Review: Binary Domain
Resident Evil meets Gears of War in this third person shooter that will appeal strongly to fans of films such as I, Robot, Bladerunner, Terminator and Ghost in the Shell. Set in the year 2080 you play as Dan, an American who is part of a larger task force made up of different nationalities; this team of ex-military professionals go by the name of Rust crews. The crews hunt down rogue robot factions and enforce the laws of robotics as set out by Geneva, particularly those that state a robot cannot look like a human being.
The game’s key accolades are on the squad based action, the well implemented cover system and some great voice commands (when they work) which can be given via a headset or by button presses. How well you perform in combat conditions and how you respond to your team over voice command has a direct impact on how they respond to you, impress them enough and they will be more likely to follow your orders and ‘trust’ you. It’s a fun enough system but it does have its flaws particularly when your team constantly run in front of you as you are firing, meaning they take a slight dislike to you and that trust bar you’ve been building with them takes a slight drop.
The mic works well enough and the game contains a comprehensive list of voice commands which you can practice to see if your voice is being interpreted correctly. Thankfully there are several voice responses that have the same effect because at times the game refused to acknowledge my use of the word “definitely”. There are also a set of options to tweak the sensitivity of the word recognition as well as an option to screen out background noise.
The movement of the characters is fluid with Dan feeling very agile and light on his feet which is a nice contrast to the heavy roadie run of delta squad. Sound also plays a huge part to creating a great sense of movement, guns realistically clink against you as your footsteps sound off of the environment creating some stunning ambient sound effects. Rolling, ducking into cover and even getting dropped by enemy gunfire all look great and the only animation I found to be a bit dodgy was the one when you are carrying a large weapon, such as a mini gun, you walk as if you are constipated or something!
Aside from the excellent sound work the graphics on BD are all particularly exquisite. Lighting and reflections look great but not so much that their too tricksy that dazzle with smoke and mirrors rather than further the aesthetic look of the game. Best of all are the textures, they look excellent particularly the work on character faces, it’s a shame that the lip synch tends to be a bit off at times during cutscenes.
All mostly positive so far but what about the actual gameplay? Well other than the view being locked to over the right shoulder with no option to switch on the fly, the gunplay is brilliant. Enemies are generic with the exception to some pretty immense bosses but this is more than made up for by the excellent pacing of the game. The only real change to enemies is their colour which has a direct link to what type of enemy and weapon they are carrying and towards the end of the game you come across zombie robots! Using the excellent cover based combat you literally shred your foes to pieces (Dead Space style) as you dart between cover and push up on the enemy. Armour must be stripped off before you can drop an enemy – this technique also applies to the games bosses too. Be warned though even when downed, enemies will still come at you either hobbling on one leg or dragging their torso towards you to hold onto you and self destruct. At times this can get pretty overwhelming particularly on the higher difficulties of the game, thankfully headshots are key to helping you turn the tide in a battle. Once they lose their heads they can’t tell friend from foe and will shoot wildly, which makes the other attacking robots turn on the now headless robot which gives you some breathing room to regroup or collect some more ammo. This doesn’t mean you can run rampage through the levels popping off heads right, left and centre. The heads are well armored and it takes several good shots to strip them and then take the heads cleanly off, all the while as you take gunfire your aim will be continually rocked - it’s worth the effort though and can provide a great tactical option in a large-scale battle not to mention an added skill to master balancing the recoil and damage taken to align the perfect shot. I also found the aim adjustment to be a little off-putting and turning it off gave me greater control of my shot accuracy particularly when going for those prized headshots.
Some battles on the other hand are far too easy and not in the sense that the combat is easy but that you can merely run to the next checkpoint and thereby avoid a massive gunfight. Doing so you only cheat yourself out of missed gameplay and of the opportunity to gain more credits. Yes BD rewards you with varying degrees of credit rewards depending on how you take down enemies. Credits may then be used at shops which are scattered throughout levels, here you can either buy character/gun upgrades or consumables such as ammo or health. Upgrades come in the form of shaped chip patterns which you have to slot together into your characters available skill menu – think Resident Evil’s gun management system. Each skill chip has a different shape so sometimes it’s not just a case of opting for the best skill sets but the ones that slot together most efficiently so as to use all of your available skill space.
