When Binary Domain landed on my desk, I thought to myself: “Myself, what is this, and how did you not know about it?” After reading the blurb on the box about robots and killing large numbers of them as a member of something that sounded like the UN with a licence to kill, I was intrigued. “Oh well self, it will at least tide us over until Mass Effect 3.” It did much more than that.
The year is 2080. Global warming caused the world’s polar caps to melt and the world’s sea level has risen drastically, flooding major cities all over the world. With a huge percentage of humanity wiped out and three-quarters of the world’s cities no longer viable, humanity built upwards. Like a modern Venice, the ruins of the flooded cities were used as a foundation for towering spires. The hierarchy of society is literal, with the poor living in the lower, flooded levels of the city and the social elite loafing in the clouds. Due to the lack of labour and several other issues, robots started being mass produced to help with the massive tasks. After the rebuilding, humans became accustomed to the robots, and used them for a variety of purposes. From farming produce to security detail to house servants, robots were ubiquitous. As such, in an effort to protect humanity, the New Geneva Convention was drafted and signed. Two major changes were made: Clause 21 was added, which prohibits any research into the design of robots that could pass for humans. The second addendum was the addition of an international armed unit, called Rust Crews, who could use lethal force to deal with contraventions of the convention, especially Clause 21.
Meet Dan, a Yank nicknamed ‘the survivor’. Armed with a custom assault rifle and awesome armour that makes him tough without impeding him at all, Dan is brash and likes to think with his bullets. He is accompanied by a giant of a man, Big Bo, to infiltrate Tokyo. Once inside, Dan and Big Bo must meet up with the rest of a Rust Crew and discover evidence of the creation of Hollow Children, the media’s name for robots who look exactly like humans.
Squad-based shooters are in fashion currently, whether over-the-shoulder or first person, and there is a special place in my heart for killing things with a friend at my side. Binary Domain, made by the guy who breathed life into the Yakuza series, Toshihiro Nagoshi, feels like Gears of War and Vanquish had a child. The glorious result of this offspring is a fast-paced battle against waves of robots, from tiny, fragile spider drones to nigh-indestructible behemoths, the odds are stacked against you. Luckily, you have some powerful allies by your side, if you have the skills to manage them. Every character has a ‘loyalty’ stat, which you manage through your actions and responses to conversations. Your squad is less likely to follow orders if their loyalty is low, and are reluctant to risk their lives for you. Excel in combat and your current party members will find new respect for you as they marvel at your prowess. Fail to follow orders, or shoot your comrades, and watch their respect for you plummet. Each squad member also has their strengths and weaknesses, which makes your choices more than just cosmetic. Take the cussing giant of a man, Big Bo, with his LMG if you need a strong front line, or the nimble sniper if you will be out in open areas.
Binary Domain makes use of the trusty cover and regenerating health mechanic, with a slight twist. Instead of getting downed and waiting for your companion to help you up, each character has a supply of med kits. When you drop to the floor, you can still move and use your pistol and you have two choices (well three, if you count death as an option): either call out for help and have a squad member heal you up, or use your own med kit on yourself. Limited to carrying three med kits each, they become a very strategic resource, especially in the longer boss battles.
Squad members interact and react to the current situation, making for an engrossing experience. Adding to this are voice controls, which are used to deliver orders to your squad, and for conversation options. If you prefer not using, or don’t have, a microphone, holding down L2 brings up a context-sensitive menu where selections can be made. Voice commands feel natural and add to the feeling that you are there in thick of the action.
For every robot you reduce to a pile of scrap metal, you are awarded credits, currency that can be used at shop terminals. At these terminals you can load up on med kits and ammo, as well as upgrading guns and buying nanomachines to improve yourself and your squad. Weapon upgrades include accuracy, effective range, damage, clip size, firing speed and more, making default weapons pack a mean punch. Nanomachines are useful little buggers: from health, armour and melee damage increases to carrying extra grenades, customise your squad to take full advantage of their skills. Dismembering limbs results in the robots adopting different tactics. Shoot off the legs to slow down your opponents, or shoot off an arm and watch the robot rush towards you, brandishing their rifle like a club. Pop a robot’s head off and laugh as it attacks other robots, doing your work for you.
Boss battles range from marathons against colossal health pools to ‘aim at that glowing bit’ robots with weak spots in their otherwise impenetrable armour to ‘use the environment to win’ style fights. In most fights little hover drones carrying ammo packs zip around the map, making it easy to replenish your normal weapons. Ammo for heavy weapons is much more finite, resulting in a lot of running around to find more during a boss fight. Bosses are punishing, not to the point that your controller will inexplicably launch into flight, but enough to make the final explosion worthwhile. Using cover is mandatory, as a few bosses are capable of one-shot lethal attacks.
Multiplayer contains versus and invasion modes. Invasion is the tried and true mode where you must survive against hordes of AI. Versus uses the equally popular round-based deathmatch setting. In both modes you earn points towards levelling up and for purchasing med kits, secondary weapons and other goodies for use out in the field.
This game is action-packed, with very few calm moments. The action is quick and well-polished, with responsive controls. The camera feels odd during sequences when you are not aiming with a weapon, but these events are few and far between. Character interaction is not as much as an RPG, for example, but the characters do stop to talk often enough to pause the frantic action for a while.
Design and presentation: 8.5/10.
With great graphics with absolutely mind-blowing robot and level designs, the future looks awesome. Well, besides the whole global flood and killing almost everyone, of course.
A fair length shooter, with the ability to replay chapters to improve loyalty and to find collectables, Binary Domain shows some of those other shooters how to have a single player component. The sturdy multiplayer continues the RPG feel, with levels and perks purchased with points.
With massive robots to destroy, believable characters and controls and story that make you feel like you are there, Binary Domain is worth a visit, especially if you enjoy destroying robots and squad-based shooting.
Last Updated: March 9, 2012