Review: Binary Domain
Title: Binary Domain
Platform: PC, PS3, Xbox 360 (Reviewed on PS3)
Tagline: Character Drama caught in the trappings of a third person shooter
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Verdict: Buy It Already
If there is a game I had been anticipating to play for some time now, it was Binary Domain. I mean, it was coming from the brain trust behind the Yakuza series and it promised to bring the idea of building trust relationships between characters in a shooter. It was an ambitious idea to say the least and it does come off as promised, sort of, as long as you ignore the idea of using your voice to say something meaningful to these characters. Skipping that, Binary Domain does set up an interesting world, filled with rather complex ideas, even if they are baked down with simple answers.
Binary Domain starts off with a bang as a man walks into Bergan Robotics, brandishing a gun. He seems like a normal guy, barring the semi-automatic of course, but beyond that, it is hard to understand his ranting at the robotics company until he goes and rips his face off to reveal a robotic frame underneath. Apparently, he is what the world refers to as a Hollow Child, a robot that does not know that it is human, and a violation of the New Geneva Conventions that have outlawed this technology. Seeing it as a threat from the Amada Corporation, which happens to reside in the sealed borders of Japan, a UN Strike Team, called a Rust Crew, is scuttled to find out what Amada is up to and eliminate the threat of the Hollow Children throughout the world.
With this premise, Binary Domain sets itself up a very grandiose idea of what constitutes a human being in the rawest sense of the word. Sure, these Hollow Children are robots at their core, but they do not know this, with some of them living out their lives for dozens of years, oblivious to how different they are from the rest of society. This thread of what makes a human, human is the defining nature of Binary Domain as we see these themes pop up at several points through the narrative and dialog sequences.
Those dialog sequences have weight and meaning both with the outcome of the main narrative, as there are several different endings you can have based on interactions, as well as the theme of how your character, Dan Marshall reacts to the threat of Hollow Children. Toshihiro Nagoshi spends a lot of time focusing on these ideas of humanity and where life begins, and it really does pack a solid punch when you look at what the world’s military thinks is the solution to the problem. They are blinded by the idea of being overrun by technology, rather than are these creations life.
Sadly, the bonds you try to make are hampered by the idea of using voice commands to make dialog selections when talking to teammates and NPC characters. Before you play, you are asked to go through a voice recognition software test to see how accurate your voice commands are in relation to the phrases on the screen. It is a comprehensive list of phrases, from the standard Hello, Good Job to the more irrational, like God Damn and other colorful metaphors. You see it is a good concept, but it never worked. I tried three different Bluetooth receivers on my PS3 and none of them made any difference. All of it came out awkward, with my wife coming out late one evening, watching me repeat the word “Fuck” over and over, trying to get it recognized. Talk about looking deranged and weird!
I still tried to move forward with the voice commands, but after having my Regroup command recognized as You Idiot, or having Good Job recognized as God Damn, I just threw my earpiece down in disgust and just went with the L2 trigger to make these decisions, which worked fine, but did not allow me to have free formed comments that teammates would respond to at points in the game. There was something cool about saying a random comment and having the system recognize it one out of ten times, but it is far more trouble than it is worth in the scope of things.
When you do give up on trying to give voice commands, and believe me you will, and just go with the button prompts, you find a sublime interface between you and your teammates. Having someone almost break down to you about the current situation and you can comfort them or shrug them off is a great thing, and does have implications based on your responses. Talk down to someone enough and they will leave you hanging when you need a medpack, or saved from a robotic monstrosity.
When you are not trying to make friends or enemies with the dialog system, you are focused on destroying robots. As in a metric ton of robots to be precise, which will come at you from all directions, making for some fast and furious combat. While the enemies seem generic and there are only a few baseline types that you fight throughout the main campaign, the development team throws in some unique twists to fighting these enemies. One surefire tactic that they drill home is to shoot off the head of robots, which will leave them unable to distinguish friend or foes, making them an unlikely ally in the midst of a tough battle. Larger boss fights are scattered throughout the campaign, and each of these feel very unique and fresh with different techniques needed to beat them.
Environments are a hit and miss proposition, depending on whether you are indoors or outside. When outside, you are fighting in the streets of a futuristic Japan, with lights, narrow alleys and bustling town centers, each feeling fresh and unique. Move indoors and things turn into more of a generic corridor affair with each path looking like the last one you travelled down. Sure, some would say that buildings are designed to look similar from floor to floor, but it feels so blasé when compared to the fresh outdoor areas that you are in half of the game. This generic nature goes right down to the characters and enemies, where your team and the NPCs look fantastic, with tons of detail and thought put into them, but the robots seem very stark and generic, and sometimes just a bit crude in design. That could be what the design team was going for, but it struck me as just ugly at the end of the day.
It should be noted that Binary Domain does have multiplayer support, but good luck finding anyone to play with at this point in its cycle. I tried on several occasions but rarely found anyone to play. The game does do some unique things with its multiplayer modes, and you can unlock some Yakuza themed characters for use in the gameplay modes, but it was just a wasteland every time I went in to try and strike up a game. Thankfully, the single player mode is solid enough on its own, but if you are looking to spend time with the multiplayer, you will be in for a huge disappointment at this time.
Even with its weird quirks and faults, Binary Domain is a game that I think people should play, if only for its fantastic story and unique narrative. I loved the idea of fostering trust with my teammates, as it made me think about my response before making a rash decision. It also helps that those decisions can play out in several, radically different endings that I look forward to going back and trying to see how things change based on my differing choices. Binary Domain may not win any awards for its combat, but its concept and ideas are well worth the twelve hour journey.
- Top notch story
- Tackles some deep themes and complex issues
- Combat is solid
- Team dialog has meaning
- Voice commands work terribly
- Robot enemies are generic
- Multiplayer is a ghost town
When a game asks you to voice out several swear words right from the start, you know you are into a game that is for a more mature audience. Beyond that, you are killing a lot of robots, some of which have very human faces. There are also concepts and ideas surrounding what it means to be human that might be hard for younger audiences to understand or comprehend. Keep this one firmly in the hands of those 16 and up to be on the safe side.