Binary Domain is an intelligent sci-fi shooter with a versatile cover system
In 2005, the last thing we needed was an FPS set in World War II. Last year, the last thing we needed was an FPS set in the near future amidst a fictional conflict. And yet, game makers insisted on bombarding us with a ton of clones (most of them blockbusters, admittedly) which featured photo-realistic graphics and photocopied plots. The world of third-person shooters is no different. They trade in the present and past for the future, and like their FPS cousins, there have not been too many original games in some time — not since Gears of War (a dedicated shooter, not an action/adventure hybrid). But it looks like Binary Domain, with its setting and promise of exciting gunplay, could be the answer to our prayers. Is it a fresh, innovative shooter or a cheap, gimmicky imitation?
Developed by Yakuza Studio (the folks behind the Yakuza series of games) for Sega, Binary Domain is Japan's attempt at a ‘western' styled third-person action game. As a result, the game is predominantly populated by characters that can only be described as stereotypes — stupid and loud Americans, intelligent and calculating Britons, Frenchmen with funny accents and clever, Japanese villains. The game was clearly written originally in Japanese and subsequently translated, and whether this translation was deliberately designed to cause moments of hilarity is something we will never know. It's particularly funny when the player has to respond to a statement made by a squad-mate and the response options available are completely absurd. Despite this almost ubiquitous absurdness, it's difficult not to feel something for its characters, who manage to transcend their stereotypes, turning into a lovable bunch of gun-wielding robot killers with distinct personalities.
The premise itself is typical Japanese science fiction fare: A robot manufacturing company, the Amada Corporation is supposedly manufacturing bots that look like humans, in violation of a clause in the ‘new' Geneva Convention. As a result, a team of international operatives (dubbed ‘Rust Crew') are sent to bring the corporation's founder, Yoji Amada to justice. What ensues is over six hours of robot hunting, daring escapes, riding elevators, epic boss fights and plot twists. The game sports an exciting mix of action, character progression, squad command and quick-time events, and needless to say, the action is the highlight of Binary Domain. The game features some incredibly satisfying gunplay that does not feel mindless. Taking down the game's unfriendly robots requires strategy. Shoot their legs off to reduce mobility or go for the head and render them unable to distinguish between friend and foe. There are several enemy types, and while the previously mentioned strategy largely applies, you will learn new ways to take each enemy down. The action happens in a mix of locales, ranging from slums to large open spaces, high-tech factories and moving vehicles, ensuring that there is never a feeling of repetition. These also dictate strategies that you and your squad will need to employ to take enemies down.
Binary Domain doesn't revolutionise the third-person shooter genre, but each of its elements come together in a very interesting sort of way, combining to create an intelligent shooter that is set in an immersive science fiction universe. The gunplay feels solid, while the strategic nature of the fire-fights makes up for the lack of weapon variety. Despite some dodgy writing (a lot of it lost in translation, no doubt), the game's characters are distinct and memorable, making you feel like you're in a Japanese-animated version of Mass Effect. Then there are the epic boss battles, each better than the previous, versatile cover system, wide-open battlefields and some really peppy electronic music that gives skirmishes a sense of urgency. The gimmicky voice-command system, however, isn't critical to gameplay, while you can give the derivative multiplayer component a miss. Overall, Binary Domain is a highly competent third-person shooter that is sure to please fans of the genre. The game is available on Xbox 360 and PS3.