Every year, hundreds of video games get released. Some get their fair share of time in the spotlight, others die off without receiving any major acclaim and end up in the bargain bin of some store somewhere. There are a whole lot of games under the radar in 2012 with forgotten titles. Many games which you probably should know, but may not. Binary Domain falls in such a category.
In a distant future where rising sea levels have destroyed much of the old world and sent the wealthy into sprawling aerial cities, robotics have taken centre stage as the most important scientific endeavour. Needed to replace the millions left behind in flooded slums, robots have been used to serve, build, and police the streets, leading to a series of strict worldwide rules about their creation. The most important rule is Clause 21 of the New Geneva Convention — robots cannot be indistinguishable from humans. So guess what happens!
Binary Domain’s plot never gets in the way of the action, and while it certainly throws up some interesting ideas in the same vein as A.I. Artificial Intelligence, it doesn’t ever gain a huge amount of steam, feeling rather bolted onto the side of the experience rather than fully integrated. It doesn’t help that Binary‘s story does too good a job of making the humanoid robots sympathetic, so that by the time the bad guy revealed his end game, I was on his side. Still, it’s a plot propelled by a genuinely likeable squad of sarcastic soldiers, and full of bizarre twists that could give even Hideo Kojima a run for his money.
The bulk of Binary Domain is focused purely on cover-based combat, and it does a fine job of it. The enemy forces are made up of various robotic soldiers, which has allowed Yakuza Studio to get away with masses of brutal, sadistic, limb-shredding violence and gore. Every opponent in the game suffers procedural damage when hit, as armour is ripped from appendages and body parts are blown away. Careful shooters can take down a robot’s legs to make it crawl creepily on the floor, shred away arms to reduce combat effectiveness, or even pop off a head and cause the body to blindly fire at its team mates.
The big gimmick with Binary Domain lies in the interactions one has with the squad. Players step into the shoes of Dan Marshall, and he’ll be typically joined by up to three other team members. While the A.I. partners are quite adept at fighting autonomously, their effectiveness is enhanced when Dan gives them direct orders in keeping with their particular skills. For instance, Rachael is a demolitions expert an it’s a good idea to send her into close-quarter combat where her shotgun is most effective. Meanwhile, Big Bo is skilled at distracting enemies, drawing their fire and allowing the rest of the team to flank. None of these tactics are especially intricate, but they can make the difference between a pitched battle and outright humiliation of the opposition.
These commands can be dished out using a limited menu of options, but Yakuza Studio doesn’t want you to do that. To access a wider range of interactions, players can plug in a headset and directly speak to the squad. The A.I. can recognize voice commands and responds to your every command. At least, that’s the idea.
In conclusion, Binary Domain may not be a trailblazer, but it’s a damn good follower. Perhaps the best attempt at “Western” shooter gameplay from a Japanese studio, this robot-carving romp keeps up an exhilarating level of fast-paced combat from beginning to end. While the voice commands are a crapshoot, they’re fun to play with and the game doesn’t rely on them to work, focusing first and foremost on pure mechanical conflict with some gorgeously designed electronic opponents. All of this bundled up in a unique story that is so confident in its ideas that you barely stop to question how silly it actually is.