Cutscenes play a huge part of any game but with BD they have been used rather extensively making the story of BD extremely rich in content, at times it’s like your watching a movie. Both during cutscenes and the gameplay the Rust Crew banter and chat with each other giving the player a real depth to the relationships going on within the crew, in fact the whole feeling that this instills seems like it would fit perfectly into a final fantasy game which also rings true with some of the environmental settings. I won’t spoil the story but it does wrap it up nicely at the end but with the possibility that the story can evolve further into a sequel which I for one hope will happen. And of course make sure you watch until the end of the credits for a sizable extra cutscene!
Speaking of pace changers, the cutscenes are joined by another dynamic to change pace and create a sense of scale to the world you are travelling in – transition levels! These levels take place when your crew needs to ‘travel’ to the next location and are usually set in a high-speed section either with you sliding down a ramp on your ass or travelling via a vehicle. On higher difficulties you take more damage when clipping the environmental hazards and dying sees you start from the beginning of the level, which coupled with some dodgy controls makes sections frustrating at times.
The levels themselves are laid out neatly but can also feel quite tight resulting in a level design that feels like you and your team are nothing more than sheep being herded through a pen. While the action can be intense during firefights at times it can also feel a little slow mainly because the enemies don’t drop after a few shots but what BD loses in fast high adrenaline gameplay is made up for by intense hard gunfights.
Boss battles slide neatly into the progression of the levels, some may feel that the gameplay is too much of a grind, while others will relish in the challenge and the spectacle of them. Some battles with bosses will have you running around getting very frustrated as you try to work out if your attacks are actually doing anything, throw in waves of standard enemies and play on Survivor (hard) difficulty, and BD’s boss battles can become a low point of the gameplay if you let it – one particular boss took me well over an hour including restarts and demanded discipline and great accuracy as I tried to hit the small weak points while moving along a highway at top speed in a runaway truck. One thing is for sure – you will get thrown about in these areas from explosions and enemy attacks especially as you run about trying to find ammo, or to exploit that weak spot but if you can handle this challenge you will find great reward in the gameplay these battles have to offer.
At odd times throughout the game and during cutscenes a QTE will be thrown in, I’m not quite sure why as they are rather inconsistent in their appearance and when they do appear they are not executed particularly well. The worst one is a reaction QTE – a sliding scale shoots from left to right and you must hit the B button within the decreasing blue zone that is in the centre of the bar. This is all well and good but SEGA, just so you know, running across a crumbling walkway is hard enough without shoving one of these BS things at the end – the amount of times I failed was unreal.
Multiplayer is where things take a huge downward step. Split into competitive modes and a wave based horde style, online isn’t populated well especially when compared with other online games not to mention that the action is rather unsatisfying. The horde mode, called invasion, has a painfully slow pace to it and lacks any of the highs from the combat of the campaign, robots of an increasingly tough difficulty are thrown in early on and with none of the weapon drops that other successful wave based games implement this game mode quickly becomes a game of cat and mouse/hide and seek.
The versus modes are of the usual deathmatch scenarios as well as an attack and defend mode and an objective mode. The action is ok when the game isn’t struggling with connection issues, but the killer for me seemed to be that whichever game mode you played, it ended in a similar way – a tug of war for control over the map which sees the victor controlling the spawn points and leaving you open to spawn kill after spawn kill.
To make things worse there are a severe lack of maps to get stuck into with invasion sporting only 3 maps to choose from (with a total of 50 waves per map) and the versus modes having only 4 maps. Including such a lacklustre multiplayer puts a real damper on BD maybe instead SEGA could have implemented a co-op campaign especially with the squad aspect being such a strong factor to the gameplay?
If your after a thoughtful third person shooter with great visuals and a compelling story in a sci-fi wrapper then you can’t go far wrong with Binary Domain. Replayability wise, it’s compelling enough to jump straight back in again to take a crack at harder difficulties, experiment with different squad members or mop up those achievements, just don’t expect it to scratch any multiplayer itches.
Review: Binary Domain Results
What we liked:
Stunning visuals and a superb sci-fi story
A thoughtful shooter
Gunbattles can prove really intense
What we disliked:
Locked view over the right shoulder
Minor teammate and boss fight issues