SEGA's new Gears of War-esque shooter is (mostly) amazing.
I was recently reading about the differences between American and Japanese games. As it turns out, the majority of Japanese gamers would rather take part in a memorable and emotional plotline than the action-packed, thinly written insanity preferred by us Westerners. Enter Binary Domain, the new third-person shooter from Sega. BD melds rich and engaging storytelling with decidedly American, action/adventure gameplay—everyone’s a winner!
The year is 2080, and following drastic global climate change and the rising of the seas, much of the earth has been divided. While new cities for the rich are built on top of the ruins of the old, the poverty-stricken have been relegated to the slums of the so-called “under-cities.”
The need for labor robots has increased exponentially in the wake of the chaos, causing an all-out economic war for market dominance between the world’s two major robotics companies—America’s Bergen Concern and Japan’s Amada Corp. Despite the difference in social strata, things go back to semi-normal until the mysterious appearance of incredibly human-like robots known as “hollow children.” These robot/living cell hybrids don’t even know they are robots themselves, and it is unclear whether Bergen or Amada is behind the creation of these unholy abominations, or even how many are living unnoticed alongside humans throughout the world.
Players enter the role of Dan Marshall, an ex Army special forces soldier who now works for a shady paramilitary organization called the IRTA. The organization’s one mission directive is to uphold the laws detailed in the New Geneva Convention, specifically clause 21, which prohibits the manufacture of humanistic robots. Along with an international assortment of elite super-soldiers known as “Rust Crews,” Marshall must enter Tokyo, investigate Amada Corp.’s involvement with Hollow Children and survive against an endless army of battle-ready robots hell-bent on human annihilation.
Add an addictive multiplayer suite, and Binary Domain may just be the game you’ve been waiting for.
Borrowing heavily from the mechanics found in Epic Games’ celebrated Gears of War series, Binary Domain provides a control layout familiar to anyone who has stepped into the shoes of Marcus Fenix. Dan Marshall is less clunky than the COGs, though, and thankfully less jockish.
BD’s campaign is much longer than many of its spiritual counterparts (read, third-person shooters), which is more than welcome as so many modern games continue to diminish single-player material in favor of competitive online play.
Superior graphics showcase incredible detail everywhere from the barely-noticeable clutter of Tokyo’s slums to the bizarrely clean and sterile environments of the upper-city. Take a second look around, because SEGA has stitched together some truly beautiful city-scapes.
Upgrading weapons and NPC attributes is fun enough in its own right, and it’s not long before Marshall is a juggernaut of robot-destroyin’ awesomeness. Enemy AI provides a satisfying level of escalating challenge, and it doesn’t get much better than methodically dismantling a robot with gunfire in an effort to earn the maximum amount of credits.
There may only be a handful of gun types, but each is a blast to try out, specifically a certain sniper rifle that can only be obtained from a slain robot foe.
The plot is genuinely exciting and provides plenty of edge-of-your seat thrills, as well as a couple, “I don’t believe it!” plot twists. The game proves more than a little hard to put down at times, as there is always that next little bit of story you’re dying to reach, and the over-arcing mystery of the hollow children hangs over your head like an enticing carrot.
Competitive multiplayer consists of the usual suspects (deathmatch, capture the flag, etc.), and has a surprisingly deep level of customization. By racking up the kills, players can unlock passive attributes like silent footsteps, greater health and better defense. While few in number, maps are varied and suited to many different play styles.
The much-touted voice command is unreliable at best. Even on lower volumes, simple commands such as “yeah” are heard yet register as something you never said. Most in-game explosions register as “fuck.” For a game that utilizes its voice-commands as a means to build trust with team AI, this is almost a dealbreaker. To elaborate, if you want your NPC team to follow your orders, you must build trust through the voice commands. But when this system doesn’t work or voice commands are misinterpreted, your teammates simply stop listening and your overall experience can suffer. It’s a remarkably shallow system, and it’s endlessly frustrating when a certain French Robot decides he hates you simply because you’re too busy shooting robots to tell him he’s doing a good job. I was constantly forced to mute and unmute my headset resulting in several deaths that would never have happened otherwise.
Consistent slowdown and frame rate lag rears its ugly head far more often than necessary, a flaw that could potentially frustrate less-patient gamers. In fact, this slowdown became so rampant, that I almost grew to expect it…that’s not OK. SEGA will most likely release a patch for this in the near future, but I believe games should, at the very least, be playable from the get-go.
Every so often, a series of too-long cinematic cutscenes will interrupt your flow and have you wondering when you get to blast another automaton.
At the time of this writing, I have tried fruitlessly to join the cooperative multiplayer mode known as Invasion upwards of 30 times. I doubt that there isn’t a single person on earth playing this mode, so I find myself confused and irritated. Oh, and the main guy looks so much like Adam Sandler that it’s hard to take him seriously sometimes, specifically in the tacked-on love story (yes, love story).
The Bottom Line
Assuming you have the patience for a longer game—which you damn well should—Binary Domain pays off big time in the areas of story and action-oriented gameplay. Bugs in the voice command and sporadic frame rate lag do hinder the overall experience, but when it comes right down to it, BD outshines shorter third-person like Gears of War (yeah, I said it) or less clever titles like Socom with it’s responsive controls and fluid animations. The characters do prove endearing in the end, and despite a ridiculous love scene that had me calling my girlfriend into my gaming room to laugh along with me, you do wind up caring for (some of) them. Binary Domain is essentially Gears meets Terminator, and when you really think about it, there is nothing wrong with that at all. After the mystery is finally solved and the robot parts have settled, we are left with a very promising start to what could possibly be an exciting new series…just so long as Americans are willing to “suffer” through a decent plot.
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3