It’s difficult to review Binary Domain without getting caught up in the history of third-person cover shooters and how they are typically defined by western developers. Just for you though, I’ll refrain. After all, why would you want to hear my ramblings over how lackluster Gears of War 3 was, or how Quantum Theory is one of the worst games ever spawned from Satan’s shitty asshole? All you need to know is that Binary Domain is one of the most surprisingly entertaining and rewarding games I’ve played in years.
Playing as Dan, the Yankee Man, you are part of an international Rust Crew; a group of Special Forces agents set with the specific task of handling Geneva Convention robotic violations. Thankfully, Dan and his crew only deal with the violent kind of negotiations and you spend the game’s entirety mowing down ‘scrapheads’ and administering justice to crazy old A.I.s who just wanted to be more human than human.
When it turns out that the Amada Corporation has been illegally manufacturing Hollow Children – replicants who believe they’re human, basically – you are sent in over the Tokyo seawall to infiltrate Amada and find proof of their crimes against humanity. It, of course, all goes wrong and some wholeheartedly entertaining, bullet-based violence ensues, along with a healthy number of crazed robot suicides and some human-on-android sexy rubbing for good measure.
Throughout the course of the game, Binary Domain plays on the same existential ponderings as Blade Runner and Ghost in The Shell. Without ever getting too heavy, this angle is played well and provides a surprisingly involving storyline. This is helped greatly by some witty, well-read dialogue that also serves to liven up the otherwise lackluster and somewhat two-dimensional character design.
The cover/shoot/blindfire mechanics play out in a standard fashion but are aided greatly by a fantastic sense of control. Weighty, but never sluggish, your character will always feel responsive and purposeful. Punctuating this action are some large, impressive bosses and dynamic, cinematic action sequences that remind you of just what it was that Gears of War 3 was lacking. Added depth comes in the form of upgradable weapons and nano machine boosts that alter the attributes of Dan and his team. Whilst these inclusions are now pretty standard, they are nonetheless a worthy addition when you consider how quickly the same old run and gun mentality can become tiresome. It also forces you to search for credits, more of which can be accumulated with precise headshots, one-shot kills, multi-kills or simply by stripping away a robot enemy’s armor piece-by-piece.
Binary Domain is at its best when a lucky headshot sends enemy ranks into chaos. When an enemy loses its head, it will attack its own squad. Watching as they all struggle to put down the offending android is fun in itself. It’ll never see your enemies being finished off for you, but it is a smart and well-implemented mechanic that later on, becomes both invaluable and essential for taking down large groups.
The change of pace is supported by frequent promptings for you to make tactical decisions. Commanding your group can be handled either via your voice through a connected headset, or using on screen button commands. The voice control seems gimmicky at first but does have the potential to become invaluable during the heat of a particularly intense battle. However, with my ridiculous Welsh accent, using the buttons quickly becomes the sensible option. In my experience, squad commands are rarely well-implemented and Binary Domain does little to revolutionize this, although it does improve upon it. Your team members will often make very useful suggestions and will follow many of your commands to the letter. What this means is that if they are just constantly left to an all-out assault mentality then they will often get in the way of your shots and become a general nuisance. If, however, you really start to pay attention to their behavior and make smart, informed tactical decisions of your own, then they become an invaluable resource. If that all sounds a bit boring, never fear: the tactical gameplay never once stood in the way of the game’s arcade shoot ‘em up mentality. It’s almost a perfect balance.
The only disappointment comes in the form of Binary Domian’s much-underused trust mechanic. Each member of your team has a trust rating that is affected by whether or not you listen to their tactical suggestions or hit them with friendly fire. Sadly, this seems to result in little more than achievements/trophies for achieving ‘full trust’ with particular characters. The shame is that the game misses an incredible opportunity for a Battlestar Galactica/The Thing sense of paranoia and distrust which could have played beautifully into the squad mechanics and could have made it much more than just a very solid shooter.
Despite never reaching its full potential, Binary Domain provides an engrossing and solidly entertaining package that shows us that there is still life in the decaying shell of the third- person shooter genre. The breadth of its environments and the pacing of its action stop it from ever becoming boring and the gameplay is both consistently challenging and rewarding. Now, let me tell you about how shit Quantum Theory was and how Binary Domain is better than Gears of War 3…- The Faux Bot