dirk_beefhammer's Binary Domain (Xbox 360) review

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The Terminator meets Blade Runner in one helluva fun ride

Let me be honest here. Binary Domain didn't impress me much at first. Mechanically, it seems like something we've seen many times before: The game is, at its core, a pretty basic Gears of War-style cover shooter. It doesn't do much to wow you, at first, with some fairly bland indoor environments and stiff animation, and a tutorial-ish part that is a bit too long.

However, there's two things that I could appreciate from the get-go.

First of all is how well Sega implemented hit-detection into the shoot-outs. Normally in these types of games, you shoot a guy in the leg, and you see him react to it, perhaps bleed a bit, but then he'll carry on like nothing happened. In Binary Domain you shoot a robot in the leg, and bits and pieces of armor come flying off with every single hit from your assault rifle, until you've completely crippled the poor bastard.

So you've rendered your foe unable to move, haven't you? No! He'll just start crawling towards you instead (and watch out, he'll grab your legs if you're not careful), unless you shoot his stupid robot head off first. The funny thing about shooting the heads off these scrapheads is that if they're still otherwise functional, they won't know friend from foe anymore - so, in this game, shooting the heads off foes basically means turning them into temporary allies. It's actually quite useful at times, especially on harder difficulties. Another neat detail is that you can shoot not just the gun out of the hands of your foe, but his entire arm off, which'll make him get out of cover and look for a weapon to use with his remaining arm (until you shoot that off, too). Sega also made sure to make good use of this mechanic during the many spectacular boss fights, and seeing huge parts fly off giant robots just never gets old.

The other thing that immediately impressed me was the entertaining cutscenes and characters. The banter between Dan Marshall, the soldier whom you control, and his buddy Big Bo sets the somewhat cheesy tone perfectly from the beginning. And as you meet up with the rest of your team, the character interaction just get better and better. You'll probably get to like most of them, but favourites of mine were the French-speaking robot Cain, the always wise-cracking Big Bo and Faye, the strikingly beautiful Chinese sniper in your team - and of course Dan himself, who displays the perfect balance between a good sense humour and heroic leadership.

You can even interact with them during gunfights using pre-defined commands with either the LB button or by speaking to them through the headset. The latter is a lot more fun, since it allows you to use a much wider range of commands or comments at all times (with that said, there were some problems with voice recognition - when I said "HQ", it came out as "Love you!", which was hilarious, but certainly not something I meant for Dan to tell Big Bo during a gunfight (though he is a loveable, fun character, no question!)). They'll also ask you things during and after gunfights, either for evaluation purposes or for tactical decision making, and your responses will directly influence their level of trust with you, as will your performances during battles (which can actually determine how the cut-scenes pan out later in the game).

What is your team of robot-killing action heroes up to, then, you might ask? Well, you have arrived in Japan to bring in a certain Yoji Amada for questioning. He is under accusation of having created so-called 'hollow children', robots that appear human-like and do not even know that they're robots (don't worry, this is not a spoiler as it's one of the first things you'll learn in the game). This is in violation of the New Geneva Convention, which was passed specifically to prevent human-like robots from being made, and your team is a so-called 'Rust Crew', a special force tasked to enforce this convention.

If it sounds like the story is inspired a bit by Blade Runner, you would be right, but the action scenes are more reminiscent of the futuristic warfare scenes from the original Terminator films - except not quite as dark. This is a very bright game, actually, and stylistically it's also quite reminiscent of Vanquish, but doesn't play much like it at all. The pace during combat is more akin to Gears of War or Mass Effect.

But while the combat is certainly a lot of fun, offering up some great set pieces and boss fights after a less than spectacular opening, it is the story-line and characters that'll keep you playing. The relationships between some of them develop significantly along the way, for better or worse, and there are some twists and turns along the way. It's all handled and presented very well through great directing and acting in the cut-scenes - and not without some cheesy B-movie charm, like you might expect from Sega. It also feels particularly Sega-ish in the way that you constantly score points (not CoD-style - which is to say, it's not intrusive) during the campaign. It makes it feel a bit like an awesome arcade title from back in the day, an impression which the style of music also adds to.

Overall, I don't really have a lot of bad things to say about Binary Domain, apart from that it takes a while to really get going. But keep playing, and you'll probably find that it just gets better and better. To be honest, I've had a lot more fun with it than any of the Gears of War games, and I highly recommend it to anyone who are fans of the great science fiction movies of the 80's as well as that classic Sega charm.

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