Far Better than it has Any Right Being
At first glance, many would merely say that Binary Domain is Japan's answer to Gears of War, an obvious attempt to appeal to a massive audience in the West. But hidden underneath the layer of "me to" gameplay, is a gem of a game which combines Western sensibilities in regards to animations and shooting, and just enough Japanese craziness to stop it being swallowed up in the sea of bland third person shooters.
If you have played GoW (and I do apologise for the reference, but there are clear parallels to be drawn) you will get into this game incredibly easily. There are roadie runs. You choose weapons with the D-Pad. There is a cover system. Frankly, the only thing missing is active reloading. That's not to say that the gameplay is in any way bad, quite the opposite in fact. It does just enough differently to other games of this genre to make it fun and unique, whilst still being recognizable and easy to get in to. The variety in the gunplay comes from the sheer amount of enemies you will be mowing down in the roughly 10 hour long campaign. The thousands of robots you will be fighting makes for some interesting combat scenarios. The shooting also has a surprising amount of depth. Firing off a robots arms will cause them to drop their guns. Shoot their legs, and they'll drag themselves Necromorph-style and try to grab ankles. Shoot off their heads, and they'll get confused and shoot their allies. It's a nice idea, and whilst not entirely necessary to winning, is still extremely satisfying.
Something which is neither satisfying or necessary is the squad conversation system. Your squad mates will shout out commands or requests, and you respond with two to four different short answers, but none of them fit into the conversation. The majority of the time, all you can say is Yes, No or (hilariously) Damn. That's it. Throughout the entire game, not one of these situations did any of the replies feels natural. Depending on your answer you will either gain or lose "Trust" with your team. Lose enough trust, and they'll begin to refuse orders and stop reviving you if you go down. This sounds great on paper, but the AI is good enough that they never need instructing, and vending machines are plentiful enough that you rarely run out of your own medkits. This, let's call it what it is, gimmick feels poorly implemented and not fleshed out enough at all.
What does feel great is taking down the gargantuan bosses you will be facing. These bosses range from giant robotic spiders, to metal gorillas, to what looks like a building sized motorbike with a face. They are graphically impressive, interestingly designed and surprisingly fun to take down. Some parts of the boss battles do feel a bit broken however. You are knocked down far too easily in this game, and you take too long to get back up. The knock down animation doesn't even serve any interesting gameplay mechanics, because as soon as you are on the ground the enemies leave you alone and go to attack other characters.
In between boss battles and killing countless robot thugs, the action is broken up by some on rails sequences (because, you know, it's 2012 and on rails sequences are apparently compulsory in games nowadays). But, thankfully, the on rails sequences aren't the usual affair of driving through Middle Eastern slums, firing at other Hummers on a Hummer mounted machine gun. They are actually fun and involved, and do a good job of showing off the excellent art assets.
I am of course dancing around the story, which is absolutely fantastic and the best part of Binary Domain. I know, surprising considering this is a Japanese third person shooter. The 80s-esque, chrome and colourful world they create is intriguing and well established, the characters (yes, including Big Bo) are fleshed out and the inter-character relationships are well developed. Not only do they tell a great Asimovian story set in a great universe, they actually manage to include some great twists as well as asking some important philosophical questions. Add into that some of the best characters seen in a game this year (need I bring up Cain, the scarf wearing French terminator?) and you have what I think is one of the best stories all year.
Binary Domain is an absolute delight, both to play and experience. The gameplay is fun, and Sega has clearly spent some time examining some prominent Western shooters. Despite this it remains unflinchingly Japanese, containing just enough wackiness to stay unique within the sea of similar games. Sure, some systems are gimmicky and seemingly pointless, but overall it is a great package and well worth your time.