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Binary Domain review

Endoskeletons with glowing red eyes? Hang on a minute.

By Justin Towell 24 February 2020

  • Picking apart robot enemies
  • Attractive futuristic look
  • OTT characters are entertaining
  • Stupid squad AI
  • Flaky voice command system
  • Not as slick as Vanquish

What do you get if you cross Vanquish with The Terminator? No, not some van-driving pest control bloke who calls himself ‘The Verminator’. You get this – Binary Domain. A third-person shooter that wants to be the next Vanquish so badly, but can’t help thinking about James Cameron films.

It’s all here – the glowing red eyes, the same ‘endoskeleton holding a big gun’ stance… even the flying vehicles have an HK look to them. Not that we mind – there’s a genuine sense of menace, especially when you look round to see the robot soldier you thought you’d just killed suddenly reanimated and crawling towards you like your name’s Sarah Connor and you’re standing near a hydraulic press.

Above: Is this man: A: A robot? B: Having a really bad day? C: All of the above

The futuristic Tokyo of 2080 is overrun with ‘hollow children’ – robots which have have begun infiltrating the population. They’re covered in human flesh who (what a twist) think they’re human! Blade Runner, eat yer heart out. So it’s your job to take the fight to the headquarters of Amada, the corporation responsible, and stop them.

That said, it’s plain old metallic robots for the most part. Like all the best shoot-em-ups, these plentiful robot enemies have proper hit zones, with multiple stages of destruction allowing you to pick them apart with careful gunfire. You get more in-game credits for shooting off as much armour as you can before finishing off with a kill, so there’s even an incentive to do so.

Above: Mmmm. satisfying. Main man Dan takes down another robot fiend

Then there are the clever little touches, like the way headshots aren’t actually kills – they just remove the brain from the body, causing the remaining legs, arms and torso to go haywire, attacking anything in the vicinity – including their fellow robots. We approve.

Gunfights play out in small areas dressed up to look like massive areas, giving you plenty of eye candy and sense of scale without spreading the action too thinly. There’s a cover system similar to Gears of War, which is decent, but somehow often lets you get shot anyway, meaning the small wait for health regeneration is frequently pushed back by a lucky stray bullet.

Above: The scenery has some destructive elements – some of which you might not expect

But you’re not alone in your battle. This is a squad-based shooter with optional microphone support, meaning you can (supposedly) command your fellow squad-mates with your own voice. In a quiet room, it recognises words very well, especially once you’ve fiddled with the background noise threshold.

“What you sayin’, bro?”

However, when we played it in our office (which isn’t that noisy in honesty), it struggled to understand what we said. We pushed up the noise gate a little, but then we had to shout, which isn’t always practical. Fortunately, you can hold the left shoulder button to bring up a list of four commands at any one time, but it doesn’t always suggest the one you need.

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All of that is made redundant, however, by the dopey squad AI. Your teammates frequently jump into your line of fire, even when you’ve already been unloading for a good few seconds… and then they not only complain about it, but they like you less. The less they like you, the less willing they are to co-operate. Unprofessional much?

Above: What a motley crew. Will they like you or hate you?

It’s a neat idea for a squad system (in theory) and it does feel good to answer a question with the ‘right’ answer and see their little blue arrow blink away showing that you’ve gone up in their estimation. But when you shout ‘cover me’ and they say ‘I’m on it’ before doing nothing of the sort, it kinda makes the whole thing redundant.

When you’re not knee-deep in robots, there are some fun diversions. One section sees you piloting a jetski while another sees you shooting from a speeding car, turret-style. There’s also a decent monorail shootout, but again, it’s so much like Vanquish yet never quite hits that game’s level of quality.

Above: Some bosses are vulnerable to regular shooting, but most need set-pieces to finish them off

At least the script is a good laugh. The game is cleverly written to allow you to choose your own teammates from the pool of five(ish), effortlessly swapping in one stereotype for another without so much as a seam to show for it. Companions question your team selection at times, even suggesting that you chose Faye because you wanted to perve at her. Well, did you?

Above: “Where did you say you got your new black rubber elbow pads from again, Dan?”

