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Binary Domain Review

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On 03/26/2012 at 03:00 PM by Vic Roman

I never expected to find so much innovation in this deceivingly deep shooter.

Everyone who likes third person shooters and can excuse a couple rough spots along the way.

This squad-based action title will immediately remind you of Gears of War, but it does a terrific job differentiating itself through its story, memorable characters, and innovative gameplay mechanics.

70 years in the future, humanoid robots known as “Hollow Children” start to emerge in societies across the globe. These "Hollow Children” are robots that actually believe they are human. The story tugs on your heartstrings as it shows society’s conflict and debate over the position of “Hollow Children” within civilization. Should all of these stealth robots be disposed of? They breathe, act, and think like humans, so is it immoral to kill something just because it technically isn’t human? These are the types of questions you will start to think about as you play through Binary Domain.

Luckily, Sega never forgets that this is an action title first and foremost. The story never gets too serious and doesn’t preach a particular point of view. Instead, it works as an intriguing and soulful backdrop to an action packed shooter. The manufacturing of Hollow Children violates the Geneva code, so a special ops group is sent to Japan to infiltrate the corporation where they are being assembled.

This is where you come in. You play as Dan Marshall, an American soldier who works together with an eclectic group of soldiers. With names like Dan, Bo, Charlie, Rachael, Faye, and Cain, these characters seem generic, but within no time you’ll realize these are all loveable and unforgettable.

This diverse squad’s contrasting personalities are further highlighted by the title’s unique in-game character interactions. At the start of a mission you are given the choice of which two squad members will accompany you. The conversations you will have completely change depending on who is in your squad. Even more impressive is the innovative speech command system that Sega has created.

A game like Mass Effect stops the action and enters you into a static conversation, but Binary Domain allows speech tree interaction in real time while you continue to dismantle robots. If a character talks to you, you get prompted to choose an answer, or you can decide not to answer at all. While the real-time conversations never had the depth of an RPG, this is a very simple trick that western RPGs could easily benefit from.

This conversation mechanic also works to issue orders to your squad. While fighting you can get your peers to hold position, push forward, or draw fire away from you. This all factors in to a “trust” meter that each squad mate has. Your speech choices combined with your actions in combat help to determine how much trust each character has in you. If your trust is high with a member, he or she might be so inclined to take out a big enemy with a rocket launcher, or to annihilate a group of snipers, upon request.

The trust meter is a novel idea and works well for the most part – it’s only peculiar that shooting a teammate excessively doesn’t greatly drop your trust level. This isn’t an RPG, but all of these touches to character interaction give this action experience a solid RPG coating that make it something special.

While having conversations in Binary Domain is oddly interesting, you’ll spend the majority of your time shooting robot after robot. The action can be closely compared to Gears of War. Binary Domain is a cover-based shooter where you hide behind conveniently placed objects and blow robots to pieces with your squad mates. This all sounds very similar to Gears of War, but the robotic enemies are the game changer that makes Binary Domain more than a Gears wannabe.

There are a wide variety of enemy robot types: regular infantry, snipers, runners, and brutes, all of the standards you’d expect to see. The dismantling of enemies is where it starts to get interesting. Every robot is littered with armor pieces that you can chip away at. If you shoot the arm, it will get blown to hell. If you take out a robot’s legs it will come crawling at you with all it has left. The coolest aspect is when you get a perfect head shot. You’re probably thinking, “Yeah, yeah, instant kill from a head shot, no big deal.” It’s way better than that. Land a head shot on most enemies and they won’t die. Instead, they will turn on their own kind and help you out. Other robots will even get distracted and focus on their newfound headless annoyance until it’s disposed of. This made head shots ridiculously satisfying.

Destroying robots piece by piece is endlessly fun, but it’s overshadowed by even better boss battles. Each gigantic robotic boss requires a unique strategy and, without spoiling the surprises, they are all very, very, good. One is even a transforming robot that you fight while driving through the streets of Japan, attacking you from all sides of the vehicle that you’re shooting from. The bosses are all awesome spectacles that leave a lasting impression.

One last touch that gives the game a life of its own is the upgrade system. Every time you kill an enemy you are rewarded with credits, a currency that you can trade in for ammo and upgrades at in-game kiosks. This allows you to trade in cash for upgrades to you squad’s guns and personal attributes. For example, I can upgrade Faye’s sniper accuracy, or I can buy her an item that gives her a 10% health boost. A squad member’s trust will also be boosted if you spend more money on him or her. This is another simplistic RPG element that gives Binary Domain some depth.

