you replay value for the simple sake of improving your performance. The multiplayer offerings provide you with a great deal of additional entertainment, as long as the community remains active. The third-person shooter and cover mechanics are wonderful, and in spite of the AI’s death wish, the voice recognition’s need for heavy tweaking, and the occasionally rage-inducing quicktime events, Binary Domain is easily worth the asking price of $59.99.

Review

ProsCons
Fantastic story, writing, and acting
Excellent third person shooter gameplay
Great squad mechanics
Intriguing AI trust system
Strong MP modes with good variety
AI will walk into line of fire
Voice recognition requires tweaking for sweet spot
Occasionally controller-breakingly frustrating QT events
Rating
95 out of 100
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