Review: Binary Domain

Rating: M
Genre: Shooter
Publisher: SEGA
Developer: Criware
Release Date: February 28, 2012


Not many people have heard of Binary Domain. This third-person shooter from SEGA completely slipped under the radar for March. With titles like Mass Effect 3 and Syndicate, it’s easy to see why, but it’s a downright SHAME. I had no idea what to expect whenI received Binary Domain, and I have to say it was the most pleasant surprise this year so far. Binary Domain has everything I would want in a shooter: fun gameplay, explosions, funny dialogue, great story, and a bit of romance. If you’re a fan of these things, do yourself a favor and stop reading this review to go pick up a copy.

You need more than that? Well, okay.

Binary Domain is the tale of Dan Marshall, a Spec Ops member of the International Robotics Technology Association (IRTA), as he joins with a Rust Crew of various nationalities to investigate a report that a robotics corporation in Japan has violated New Geneva Convention Clause 21. With the age of advanced robotics, the world powers met in Geneva once more to implement a new law: no one shall create robots that appear to be human. A few of these humanoid robots–called Hollow Children–surfaced, and the IRTA just won’t let that stand. The scariest part about these Hollow Children that appeared is that they don’t know themselves that they aren’t human. And so begs the question and mantra of the game: “Where does the machine end and the human begin?”

Binary Domain
He didn't know he wasn't a robot. It wasn't pretty.

The Rust Crew operation is supposed to be covert, but where’s the fun in that? It doesn’t take long for the covert to turn overt, and players will soon find themselves in robot-shooting glee. In many ways, the gameplay can be thought of as very Gears of War-esque, even down to the button assigned for reloading. Instead of Locust, there are lots and lots of robots to kill, including lots of robot bosses. Even with the number of JRPGs I have played in my day, I’m not sure I have ever seen so many boss fights for such a short amount of game time. Interspersed between the chapters of straight-up robot killing and boss fights, the game features various “moving” sequences. Most of these involve motor vehicles, but occasionally there is one where Dan is just projecting forward for some reason and he has to dodge obstacles or die. For example, one of the early chapters features Dan sliding down the longest water “slide” in existence. It’s almost like he’s in a luge race…but with water, no sled, and lots of things that will kill him.

On the downside, some of the sequences sadly feature minute quick-time events. I say they are minute, because they don’t have a series of timed-button presses. They require pressing one button when a slider is in a sweet spot on a colored bar. The slider moves quickly, and the longer you take to press the button, the more the sweet spot shrinks. Get ready for lots and lots of do-overs, especially for do-overs that don’t have a checkpoint right before the QTE starts. Even though they fit in well with what was going on, action-wise, they were a complete blight on otherwise stellar gameplay.

Binary Domain
All robots must die!

One very unique feature to Binary Domain was its use of dialogue and dialogue trees. When NPCs talked to Dan, occasionally Dan could respond and prod a conversation of some sort. Depending on how you responded in these dialogue trees affects the NPC’s level of trust in you. The level of trust actually influences how well your team will listen to you when you give orders, how your team responds to certain cut scenes, and if your teammates will be willing to come to your aid if you’re down. Inputting dialogue could be done one of two ways: via controller with a BioWare-like radial or via your headset mic. If you use the mic, you aren’t limited to what choices the radial provides, and the characters will respond to a wide variety of voice commands. I tried this once just to see how it worked, and I had to turn the mic off after I was losing trust from my team because they thought I was cussing at them. Apparently I yell at my TV more than I thought I did. The trust feature isn’t solely based on the dialogue either. Friendly-fire is most decidedly turned on in the game, so if you shoot your teammates, you will lose their trust.

No, you can’t turn friendly-fire off.

I found both good and bad with it. I really became more aware of where I was aiming, how often I was firing, etc. than I usually am. I have a bad habit of wild shooting or spray-n-pray, and I really had to rein that in. On the bad side, my idiot teammates would RUN IN MY LINE OF FIRE. I don’t mean that they would step in my line of sight; the morons would run right in front of me while I was shooting. Then they’d yell at me, I’d lose trust, and a string of obscenities would suddenly be let loose at the TV (my mic was turned off). If we’re going to have friendly-fire turned on, can we please have AI who won’t throw themselves in front of bullets? Other than bullet-loving AI and annoying QTEs, Binary Domain was a completely solid and fun experience that I would recommend to anyone, especially if you’re looking for a shooter that has a halfway decent story. Believe it or not, it can happen, and Binary Domain nailed it so, so well. I left the game absolutely haunted by the plot twists, as there are several and they really come out of left field. The game ends with a great setup for a sequel, and I honestly can’t wait to see where they go next. Shooter fans, do not let Binary Domain slip under your radar for very long. You will not be disappointed.

Binary Domain
Aw, crap.