Also On: Xbox 360
Medium: Blu-ray Disc
Binary Domain is a pretty slick looking sci-fi third person shooter from the fine folks at SEGA, more specifically the coveted Yakuza Team, headed up by creator Toshihiro Nagoshi. The Yakuza look is pretty prevalent throughout; you’ll recognize the character design right off the bat if you’ve played any of the current gen Yakuza titles. But the gameplay couldn’t be more different, and while it certainly evokes a Gears of War feeling, it does a pretty great job of making its own mark on the shooter market.
The main gist of the gameplay comes from tearing apart the robotic minions that are tossed at you en masse throughout the six chapters that make up the single player campaign. In part this takes a page from another Japanese developed third person shooter from a couple years back, that shooter being Vanquish from Platinum Games. Binary Domain puts a heavy focus on tearing apart robots limb by limb, and awards you points that can be spent as currency for character and weapon upgrades throughout.
The shooting feels great, aiming is consistently smooth, and while weapon variety might not be extremely diverse, every weapon has a clear cut purpose. Also, to go along with the squad focused gameplay, every character has a primary weapon they stick with, which can be upgraded in a variety of ways. There’s a light RPG element to this that works pretty well in tandem with the gunplay, so while you might not always NEED to rip robots apart, you’ll find yourself wanting to anyways.
The world design of Binary Domain, which is set in the near-distant future, is infused with a lot of shiny, neon looking tech. There are sections of the game that involve a slum-like underworld that’s in direct contrast to the later stages, and overall I really enjoyed the design of every stage. There are segments that aren’t particularly fun, pretty much anything involving vehicles, but they’re pretty spaced out and outside of a few annoying failures, generally short.
There’s been a little talk about how great the A.I. is in Binary Domain, at least from early press releases, and the enemy A.I. does seem pretty strong. There are noticeable differences between enemy types, so they thankfully aren’t all palette swaps.
Some enemies are lumbering and easy to take down, optioning to stick to cover. Others will leap out towards you, and focus on melee attacks. And then there are the boss fights that punctuate the end of chapters, which can often be tough and grueling battles of attrition, but stand out as memorable encounters. There are definitely a few tough spots in the game where the enemy can overtake you if you’re not paying attention, but it doesn’t really become noticeable unless you crank the difficulty up past normal.
It’s a shame the same can’t be said about the friendly A.I. which is one of the more aggravating aspects of the game. You’re almost always accompanied by two other computer controlled characters. You can offer up basic commands, like attack, fall back and so on. There’s a system in place that dictates how much the friendly A.I. trusts you, which is based off of both your actions in battle and some dialogue that you can engage in during quiet moments. If your trust level is too low, you’ll find your team won’t always respond well to your commands.
That’s not the bad part, the worst comes from the fact that they are constantly in your way. They’ll run into the middle of your fire more often than not, even in wide open spaces. This becomes more aggravating due to the fact that friendly fire will have a negative effect on their trust level, so if you’re trying to max out your trust with your squad, you’ll want to keep a wary eye on where they wander.
Besides the single player campaign, which falls into that sweet spot for third person shooters at around 8 hours or so in length, there are a few online modes to check out. The versus half of online play offers up your typical Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and other Team vs. modes you’ll find in a lot of other shooters. Then there’s also a four player co-op mode that takes a page from the popular Horde mode found in Gears of War and a number of other titles.
I didn’t get to experience much in the online realm prior to typing this review though, the online community, at least on the PS3 side, feels a little dead at the moment. Maybe that will pick up after the initial launch week, but from what I did play nothing stood out to me as particularly special or unique. It certainly doesn’t feel like the focus of the game at least.
I have very few negatives to level at Binary Domain; I think its single player mode is a stand-out shooter that I feel a lot of folks might glance over. But that would be a mistake, as you’d definitely miss out on a really fun experience that doesn’t break the mold, but builds upon a solid foundation already laid by other cover based shooters.