Binary Domain Review
On first glance, Binary Domain appears to be another clone among the many trying to share the spotlight with the triple A titles -- in this case, Gears of War. While they are both mechanically similar -- third-person, cover-based shooters -- Binary Domain manages to do something different from its competitor: be a fun shooter while fixing some of the mistakes commonly found throughout Gears of War.
Binary Domain takes place in a cyberpunk future in which robots are as numerous as humans and are used for everything from picking up trash to providing entertainment. Humans and machines are beginning to become dangerously close. As machines start to secretly infiltrate human society, it's up to the Rust Crew to track down the source of the robotic menace and the reason behind it.
Equal parts Blade Runner and Snatcher, Binary Domain brings up grand questions and conundrums but never offers solid answers or takes itself too seriously. From the character dialog, the absurd situations, and romantic subplot, it never tries to justify itself as a bleak and gritty shooter, but rather chooses to constantly skirt the edge of melodrama and a Syfy channel original.
The stars of the game are the members of your squad. Unlike other shooters, Binary Domain attempts to build a relationship with your characters, giving each of them distinct personalities and numerous ways they interact with the player through dialog options and performance. Each character starts as a generic trope often found in shooters (the tough heavy gunner, the sleek and agile sniper, etc.) and then builds from there. You’ll discover their past, the things that make them tick, and by having them on your team and fighting with them, will unlock more dialog options and possibly a completely different story and ending as well. With a large cast to choose from, how you play and who you have on your team is up to you. How you interact with them will make all the difference on what kind of experience you have.
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One of the main gimmicks of the game is the ability to use a headset to speak commands to your characters. This is done through a simplified list of commands. You can also interact without a headset and use your controller to manually choose your dialog options. The latter is the preferred method, as using a headset proved to be hit or miss at best and not the most reliable way of relaying information in the heat of battle.
The actual shooting mechanics of the game are also well done. Featuring the same pop-and-drop system seen in games such as Gears of War and Uncharted, players will travel across different levels taking down robotic foes with a variety of genre mainstays, including the standard assortment of assault rifles, shotguns, and grenades. Weapons also have a limited upgrade and and purchasing system based off of number of kills. Your squadmates' weapons can also be improved, giving the player a limited amount of options to tailor his squads how his sees fit.
Character movement feels incredibly fast and smooth. It lacks the weight and heft that the characters in Gears of Wars features, but I actually like this movement better. Everything feels faster, and the ability to take cover and dive at a moment's notice feels much more intuitive. You never feel like you’re not in control or left hoping that each context-sensitive command works the way it should.
The enemy design and level design are excellent and eye-catching, featuring vivid colors seemingly missing from most third-person shooters. Robotic enemies come in a variety of colors and sizes, similar to the old light gun games like Time Crisis, easily letting players identify threats and prioritize which targets to take down first. While the enemies may not offer the same amount of intelligence like the Locust from Gears of War, their sheer numbers make for an arcade-like experience in which they try to overwhelm you rather than play cat-and-mouse.
Along with your robotic foot soldiers, the game also features the occasional boss fight against screen-filling robotic monstrosities. A majority of boss fights require the use of your entire squad to distract and target numerous weak points. Bosses are also incredibly agile and quick for their size and require the players to constantly move from cover to cover in order to stay one step ahead. Similar to Vanquish, Binary Domain is all about mobility and requires you to stay active in order to emerge victorious.
As for the level designs themselves, a majority of them are incredibly memorable. From a shootout on a high-speed train to a rocket battle inside a giant, futuristic vegetable farm, each location changes the layout, visuals, and geography to provide a new and exciting encounter. This is not a game with gray, bombed-out landscapes; this is a game that explodes in color and variety. It gives you the sense that you really are moving to new locations rather than reaching the next checkpoint.
The game does have a multiplayer, but it's barely active as few players are online. The modes come standard for the genre and include the requisite deathmatch and king of the hill. The matches I tried were smooth, lag-free, and fun. However, compared to the large levels from single player, the multiplayer offering felt small and unimpressive by comparison. There is certainly nothing wrong with it, but it feels more like an afterthought rather than a full-fledged effort.
Binary Domain may not come with the massive hype machine that other shooters do, but it's all for the better. It’s a game with fun as its main objective and does its best to provide a fast-paced, exciting experience the entire time. Shooting robots and watching them explode into pieces is satisfying. Trading wisecracks with your French-accented robot is fun. Trying to gain the higher ground against a lumbering mechanical behemoth is fun. The entire game is fun, and when combined with excellent campaign and gameplay, it makes for an incredibly energetic shooter.