Also available on: Xbox 360 Developer: Yakuza Studio Publisher: Sega Genre: Third-person shooter
Binary Domain could be viewed as another Gears of War clone, and, in many senses, it is; but in this case, that is not a bad thing. The first game from Yakuza Studio, the new developer formed by Yakuza franchise creator Toshihiro Nagoshi, throws you into a post-apocalyptic vision of Tokyo in the year 2080, where robots have risen to become new players in the world. The game tracks very familiar shooter territory, but the enjoyable and varied action, polished presentation and decent narrative ensures Binary Domain is still worth a spin.
Binary Domain's story puts forward a post-apocalyptic scenario in which global warming has caused massive flooding and rendered most major cities uninhabitable. To build a new world with what is left of humanity, massive corporations produce armies of robots to create new mega-cities above the waterline. But things soon go horribly wrong as 'hallow children' emerge, robots that look and act like humans, and even think they are genuinely alive.
You become sergeant Dan Marshall, tasked with leading a 'Rust Crew' squad to infiltrate Amada, the Asian robotics rival to America's dominant Bergen, that is thought to have been experimenting with hallow children. The game's narrative thread was well explored in the work of writer Isaac Asimov, particularly in the I, Robot series, as well as the movie Blade Runner. The story does take quite a while to really get into its stride, but those who stick with it will be rewarded with some pretty neat twists and turns towards the end.
Whilst some time in Binary Domain is spent walking down those familiar bland grey futuristic corridors, the game is overall a pretty decent-looking beast. The vision of 2080 Tokyo is impressive, mixing the glittering riches of the city's affluent areas with the dank scum of the sewers. The character models are also well animated, while the look of the future soldier is given a distinctive take. Overall, the world looks and feels polished, and a nice place to be.
Binary Domain's gameplay will feel very familiar to anyone who has played Epic's critically-acclaimed Gears of War series. You will move from battle to battle, taking cover and shooting the legions of robots that want to see your guts splattered on their hard drives. Without wishing to sound bloodthirsty, there is a certain coldness to fighting the robots, but the excellent damage system does make up for this. Bullets scythe through metal, sending sparks and parts scattering in visceral sprays.
The robots also provide a pretty stern challenge, taking many hits to put down and even then they may still keep shooting while crawling along the ground. Alongside the core action, the game mixes things up with other sections, such as battling a giant hulking megabot, some light stealth, sliding down a massive slope and even a jaunt on a jet ski. But also Binary Domain differentiates itself with its squad commands.
You select your squad mates before each different sequence, and then they will respond to certain simple voice commands, adding an extra tactical layer to the gameplay. Using a headset, you can tell teammates to regroup, provide cover or focus fire on the enemy. The voice system actually works pretty well, even picking up the odd expletive uttered in the heat of battle. It opens up some tactical options, such flanking opportunities, but the system is not particularly deep. Don't expect to be coordinating complex strategies here, but at least it's an extra option.
Anyone who does not want to sit jabbering away while playing the game can hold down the L2 and then select from a list of more streamlined options. It's a bit odd, though, that in this case Marshall stays silent, but the other characters react as usual. Possibly most interesting about Binary Domain, though, is that your teammates will chat to you throughout the ten-hour campaign, and react accordingly depending on the responses you give.
If you are nice to your squad mates, then they will be more inclined to obey your commands in battle, as well as offer tips on how to tackle the threats. But if you give nasty responses and upset them, then they will tend to ignore your commands and also be less useful with their attacks. This is a really nice idea, but in reality the system is pretty surface level.
Even if you are a complete git to your squad, they will still stick with you, and there never feels any real impact of the system in the main story, barring a few changes in the cut scenes. This means that the relationship AI feels like a missed opportunity for Binary Domain to really differentiate itself from other shooters. What if your responses and actions could lead to the death of another teammate, or their desertion/betrayal? But none of this is really explored in the game.
Another disappointment in the main campaign is the lack of co-op, although this is a familiar gripe about modern shooters. There is a multiplayer mode, but this treads very familiar ground of variations on deathmatch and capture the flag, along with a Gears of War Horde mode called Invasion. You can earn currency in the modes to spend on upgrades, but the problem is that none of this is distinctive enough to drag people away from other multiplayer contests.
In closing, Binary Domain feels a very familiar experience, but it's also one that is well-presented, well-designed, and, most importantly, enjoyable to play. The I, Robot-style story is interesting enough and does a good job of framing the action, while the mechanised foes bring decent AI and joyous destruction. Squad commands work well, but the relationship system is surface level and the multiplayer is pretty weak. On balance, though, Binary Domain has enough going for it as a third-person shooter to be worth recommending to sci-fi fans.