Not everything about Binary Domain is so spectacular though. The graphics can be hit and miss. At the best of times the scenery looks jaw dropping, but in other instances you’ll be staring at unfinished, muddy textures. While the characters are extremely well developed, there are a couple twists and turns in the plot that will having you shaking your head at least a little bit – this is pretty forgivable though considering the game’s focus is to be a semi-serious action adventure rather than a sci-fi narrative masterpiece.

Your teammate AI also leaves room for improvement. Your buddies will walk in front of your line of sight too often and get mad at you for friendly fire, which at times can be a little frustrating. Ducking behind cover comes with a couple hitches as well. Sometimes you end up sticking against a piece of cover you didn’t even know existed, or you’ll do a roll when you think you’re in position to hide behind a wall. You’ll also run into a couple driving segments that are a mess. One has you driving a jet ski that has atrociously bad steering controls; luckily the segment only lasts a few minutes and never appears again in the game.

The worst part of the game is its tacked-on multiplayer. You can play simple death matches or a horde mode. Death matches are lackluster and the maps, even when full, feel empty and lifeless. Horde mode is decent, but it gets repetitive quickly and won’t leave you wanting to come back. So many other games include a Horde mode and most other games do it better. The online features are minimal and nothing about the experience is memorable. Binary Domain is better when approached as a single player experience.

The game also allows for voice commands using a mic. This isn’t very accurate and you’ll get annoyed when the game doesn’t know what you’re saying. I prefer picking commands with my controller rather than my vocal chords.

Binary Domain definitely has some little problems, but they are just that -- little problems. The muddy graphics, touchy cover system, and unnecessary vehicle segments are tiny scratches on an amazing experience. In the end you will walk away remembering the intriguing world and loveable characters that Sega has crafted, topped only by the unforgettable bosses and amazing robot destruction you will cause. I expected Binary Domain to be a decent, but lifeless Gears of War clone that would offer some mindless fun. Instead I got a surprisingly deep shooter with some innovative mechanics that made it a game I love instead of a game I like. I am now eagerly awaiting an announcement for Binary Domain 2, let’s just hope Sega doesn’t crush my dreams in the years to come.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Joaquim Mira Media Manager

03/26/2012 at 03:17 PM

Oh, now I really want this game. Robots are my friends.


03/26/2012 at 05:06 PM

I wasn't interested in this game at all till I saw your review Vic. I had the same thoughts about it as you did before you played it, "Decent Gears clone, mindless fun." Now I know that it earns quite a bit more than that simple judgment I had. I'm definitely going to download the demo today, try it out, and see what it feels like for myself. I think the Hollow Children are a nice concept and I like that the narrative involves whether they should be treated as humans or not. The little things you mentioned are what interest me the most. Simple rpg features, speech tree, etc.

Since it's focus is on action and it's a shooter, the weapons are critical. What are the weapons like Vic, what did you think of them? I don't remember you mentioning them much.

Vic Roman Staff Alumnus

03/26/2012 at 05:28 PM

Good question! The weapons weren't interesting, nor were they negative in any aspect. Everything in the weapons dept. is pretty standard. Your character is equipped with a customizable assault rifle, a simple weak pistol (with infinite ammo when you're running low), grenades, and a secondary replaceable weapon. You'll get Sniper Rifles, RPGs, Shotguns, massive chain guns, and another variation on an assault rifle. You can't upgrade any of the secondary weapons the way you can with the primary one, and their all the standard weapons you'd expect in a shooter, but there are no stand out weapons that become the focus.

When I think of awesome weapons I always think of the Resistance series, and you won't find anything crazy or innovative like in those games. All the weapons work and work well, but they definitely aren't a unique portion of the game.


03/26/2012 at 06:12 PM

Despite being very standard the weapons seem kinda cool. I'd probably end up using the customizable assault rifle the most. Is it customizable in the MW3 or Crysis 2 sense (adding optics & attachments)? Or is it more like an upgradable Mass Effect system (aquire an upgrade that improves damage or accuracy)?

The way you described the headshots got my attention. I think it's awesome taking a robots head off could make it go berserk or turn on its allies around it lol.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

03/27/2012 at 12:58 PM

This is why I distrust Sega as a publisher.  Did they market this game?  Sure, but I don't recall seeing anything about it that actually seemed interesting. Now I'm hearing that it's actually pretty good!  They never really did anything that got people talking about the game, which should be the whole point of marketing!

Really, if you take a good look at Sega's failures in general, a lot of it really boils down to poor perception and their failure to properly manage public opinion, with a healthy side of second-guessing.  It's a shame because they have the ability to create very good products, and they often do.  It just seems like they never really know how to handle them!

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