A Japanese documentary on how Americans make action games.
From a distance, it’s easy to shrug off Binary Domain as yet another “me to” game that’s simply peddling off the success of Epic’s dominant franchise. Yes, Sega’s answer to Gears of War has Roadie-Runs, D-Pad controls for switching weapons, and even a large sleeveless black dude that is clearly drawn from the Coal Train. Upon closer examination, Binary Domain has the heart to stand out from the crowd despite some shortcomings.
This hasn’t stopped Amada from crafting Hollow Children and slowly integrating them in society over the last few decades. These convincing androids truly believe they’re human. Throughout the story, several Hollow Children discover the unfortunate truth what they really are, driving them to madness. A multinational task force called Rust, is deployed to Japan to arrest the CEO of Amada in hopes to bring an end to an uncertain future. This rag-tag group of soldiers is led by Commander-Shepard look-alike, Dan. Within the game’s 9 hours campaign, Rust will be committing robot genocide, tear Japan apart in its search for a Geneva Convention violator and discover some shocking truths.
Of course there are obligatory on-rails sequences. The Japanese have clearly been paying attention to Western development without actually thinking about what people are tired of. In true Japanese fashion, you’ll face off against a generous supply of gargantuan bosses. One fight was against a giant Spider Mech. The playing field gave me the option of shooting off the legs one by one, or attacking the center of the massive mech immediately. Even with one leg, the Spider was able to maneuver by hopping, but it was nowhere near as combat effective as it was in perfect condition. The boss fights are consistently ridicules, ranging from a giant Gorilla mech to a 200 ft tall motorcycle beast that is clearly inspired by FFVII’s highway boss fight.
The Squad mechanics are ambitious but never actually play a role as important as the developers probably intended. One paper, teamwork and communication is key. Throughout combat, your squad is loosely evaluating your leadership potential. You have several commands such as “cover me” and “regroup” at your disposal, but I was never able to figure out if these mechanics were helpful. Somehow, your squad can judge good or bad decisions or they may start disliking you for friendly fire. The relationship you build with your comrades dictates combat efficiency, but it’s clunkier than tactical. Sometimes in firefights, my team returned fire immediately. There were a few instances that sitting around must have sounded like a better idea than fighting. I issued the order “Fire”, but got the reply “Not now, later!”. I thought to myself, “We are getting lit up by 20 homicidal robots and you won’t fire your weapon in spite of me!?”. 90% of the time, however, the team didn’t get in the way and were actually useful in combat. They did a good job at killing robots and reviving me.
These days, every shooter needs a gimmick. Binary Domain delves into voice commands. With a standard headset, a player can directly communicate with their squad. Instead of pressing a button to communicate, simply yelling “Fire” is intended to suffice. These commands registered about half of the time. I was also hard-pressed to not feel like a crazy person yelling at my TV. This broadens the scope of vocabulary you can utilize to communicate to the game’s characters with, but it never felt useful. Sega seemed to attempt to cater to the Western RPG fans as well with choosing dialog. Notice I didn’t say “Dialog Tree”. There are many moments that have you converse with your team, and how you respond to them also impacts how they perform in combat. The dialog options to choose are always uninteresting one-word answers, usually along the lines of Yeah, Damn, or No. Literally, the right answer is always “Yeah”. This only occurs between fighting in-game, and never actually influence the story. The cut-scenes are fully scripted.
You can always win over your teammates through performing well in combat. Getting triple kills, reviving comrades, and beating foes with your bare hands are all great ways to make friends. Despite these methods of positioning yourself as a great leader everybody likes, it never matters. Even when certain characters hated me, I was always able to win them back over in seconds. The only time my squad’s trust in me reflected in something meaningful was not returning fire. However, that just doesn’t make any sense. Not being able to direct your squad with any precision is a real bummer. Don’t come into Binary Domain expecting a tactical shooter. The game doesn’t give the player control on positioning troopers. Communication with other soldiers in the fight is just a choice between a handful of key words. The communication mechanics are severally underdeveloped. Thankfully, this doesn’t severely hinder the overall experience.
Binary Domain’s story is easily the best thing it has going for it. The gameplay is surprisingly fun, despite being a carbon copy of a million other games. The intriguing world is what makes the game special. The plot is to not betaken seriously with its B-movie presentation of super-serious moments. Crazy Anime mannerisms or corky caricatures aren’t hogging up screen time, but this game was clearly developed in Japan with the best intentions to cleverly mold Western and Japanese story design together. There’s the right amount of Japanese crazy in the mix with a good blend of Western coherent plot development that blend together surprisingly well. All the story threads come together in satisfying ways.
The best way to articulate Binary Domain is that it’s like a Japanese documentary on how Americans’ make videogames. The game is worth playing simply out of curiosity of how two different cultural ideas of entertainment meet in the middle. Having said that, the lackluster gimmicks don’t break down the experience. Blowing robots to pieces is exhilarating, despite not being able to bring a friend with you. The colorful cast, energetic plot development and the elements surrounding the “been there done that” gameplay is what makes Binary Domain worthwhile.