In the future there will be robots. This is a fact, we have tons of movies to prove it! We also know that inevitably some of those robots will mimic their creators so closely that they'll become indistinguishable from human beings. What happens though when the robots themselves don't realize what they really are?
In Binary Domain we get a glimpse of a not so far away future where the polar ice caps have melted and a large percentage of the planet has been engulfed by sea water. The poor get by in near flooded ghettos as the rich live above, clueless to the suffering just below their feet. None of this side story is really important though as what you're mostly concerned with are robots. Not any old robots though, but a new highly evolved form of automaton that doesn't even know that it is in fact a mechanical creation and not a creature of flesh and bone. When one of those new models causes a stir, you're sent in on an undercover operation to Japan, where the most knowledgeable scientist in the field of robotic AI resides within the Amada corporation - and you're to bring him. You take on the role of the Dan "the Survivor" who gained his nickname for doing just that - and along with a "Rust Crew" infiltrate the Japanese borders in order to capture your target and get to the bottom of this robo nonsense. The story isn't extremely deep in Binary Domain but there are enough twists and turns here to leave you guessing at who is who and whats really going on in the mind of Dr. Amada.
Accompanying you on the mission is initially just one other U.S. operative, and by far the best character in the entire game, Big Bo - although later on you join up with the rest of the multi national cast. This lumbering giant is a stereotypical depiction of an African American right down to the way he calls you "brother" and a "player". Bo introduces the player to the somewhat basic team commands and several systems at the outset of the game. Binary Domain plays very much like a by the book third person covered based shooter. You can sprint, take cover, blind fire and shimmy around corner like a pro while maintaining your character unique rifle, one other weapon, a side arm and your choice of thrown projectiles. The squad commands sprinkle on the ability to tell your squadmates to retreat, charge or regroup on your position. What makes them unique is the ability to input all commands using your own voice through a microphone. There are tons of commands you can learn and practice in the games voice menu that can be readily utilized in the heat of battle although if you're like me and don't fancy yourself the type to scream a hearty "CHAARGE!" as you play video games then theres an option to use simple commands from a pop in menu that you can instantly pull up in the heat of battle. Your AI squadmates are quite self sufficient and don't really need your input to hold their own anyway. So why bother with voice commands at all you might ask? Well there is one big use and thats the trust system. Periodically one of your squaddies will comment how well you just blasted a robot in the face and you'll have an opportunity to respond either by voice or text command. Answering "correctly" will net you more trust with that team member who will in turn be more willing to rush into the heat of battle when you order them to - and more importantly a high trust level will lead to some unique cutscenes and situations that might otherwise not occur. Fortunately scoring trust is not a grind as simply doing well in combat will constantly raise your levels with all squadmembers so it pays off when you aim to impress.
The meat of the gameplay is naturally combat. Binary Domain is all about engaging robot foes and it manages this better than any game I have ever played. Mostly when you think of robotic opposition in videogames what comes to mind are unyielding bullet sponges that are tiresome and boring to engage. The developers of Binary Domain have mastered the art of murdering "scrap heads". All enemies in the game have layers of armor that you can readily blow off with gunfire to expose glowing "drive systems" aka weak spots, and much like Dead Space dismember your foes. Theres nothing quite as satisfying as emptying a magazine into a robot and seeing bits of scrap and metal come flying off revealing the skeleton underneath. You can aim for the legs and blow them completely off only to watch the downed foes crawl towards you trying to latch onto your feet in a last ditch effort to blow themselves up and take you out along with them. Headshots are awarded with a satisfying ping noise and cause your metal adversaries to turn on their comrades and fight among themselves. Bosses are a real treat as they have multiple layers of armor for you to lay waste to, which makes what initially looked to be an imposing giant, by the end of the battle resemble a malnourished skeleton of wire and metal. In addition to the usual arsenal of assualt rifles, shotguns and snipers Dan can also perform powerful melee attacks that demolish weaker robots and stagger the tougher varieties. There is nothing better than mowing down a whole line of scrap heads only to rush down the unfinished stragglers and shatter them to pieces with the butt of your rifle. Taking down these legions of metal tinmen literally never gets old and apart from a single enemy unit that one might argue is a bit too nimble for the control scheme, every single adversary is fun to engage and satisfying to take down, making the heart of the gameplay a greatly enjoyable experience.
Whats surprising is the added depth the developer have attached to this game. Although you can only control Dan in the single player campaign, you can upgrade the primary weapon of each of your remaining team members via handy "store" terminals found throughout the levels. Guns can be tuned to have a higher damage output, better accuracy and so forth and you gain currency to upgrade these stats simply from killing your enemies - although more points are awarded for headshots, double kills and "skill shots" alike. In addition to weapon stats there are DNA strands you can purchase and stack like tetris blocks in a 2x3 grid for each character that imbue them with extra defense and higher melee damage for example. Different DNA have different shapes and properties so you'll sometimes have to fidget those pieces around to get the perfect combination. Like most things in the game, it's not an overly deep system, but it adds a fun upgrade mechanic and something to fiddle around with in between confrontations.
Binary Domain is not revolutionary. The story goes over familiar territory but manages to maintain a unique personality that sets it apart from the rest of the pack. There are no special systems like bullet time or hyper futuristic weapons that shoot plasma rays or create temporal portals - our team relies on good old fashioned bullets and fists. Despite this I've had more fun with Binary Domain than any other game of genre to date. The writing will surprise you as there are several genuinely funny moments usually involving Big Bo and most importantly the game is simply fun. Combat is smooth and very satisfying while the plot moves at a brisk pace, never straying in a single place for too long. Theres almost every game mechanic you can think of crammed into this title - flashy quick time events, turret sequences, driving vehicles and early on in the game you end up sliding down a near vertical water dam trying to avoid getting hit by jutting out pipelines. When you finish the single player campaign there are several multiplayer modes to choose from and you unlock the ability to go back and replay any chapter at will to collect hidden items or improve your time. Although not the longest of games, I had run through it in a little under 9 hours, it is a quality experience from start to finish. If you're a fan of third person shooters and think you've seen it all I urge you to give Binary Domain a chance - it doesn't rely on cheap gimmicks but rather on the old fashioned concept of straight up fun.