It’s all good-natured enough, but certainly the cheesiness of the dialogue and the so-awful-it’s-brilliant racial stereotyping does make it feel a little old-fashioned. The American has no concept of the word ‘covert’, the British guy is called Charlie and the French robot called Cain rescues your Chinese accomplice instead of you because ‘she’s prettier, monsieur’. This game would have loved the 1990s.

Above: That’s not an enemy – it’s Cain, the superhero-esque French robot

Sadly, despite obvious care and attention that’s gone into the story and the cut-scenes, the game does have a slight ‘low-rent’ feeling. Perhaps Vanquish, Gears of War and Mass Effect have spoiled us, but the repetitive dialogue, occasional bout of severe slowdown (especially in the Spider boss fight) and clumsy CQC pull you out of the action whenever you start to get sucked in.

Fortunately, the game’s ambition (we’ll stop short of ‘delusions of grandeur’ because it does carry itself rather well) means it’s at least entertaining, if only to see what ludicrous scenario the characters will find themselves in next. You know the saying ‘if you aim for the moon and miss, you’ll still end up in the stars’? Well, this aimed for Vanquish and missed – but in doing so it at least made a decent Terminator game that’s better than any actual licensed Terminator game.

Binary Domain – Die, Robot

Binary Domain could have been this year’s sleeper action hit but as it stands, it’s nothing more than an average game with good ideas bogged down by terrible execution.

Avinash Bali May 08, 2020 09:34:34 IST

avg. user rating

I felt a lot of anger while playing Binary Domain. A lot of it was brought on by the shoddy PC port, clunky controls, terrible friendly A.I. and nausea inducing voice acting but part of it was also directed at the game’s wasted potential. If not for the nuisances mentioned above, Binary Domain would have been this year’s sleeper action hit but as it stands, it’s nothing more than an average game with good ideas bogged down by terrible execution.

In the near future, humanity has been devastated by floods and since technology has evolved to great extents, certain companies are capable of manufacturing robots that can help humanity rebuild itself. However one Japanese company has more sinister plans up its sleeve and so the United States sends in a Rust Crew to Japan to investigate the corporation. You are a part of that Rust Crew. You then find out they’re creating Hollow Children, robots programmed to believe they’re human which is kind of cool and messed up at the same time.

Binary Domain’s plot is actually quite interesting and the way Hollow Children react upon finding out that they aren’t actually human is disturbing and eerie. The game could have continued down that dark path but instead it felt the inane need to dumb down itself with cocky, loud-mouthed, muscle bound characters who obviously have to make a lot of stupid jokes and obvious observations along the way. Worst of the lot is your partner Big Bo who constantly feels the need to validate his friendship with you. Not only does Bo come across as a pretty needy guy but his taunts can become unbearable after a while.

The rest of your crew consists of clichéd characters such as the brash British dude who isn’t too fond of the way Americans love blowing stuff up, the hot silent yet deadly Chinese operative, the extremely masculine looking lady who loves blowing stuff up and the French robot who loves sprouting French phrases in the midst of battle. Ok so I haven’t seen a French robot in games before but that doesn’t make him any less annoying.

That doesn’t look good

Making matters worse is the fact is that you have to constantly mollycoddle these overgrown babies by agreeing with them through the game’s extremely broken voice communication system. The idea over here was to allow speech recognition into the game so you can issue commands over your headset instead of pointing and clicking at certain parts of the map. A solid idea that’s executed terribly. Even if you pronounce words like some literary student, the game just doesn’t understand them half the time. The only word I had no issue communicating was “Yes”. Other times I wouldn’t utter a single word and my character would randomly say “Damn” causing my peers to dislike me.

The whole reason you have all this neediness in this game is because developer Team CS1 desperately want you to build some sort of camaraderie with your team. The idea is that if they like you, they’ll really go all out on the battlefield while if you tick them off, they won’t be too supportive. Don’t worry though; no matter which route you choose, your squad is as useful as a bunch of bricks. Actually bricks are more useful because you can throw them at people. The best way to describe your squad would be comparing them to blood sucking ticks that just leech of you. They rarely come in use during battle but mostly always come in your way during a shootout. Of course, if you shoot them, they’ll quickly comment that they aren’t the enemy although I started thinking otherwise.

