Binary Domain review
Since when was a good action movie a slow burner? Never, that's when!
Developer and Publisher: Sega
From the same team that brought to us the Yakuza series comes Binary Domain, a cover-based third person shooter where you and a squad of soldiers take down armies of robots while going from cutscene to cutscene. Now, the last time I played a game made by a Japanese development studio that reminded me an awful lot of Gears Of War, it was like having a root canal while passing a kidney stone – god, that game which must not be named was such shit. But thankfully, Binary Domain never stooped down to that level. Instead, it's a game that misses the mark in some areas but is an otherwise enjoyable experience. Nothing fantastic despite its attempts to be it, but not bad either.
Sergeant Dan Marshall and Big Bo (and three others who you'll run into later on) are sent to Japan to find Yoji Amada, founder of the Amada Corporation who (according to the International Robotoics Technology Association, anyway) made the Hollow Child that attacked the Bergen headquarters. Hollow Children are essentially robots that were originally created to rebuild cities after global warming caused worldwide flooding, which destroyed many cities and killed countless people, but the problem with Hollow Children is that they think they're humans. That plays a very big part of the story as while you're taking down robots to get to the Amada Corporation, you'll also have to deal with the possibility of whether they're human or not, especially after a couple of plot twsts and some character development.
Sadly, Binary Domain's story takes a while to get good... about 3 hours, to be exact. For those three hours, the story is about as simple as Dan and Bo hi fiving each other for killing a bunch of robots while Charlie (one of three soldiers you'll run into a little into the game) bitches, Faye bitches at Dan in an attempt to establish some links towards a romantic relationship and Rachel does absolutely nothing. Riveting. But after that, I don't know, something actually happens... integrating the philosophy of whether the Hollow Children are human or not and the relationship between Dan and Faye into the mix actually makes for a really compelling story, so instead of wanting to skip scenes, I was glued to the screen, wondering what'll happen next or how they'll explain this next bit. While movies such as Ghost In The Shell and Blade Runner do this sort of thing a lot more justice, Binary Domain at least keeps itself interesting during its latter half as it develops
Like a WRPG, you'll be given dialogue choices at times, although these are very underwhelming in execution. The idea is that if you're cool to your teammates, they'll be more inclined to obey your orders, and if you're an asshole, then they'll be less inclined to obey and will perform like shit, although the difference is only really shown when you're dying and need a medikit from one of your teammates. Mass Effect, this sure as hell isn't. Actually, speaking of which, wouldn't it work better if, like Mass Effect, your decisions could drastically change the story? I mean, what if Dan was acting like such an asshole towards Charlie that he goes and gets himself killed when Dan clearly told him not to charge into that trap during a cutscene? But nope, any and all changes in the story depending on your relationships with your teammates result in minute changes that don't have an impact on anything outside of how they'll respond to a situation during combat, which pre-maturely kills replay value right there.
So while Binary Domain was shaping up to be a tactical third person shooter ala Ghost Recon with an emphasis on Dan's relationship with his teammates, it instead plays like Gears Of War. Now, that's not necessarily a bad thing because that game is fun, and admittedly, so is this one. However, it's fun for the same reason that watching repeats of The Simpsons is; it was fun the first time, so what's to say the second time around won't be? Even if it's not as fun, surely, it'll still be fun... I mean, right after the first few hours, of course. See, like the story, the gameplay doesn't start to get good until the 3 hour mark. Until then, you're fighting a few generic enemies while battling crippling boredom and the temptation to play a better game.
When given a basic arsenal of a pistol, a fair few machine guns, a shotgun and a couple of rocket/grenade launchers, I think you'd need some chaotic situations in order to really make it good. Sadly, it takes Binary Domain about 3 hours before any truly intense situation comes by. Half the time, you'll be encountering small groups of generic robots whose sole gimmick is that you have to blow their heads off or they may still fight back despite you shooting their arms and/or legs off. As you get further, you'll find yourself fighting big bosses (of the “hit their weak point for massive damage” variety) and bigger groups of enemies that'll really pose a threat, and you'll really need to keep on your toes as stray bullets can send you down to the canvas faster than a bullet, and your allies aren't sure whether to be helpful (shooting some enemies around them, coming to your rescue) or to be *bleep*ing retarded (I mean, why would any reasonable human being go behind cover?), but it's that feeling of staying on your toes that keeps these fights exciting. The mechanics are serviceable enough – Dan can dodge roll in 8 directions, get into cover and shoot (from and out of cover) alright without any issues – so it's not as if this is a badly designed game (except for that *bleep*ing AI) as much as it is a slow burner.
But yeah, a lot of my problems stem from the fact that it feels like generic third person shooter, but it shouldn't bother me as much as it did. A lot of it just had to do with the outstanding amount of potential it had to differentiate itself from the crowd – forget being the best Japanese developed cover shooter, it wanted to be an open ended shooter ala Mass Effect, but due to what I can assume are either time or budget contraints, they had to settle for a generic cover shooter, and again, it really shouldn't bother me! I suppose what it amounts to is my first impression of it, which was one that left me nearly falling to sleep. A shooter should never, ever do that!
That, and its multiplayer is the dictionary definition of contrived. A deathmatch mode and a horde mode on maps that are nothing all that special with barely anybody online? Yep, that about sums it up. God, why do game developers do this when they know you can't pull people away from Call Of Duty and Battlefield? Sounds like the time, effort and money that was put into this should've been put into either better ally AI or better utilization of the relationship mechanics.
The graphics are a mixed bag. At times, they look neat. The robots look sleek while some of the locations and scripted events were larger than life with some slick color usage. Sadly, the rest of the game doesn't look so great. Most of the locations you'll go through seem to be a few textures and saturated colors short of looking like a game released in 2012, but from what I gathered, this is a budget game, so it's not as if you're getting Final Fantasy XIII-2 quality graphics. However, that doesn't quite excuse the human models, all of which look like ass if you ask me. They all seem to have rough textures and very washed out colors, moreso than a lot of the environments you'll be going through. The animations are smooth enough, so it's just a case of mediocre looking models.
The sound design is about as mediocre as it gets. The voice acting is serviceable, but nothing fantastic. Everybody at least manages to convey their dialogue convincingly enough to not make me want to tear my hair out. Same for the soundtrack. A lot of it consists of the standard orchestral fare which is meant to make everything feel more epic, but it had absolutely no precense whatsoever. The fact that all I can remember of it is that it's the standard orchestral fare is testament to that.
Most of my problems with Binary Domain aren't necessarily game killers or even all that bad. They have more to do with the squandering of potential. Binary Domain could've been a fantastic squad based third person shooter with a very good open ended story based on what's been laid out on the table, but due to a lot of it feeling underutilized, it just stands out as a decent game that does get good during the second half... so long as you can painstakingly make your way through the gruellingly boring first half of the game. If this was a 40 hour long RPG, I wouldn't have too many issues with it. This is an 8 hour long third person shooter.
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