Binary Domain Review

Binary Domain proves that shooters don’t have to feature bloodthirsty zombies to be fun. Instead SEGA’s futuristic shooter has players pumping lead into enemy robots threatening to overrun mankind. It’s not original, and it’s hardly approaching supreme A.I. levels of cleverness, but Binary Domain is still one of the most satisfying shooters around, says Stephen Ebert.

On first, second, and even third glance Binary Domain looks and feels like a Gears of War clone with added robots. And in some ways such an assumption would be spot on. Replace alien Locusts for robots and you’ll get the idea of the kind of game Binary Domain is. The cover mechanics, the squad-based gameplay, the set-pieces – it’s a formula the Gears of War series perfected a long time ago. Rivals have since tried to emulate its gameplay and failed.

But to its credit, Binary Domain does better than most. It doesn’t quite have quite the same impact as the Epic Games classic, but don’t let that spoil what a capable shooter Binary Domain can be.

Binary Domain takes place in 2080 Tokyo. The Amada Corporation has started producing robots capable of assimilating with humans, and in scenes reminiscent of The Terminator, it’s now too difficult to tell apart human from robot. Their very existence threatens the future of mankind. To say anything more would be to spoil the story, but it soon becomes clear why they must be wiped out. It takes a while to get going, but by the end, Binary Domain proves why this satisfying shooter was worth the effort.

The good

Forget blasting squelching holes in the undead. Taking aim at robots is just sometimes more fun. Rarely has shooting enemies felt so satisfying. The clink and clunk of every nut and bolt falling away as you dissemble enemies with your rifle is almost tangible as you fire away at their mechanical legs: leaving them with little choice but to crawl after you. They never give up. Enemy A.I. is fantastic: enemies will duck, charge, and flank you: forcing you to alter your tactics.

Boss battles are tremendously satisfying. From battling large spider-like mechanical beasties to swatting aircraft from the sky using rockets, each of these deliver all-action moments of urgency in a game that rarely lets up on the action.

Typical third person cover/shoot gameplay lends it a familiar feel to series such as Gears of War – a good thing given how spot on the Gears games got this mechanic down. And though the action feels generic, when it gets going, Binary Domain is all kinds of fun as the ducking for cover and diving control style soon becomes instinctive.

One of the game’s biggest successes is in making the player feel attached to its cast. In the beginning the protagonists are almost boring and uninteresting, but by the end their personalities and affections flourish as the game progresses with each plot twist. Binary Domain eventually transforms into a much more memorable worth persevering for – aided by a credible cast performance.

The bad

Binary Domain takes a while to get going – not helped by one of of the dullest tutorial missions we’ve had the (dis)pleasure of playing. And the environments, while big on scale are devoid of colour, and feature little imagination, with identikit corridors that constantly repeat on you.

Lame weapon variety. With only a handful of weapons, many – bar the rocket launcher and pistol – feel the same. An upgrade system provides the ability to tweak your weapons, but even this feels tacked on.

A conversation mechanic forces players to answer questions from their squad – an admirable attempt to mask the game’s linearity – but it feels gimmicky and only serves to detract from the fun of the action. Why stop to talk when you’re having so much fun dismantling Robocop’s evil brothers and sisters.

The bottom line

Binary Domain won’t revolutionise the genre, but what it does offer is a fun experience that, despite taking a while to get going, is both engaging and eventually very rewarding and well worth checking out.

[This review has been reproduced from an article originally written by myself for The Gadget Show in April 2012]