Review: Binary Domain (PS3)
Title: Binary Domain
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (11 GB)
Release Date: February 28, 2012
Developer: SEGA CS1
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
Binary Domain is also available on Xbox 360 and PC.
The PlayStation 3 disc version was used for this review.
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 262 of the podcast.
In the year 2080, robots permeate society. The Amada Corporation of Japan has apparently taken things a step further. Robots that look, act and even believe themselves to be human are popping up all over the place. Called Hollow Children, these machines are a violation of Clause 21 of the Geneva Code. As part of a multinational group of soldiers forming a Rust Crew, you’re tasked with infiltrating Japan and arresting the head of the Amada Corporation.
Binary Domain is a squad based third person shooter that includes some weapon upgrades and skill enhancements through the use of nano-machine implants. You’ll spend the majority of the game fighting all manner of robots as you make your way from the slums in the lower levels up to the glittering buildings, roads and railways of the city above. It has a very Final Fantasy VII vibe.
At the start of each level, you choose anywhere from one to three AI partners to accompany you. It doesn’t seem like a big deal at first, but you’ll find that the game and story unfold differently and the cutscenes will even change a bit depending on who’s with you. The nice thing is that upon completion of the game, each chapter is unlocked so you can jump back in to any point with different characters and see how things play out.
Scattered throughout the levels are kiosks which allow you to spend credits you’ve earned in battle on things like first aid kits, ammo, weapons, nano-machines and upgrades. You’ll want to take the time to upgrade the weapons and abilities of any partner AI in your party along with equipping nano-machine implants since this can all have a dramatic effect on battle situations.
The battle mechanic needed to be good to give this game any traction and boy is it ever. Taking out limbs and even knocking the head off are all possible. They also have their own consequences, as taking out a robot’s head will make it turn on any other robots in the area. If you take out their legs, they’ll scratch and claw their way towards you in an attempt to attack you up close. Taking out an arm with a gun isn’t even enough because they’ll just reach down with their good arm and pick it up again. The enemy AI is impressive and it’ll leave you shaking your head in wonder many times throughout the game. Picking apart robots piece by piece also earns you more credits which you can use to buy weapons and upgrades.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about your partner AI. This is one of the areas of the game that could have used a bit more work. The game uses what’s called a “Consequence System” where your conversations with AI partners and performance in battle will affect how they react to you. It’s great in theory and to a certain point, it works, but it’s definitely not fully cooked leaving you only hints of how great it could have been.
In battle, if you hang back and let the AI do most of the work, they’ll call you out on it at the end of the fighting, their trust in you will also drop. During conversations, you’re given a few choices for responding to your partners, act like a smart ass and again, their trust will drop. This can lead to a tougher game overall as they’ll start to back off and force you to do the majority of the fighting. They’ll also ignore you if you;re wounded and in need of assistance. Earning their trust can have a very different effect on gameplay and cutscenes as well. They’ll work with you in a more tactical fashion to take out waves of enemies, offer tips for weak points in boss battles and even rush to your aid when you’re wounded and crawling around about to die. The problem is that in tight spaces, at least half the game, the AI will step right into your line of fire and you’ll end up shooting them quite often. This, of course, lowers their trust of you and makes things more difficult along the way. The game gives you the option of choosing responses via button press or actually saying it with a mic. While it won’t have any bearing on the outcome, I enjoyed using the mic for responses as it made me feel a little more immersed in the game.
The potential monotony of wave after wave of enemy robots is broken up nicely with a number of vehicular levels, boss battles, long story based cutscenes and more. Each time I started to tire of the combat, the game quickly changed things up with excellent pacing and storytelling. Speaking of boss battles, WOW. You’ll fight some massive and imaginative robots throughout the game, each with their own weaknesses. Having your partners on your side can make all the difference in these levels. You’ll still be able to get through them even if the AI isn’t helping you, but you’ll have a much tougher go of it.
You’ll see signs of greatness throughout the game, but it’s usually tempered by some obvious flaws here and there just barely holding it back. The entire game could have used a few more months polish. That’s not to say it’s not good, it’s a fantastic game, but it always seems to fall just a little short of reaching that heavy hitter triple A status.
The look of the game is really fantastic overall but it does have some minor issues here and there which bring it down a bit. Fans of anime will appreciate the feel of the world and the level of detail from the slums in the lower levels to the clean, well maintained beauty and layout of the city above. The architecture, roads, trains and such all look appropriately futuristic yet familiar.
The different classes of robots are fantastic each with a detailed and unique look to them. The developers put a lot of work into the damage system in the game and it’s really one of the highlights. Bullets break apart the armor revealing shinier metal and circuitry underneath. Destroy their legs and the robots will use their arms to crawl towards you, continuing to attack. Take off their arms and they’ll rush you. They’ll even reach for a weapon with one good arm if you take the other one off, it’s really impressive.
Problems crop up here and there with odd texture work and bad shadowing. It’s not often but when it happens, it’s jarring to see such wonderfully detailed textures right next to such terrible ones.
Character models are pretty strong including NPC’s with a good level of detail in the faces and movements. They can get clunky sometimes though as they run into you or slide across the floor a bit when they get bunched up. Don’t look too closely at their actions during battles however. First off because you’ll probably get killed pretty quickly and second because they tend to be all over the place in their movements and animations.
Everything in the world feels real however and it’s mainly from an attention to detail, making the game worth playing just for the environments alone.
Another mixed bag, but more so here than in the visuals. Voice overs range from really good to terrible, same with the dialogue itself. Things get repetitive when outside of cutscenes as your teammates tend to fall back on two or three lines in all situations. The rare times they break out of that are to give you hints during boss fights, but even those quickly become overused and repetitive.
The ambient sounds, vehicles, machinery, gunfire and such are excellent. The sound of bullets ripping through the robots fits perfectly along with the satisfying ‘ping’ you get when taking off a robot’s head. Each of the guns has a different sound and surround sound is used nicely to let you know where an attack may be coming from.
Music is present, but I didn’t notice it as much, even with headphones on. A mix of orchestral cues and rock beats depending on the mood or action, it works well enough, it’s just not that memorable.
All the standard online modes for a shooter are here including Free For All, Team Deathmatch, Operation, Demolition, Data Capture and Domain Control. Fancy names for the same capture the flag, control points, bomb squad type modes you’ve played in other games. Instead of the Rust Crews and Robots, you’ll be fighting as the Ministry or the Resistance from the game.
I found myself playing more often than not with Japanese players ranked at Level 35 to 50 so while I was able to get the odd kill every now and then I spent most of my time getting smoked by the competition. The biggest problem is with the lack of maps, four total. While they’re all well designed, it can get old very quickly.
The real fun is in the Invasion Mode. Essentially Horde Mode from Gears of War, four players are dropped in an area to work together fighting off waves of Robots. It’s very difficult and working as a team is really the key to advancing.
Leveling up gains you new nano-machines but for weapons, you’ll need to purchase them before each round with credits gained during each match. These can really make a difference between survival and a quick death, especially in Invasion Mode.
The online itself was a smooth experience with almost no hiccups and zero disconnects but it feels a bit thin overall.
Binary Domain’s strong story and fun combat make up for the sketchy partner AI and other little nagging issues here and there. This is a game that could have used a few more months of development and QA. It has all the makings of a triple A title but tends to fall just short in several areas. The combat is fun, the story is great, there’s even a twist that you’ll never see coming in a million years. It also sets itself up for a sequel that may never come due to SEGA’s recent restructuring which is a shame really because it has all the makings of a great franchise.
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