Binary Domain is arguably one of my favourite games from the Xbox 360 and PS3 generation. Off the back of the popularity of the high-octane third person shooter Vanquish, SEGA published in the following year a game of a similar tone. It had everything from that cliché Japanese humour, Complex Character mechanics, huge set pieces, good voice acting, R.P.G. elements and concise storyline. Developed by the creators of Yakuza (Ryu Ga Gotoku studio), Binary Domain is a testament to developers who dare to do more than the standard of the genre.
Set in the 21st century after a culling of human life from flooding and climate change (Topical), the national powers that be had begun building new cities above the old ones; using the ‘flood levels’ as foundation, but with so little of humanity left who was going to build these structures? - More advanced robots became a necessity. To govern the research and development, the ‘new geneva convention’ was born; one of these new laws under the name of Clause 21 banned research into robots that could pass for humans, called “Hollow Children”. The problem being, somebody didn’t listen and these Hollow Children are not even aware they are robots.
One of the big mechanics that was promoted at the game shows up to its release was the ever popular at the time ‘QTE’s’ or Quick Time Events that asked the player to perform specific button inputs at precise timing during cinematic, action-packed cutscenes, what I found to be even more unique and deserving of attention however is the communication system. Throughout the game you can interact with your squad members through your microphone or hotbar inputs to increase rapport. I found it so unique compared to games like Resident Evil 5 where the A.I. would simply react to your order. Here, not only do they react but they respond and not always positively - giving a much-needed layer to the team dynamic rather being than just another A.I. controlled team mate.
Through these interactions with your squad members and your gameplay style you will build or lose affinity respectively, they will act differently with you based on that. This ‘Trust’ system was initially why I wanted to pick this game up, I’ve only ever seen such systems in games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age - lengthy games that fleshed out their characters and I was eager to find another that made you feel like an influencing force in the world around you and Binary Domain did not disappoint.
Binary Domain has in my opinion excelled in adopting and utilizing various gameplay mechanics from different genres and synthesising them together to form a unique and constantly changing experience. One of these features was the skill settings. In a style reminiscent of the arcade era, you will accrue points for eliminating “scrap heads” with extra bonuses for more skilful play. These points could then be spent in the shop to upgrade yourself and the team with nanomachines on a gridded-out board. Space management is integral to making the most of your board and experimenting with character builds for survivability. Consider it a mini-game of sorts. I’d spend a while trying to get the best possible boosts for each encounter.
Once you are united with the rest of the team the ‘trust’ system becomes more in depth. Each mission will require you to pick two members for your squad to aid you. Faye and Bo were my team and remained that way until the very end. I neglected the others and suffered for it; they weren’t my biggest fans. Ideally, I should have juggled the characters around in my team but I liked the dialogue with myself, Bo and Faye too much. Luckily the game is rather short and lends itself quite easily to replayability with different team mates and trust levels without stagnating itself too much.
Coincidentally, the thing I liked the most about this game was the advanced A.I.; Your squad members feel like other human players, they are in constant contact with you and made me feel like I was part of a real squad working together. You get a feel for their personalities both in and out of battle. It felt amazing responding to their orders (I wasn’t just giving them out), watching their trust levels raise with said response and having praise. Your team mates will ask if you need help when knocked down or will try to recommend certain tactics against the enemy and it’s up to you to say yes or no… but even if you ignore them, they’ll respond to your ignorance.
Heading back to the R.P.G. elements of the skill settings and trust system, there is an upgrade mechanic for your weapons that requires methodical purchasing. I wasn’t so methodical however; Dan got all the upgrades first and all of the nanomachines. Selfish but it worked. Plus, as the main character you’re always going to be the M.V.P.
This game is oozing with Hollywood cinematography, the main character portrayed as the ‘strong, happy-go-lucky. jock’ stereotype with his equally ‘laddish’ bulldozer of a partner brings back memories of those tongue and cheek buddy-cop movies. It may not be to everyone’s taste but it certainly tickled me.
Environments change, new enemies emerge and the set pieces become increasingly more epic as you progress. After every fight I had a great sense of achievement in felling these technological behemoths with my squad and found myself excited to learn what the next big boss will be all the while I’ve barely been given the chance to pause from the onslaught of robots.
And true to the third-person high octane shooter stereotype, here are your quick time events to keep you engaged during the cut scenes, this game constantly keeps the action going without seeming monotonous.
From Nightclubs to jet skis, High Speed trains to car chases. The Studio knows how to keep the action moving towards the next plot point. But one thing that I can’t show you is the music, I’ve always said that music makes a game, more so than the game play and is only secondary to the storyline. The Futuristic Techno Tunes compliment the atmosphere of the game so well and immersed me further into this world of conflict and uncertainty.
In conclusion, Binary Domain is a fantastic Third-Person Shooter with a variety of features taken from other genres and moulded them into its own unique experience. Although it wasn’t popular at release (I still can’t understand why) I believe this game to be one of the better shooters from the era and deserves more recognition. That being said, Yakuza developer Daisuke Sato is keeping speculation of a remaster and sequel alive by expressing interest in revisiting the IP. he says: “Personally, I’d really like to [remaster Binary Domain] (laughs). If possible, I’d like to make a few changes that I didn’t quite get to back then and maybe redo some parts, too.” However, the ball is in SEGA’s court.