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Binary Domain is a surprisingly competent Japanese take on a predominately western genre of game.
While I found the story to be well written and engrossing and the characters especially entertaining and interesting some pretty tedious and at times; annoying gameplay stops Binary Domain from being above average. Being the most obvious comparison yes this is another Gears of War style of shooter where you spend most of your time behind chest-high objects and popping yourself out to shoot enemies as they get in your line of fire.
To say this is the sort of gameplay most people this generation have become all too familiar with would be an understatement but due to this being a cover shooter from Japan that actually works most of the time showing a clear understanding of how a game like this has to be designed and tuned to be enjoyable is a substantial feat for developer Ryu-Ga Gotoku. Given the nation’s history of misunderstanding why games of this type sell well overseas it is impressive in this instance.
Yelling voice commands makes for some funny siutations but a simple button press is quicker and easier
A large portion of the team that worked on this title were employees of Amusement Vision, the studio known for the Yakuza series and the legacy of those games definitely shines through in the heavier story segments of Binary Domain. Every character has their own well realized personality and motivation and the deeper story elements become increasingly complex but ultimately don’t result in any real surprises or unseen twists save for maybe one late in the game but still manage to be cool and interesting.
At first glance you would think this is just about a group of soldiers going around shooting robots and even though you do spend most of your time actually doing that Binary Domain instead seeks to be a sci-fi story that asks the old question; what it is to be human and whether or not the things we create will ever be treated with the same respect and equality we would normally reserve solely for natural forms of life.
As with books such as I Robot and Anime such as Ghost in the Shell this is a game that explores the concept of artificial life far beyond its simple physical nature and it makes for a familiar but better than usual story within a game, something that is rarely achieved in this industry sadly. While it won't be enough to make most people want to play it certainly held my attention for the duration of the campaign.
You play as Dan and you must shoot all dem robots!
It is unfortunate that a game that you will keep playing because of the story above all else is held back by a combat system that doesn’t do anything to really change up the formula of the cover shooter even though it tries to with some simple but buggy voice command recognition (that thankfully is optional) and a strange health system where the player and AI teammates are all given only three health packs at a time and forced to use one whenever they are downed.
The difficulty curve of Binary Domain is quite random as there will be fights where you are constantly downed seemingly for the sole reason that the enemy or enemies you are facing are better shots or happen to do more damage than usual while other encounters are so easy you almost never need stay in cover. More than anything else you will find yourself being downed seemingly out of nowhere only to then get back up after a lengthy animation and proceed onwards like nothing happened.
The boss fights prove especially tedious as there is always a very specific means of defeating them that either involves locating and hitting a glowing weak spot or utilizing a single method of attack that may or may not be telegraphed to you. When a boss can only be defeated by being distracted by a completely optional tool available to the player that can be easily missed so you can use the one weapon capable of downing it this suggests not enough thought was really put in to the encounter. In this respect the game feels like an out of date RPG where the player needs beforehand knowledge gained from losing numerous times over until they stumble upon the solution which makes for a great deal of repetition and frustration.
Die evil robot die!
Instead of going the opposite direction and over-simplifying like other games do a mere hint or another option would have made these fights far more enjoyable. On the opposite end during the games typical scenarios you are given a very bland arsenal of weaponry including the same set of weapons you’ve seen in every shooter before which is a striking oversight given the sci-fi setting that would allow for more exotic and unusual weapons that weren’t just the same rifle or shotgun we’ve seen a million times over but this isn't the case.
Some online modes were included such as basic Verses and Co-op vs Waves of enemies but as with almost every other game that seems to shoehorn these things in for an unknown generally non-existent audience they prove to be the same kind of thing that’s been added to every other shooter that didn’t need them. I suspect modes like these come solely from someone on the publisher side saying “online is required” more so to tick a box on a package than to actually serve any purpose and so they are as expected forgettable and almost no-one is playing them.
While the story is great overall Binary Domain isn’t anything terribly new or unique. It isn’t bad but I wouldn’t recommend people go check it out immediately. If nothing else it will give you a decent number of hours of entertainment on a weekend like it did me.