Binary Domain Review - The Next Level

Game Profile

Xbox 360
Release date:
February 28, 2012
Ryu ga Gotoku Studio
1 local, 10 online
Third-Person Shooter

Binary Domain

The line between man and machine.

Review by Gabriel Jones (Email)
March 13th 2012

Game reviewing is a process. I play through the game and then I wait. After hours or even days, what to write will suddenly occur to me - call it inspiration, I suppose. If for whatever reason this process fails, then it's time for me to quit writing. If what I write is just the same as what anyone else would write then what's the point? This is what makes me human: my dependence on influential occurrences that will enable me to extend myself beyond my own mediocre abilities. Binary Domain is one game where its best qualities are its most human. It understands all of the right moments to shine and captures that rare and special feeling. That feeling that no matter the number of imperfections, it can achieve success.

"Man versus machine" is a common theme in the science-fiction genre. Man creates something that is stronger, more intelligent, and potentially more capable of peaceful co-existence. This is done usually to provide a service, such as in the wake of a catastrophic disaster like the polar ice caps melting. However, this creation will inevitably plot to usurp man's position as the dominant life form, if not eradicate him altogether. Dan and his team, known as "the Rust Crew," must infiltrate Japan to discover the meaning behind the creation of "Hollow Children". A Hollow Child is someone who is only human on the outside and yet doesn't believe it's mecha. Just what is the purpose behind such a creation?

Binary Domain consists of three different modes. These are the single-player campaign, the competitive multiplayer mode, and the cooperative survival-based Invasion mode. While it sounds like everything you've seen before, this game is one of those unique cases where the single-player affair is its best aspect. This isn't just because the campaign offers a pretty good story either. It is compelling in every sense of the word, with each new encounter offering excitement, fresh ideas, or just a really good time.

Let's break it down a bit. The satisfaction that comes from destroying a robot is amazing. They don't just fall over and explode when you put enough bullets into them; their armor shatters, limbs are torn off, and as long as their core drives are intact they'll devise new ways to attack. These robots actually function in the manner that they are supposed to, instead of merely being slightly more durable humans. This leads to an assortment of excellent boss fights, each offering multiple ways for the player to take them down and tactics that change according to their status. It's a real treat on subsequent play-throughs discovering just how much personality has been infused into these machines.

The mechanics of the trust system are also well done. This isn't a Bioware game where all of your team members have some incredibly bizarre personality and will only appreciate you if you figure them out and answer their questions accordingly. It's all very basic; just agree with what your partners are saying and they'll trust you more. In battle they'll trust you even more if you make the proper decisions and perform skillfully. This can have some effect on the endings but it's mostly about how effectively your team members will want to fight alongside you.

Customization is also a key to this game's quality. Each team member can upgrade his weapon of choice and equip various skills that affect stats and abilities. While it's nothing really deep, an edge is always appreciated. Almost everything is purchased through the use of credits, which are of course rewarded when mechs are blasted. There are a handful of sections in the game where the player can face off against infinite numbers of enemies and rake in the dough, provided he can survive.

While on the surface Binary Domain looks like any other shooter, all of these elements create a very thrilling game. They're not wholly unique either, so much of what makes this game work comes from how everything gels. It's that indescribable sensation, the kind that every video game looks to create but is usually stumbled over by accident. This is probably what makes the single-player campaign . . . well . . . human. Like those situations that cause some people to become heroes, or others to achieve some great level of success. Altogether, it's a very impressive endeavor not only because it's competently designed but also because it creates its own identity, despite the obvious similarities it shares with other third-person shooters. It's a shame that outside of a fourth difficulty setting and a chapter select, there aren't any extras tied to the campaign. Some sort of scoring system or challenge mode would have been very welcome.

The inclusion of voice communication is intriguing. Some commands are available to the player in case he wants the team to charge, regroup, and so on. There are many more words the player can use if he decides to play with a headset. This means that quite a few words, including favorite expletives, can be said at almost any point in the campaign, and your team members will respond appropriately. The system isn't perfect, as unless you set the white noise level very high, you're going to have trouble making orders. Plus it can be annoyance to other people in the house as they have to put up with you yelling at the TV. Still it's amusing enough, even if just to hear all of the responses from the rest of the team.

The competitive multiplayer modes are very bland. These could be considered business as usual, the results of focus-group testing, and capped with an "everyone else has it, so should we" mindset. The competitive mode consists of multiple modes including data capture, objective, and Domain Control. However, the only mode you're likely to find other players in is team death-match. After selecting the class - which decides starting weapon and skills, your goal is to rush your opponent's spawn point and trap them. Unlike numerous other shooters, all spawns in this game are fixed, so it becomes very easy to back the opposing team against the wall. Obviously, this isn't any fun at all when your team is the one getting slaughtered, especially because on some of the maps there's really not much you can do to get away.

Despite the inclusion of a shop where players can purchase weapons and equipment in-between re-spawns and customizable skills, the most popular competitive mode comes off as one-dimensional. What's most unfortunate is that the concept itself just doesn't hold any promise. In the single-player campaign, there are many unique types of mechs that have creative means of attack. In multiplayer, however, it's just humans versus humans, something that could be found in most any other shooter. While it would have been a nightmare to balance, something akin to the Human vs. Akrid mode from Lost Planet: Colonies would have been preferable. If nothing else, this mode was different and led to some very interesting battles and surprising upsets.

The Invasion mode fares quite a bit better. A team of up to four players has to survive fifty rounds of ever-increasing odds. You've likely played similar modes in other games, so you'll know what to expect. Survival is all about rationing ammo and helping out your partners. Every five rounds you're given the chance to purchase new equipment and switch classes. In the later levels, it can get frustrating to survive simply because the mechs take more damage and they're packing weapons that can kill a player in just a few shots. Even with a very good team, the best I've been able to do so far is the fortieth round. Also it's possible that I just haven't gotten far enough, but some fights against the bosses would have been nice. Still, Invasion mode isn't bad at all and a lot of fun can be had if you can round up a solid team.

What's liable to be Binary Domain's most unfortunate aspect is that the conclusion leaves the door open for what could be an incredible sequel. Without giving too much away, I suspect that it involves traversing the entire world, and the possibilities would be countless. As strong as this game is, it really doesn't benefit from its poor competitive modes. This possible sequel would do well to excise these modes entirely and focus on delivering what could be one of the best campaigns the genre has ever seen. However, it could take away from this game's flawless pacing, and that's not something I'm willing to give up. Besides, it's not worth worrying over an uncertain future. This game is one you really shouldn't miss out on.

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