The game is essentially a by the numbers third person, cover based shooter so you’ll obviously spend a large amount of time hiding behind objects and shooting robots in the face. Now this aspect of the game works just fine but running and gunning becomes a bit cumbersome because of the game’s clunky controls. I understand your character is built like a tank but he really doesn’t have to control like one. The game also limits your FOV (Field of View) making navigation and surveying very annoying. These tactics are fine in a survival horror game but in an action game, they are kind of a deal breaker.

The worst section in this game

Once you get past the weird controls, gunplay actually becomes quite enjoyable thanks to the aggressive bots you’ll face through your campaign. They’ll come in different shapes and sizes and even if you blow their legs or hands off, they’ll come at you like the Terminator till you pulverize their mechanical brains. Besides the hordes of gun toting minions, you’ll encounter gigantic boss fights some of which are more entertaining than the others. Running around a level fighting a giant spider, struggling to blow his legs out with a rocket launcher is fun but trying to lock onto a flying gunship that constantly assaults you with homing rockets isn’t. And it really doesn’t help that your teammates constantly get in the way or you flop all over the map dropping your weapon when hit by rockets. The checkpoint system in this game is also quite erratic. Sometimes it kicks in appropriately but most of the time, it makes you replay painful sections like the one where you’ll be controlling highly unresponsive jet skies against a barrage of enemy fire.

In between all the action, the game lets you explore certain civilian hubs but these segments are just as frustrating because for reasons we don’t really understand, your character is made to walk painfully slow during these sections. It takes ages to just explore your surrounding and without any side-quests to tackle, exploration feels unnecessary. Once you’re done with the campaign, you can head online but you really shouldn’t because no one and I do mean no one is playing this game online (at least on the PC). I had to fire up the horde mode by myself just to test it out and it really wasn’t too much fun.

So now you see why Binary Domain got me angry. It pains me to see such anal gameplay mechanics ruin what could have been an enjoyable game. I can’t even say this game requires more polish because frankly speaking, it doesn’t. When it works, the game is a blast making you feel like you’re part of some slick Jerry Bruckheimer directed Sci-fi flick. But these moments are rare. Most of the time you’ll question the stupid decisions made by developer Team CS1 while a significant amount of time will also be spent dreaming of choking the life from Big Bo slowly till there’s nothing but silence.

Test rig box:
Motherboard: Intel DP67BG Extreme Desktop series
Processor: Intel Core i7 – 2600K @3.40 GHZ
Graphic Card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 590
Ram: Corsair Vengeance 4GB DD3 @ 1600 MHZ X2
Power Supply: Cooler Master Silent Pro Gold 1200W

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Binary Domain review – gears of robots

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The creator of Yakuza attempts his own take on Gears Of War style shooters, but what does a Japanese developer know about Western style action games?

As interesting as the current state of Japanese role-playing may be, it is still only one small part of the country’s overall gaming output. In fact it shows just how marginalised Japanese developers have become that all anyone thinks of nowadays, when their games are mentioned, are histrionic role-players and surreal art house experiments.

In decades gone by the retro equivalents of Call Of Duty or Halo – titles like Probotector/Contra and R-Type – were predominately created by Japanese companies. That mastery of the shoot ’em-up genre never carried through to the modern era, but Binary Domain represents one of the few serious attempts by a Japanese developer to claw back lost ground.

Sega’s Toshihiro Nagoshi has an eclectic CV, including the likes of Daytona USA and Super Monkey Ball. More recently he’s been best known for the Yakuza titles, whose street level action and gangster-obsessed storylines are already much closer to Western games than many other Japanese titles. Binary Domain though is an even more obvious attempt at a Japanese spin on a Western style genre. Think Gears Of War with robots and you’re more than halfway there.

Nagoshi doesn’t try to hide the game’s inspirations and although you play as part of a multinational commando group all the action is set in Tokyo of the year 2080. To avoid spoilers all you need to know is that the robots are revolting and that as trivial as the plot may seem at first, and as obvious as the debts to I, Robot and The Terminator are, the end game is handled very well and is far more thought-provoking than normal for a shooter.

The combat and controls though are purposefully more familiar. This is usually where Japanese games get it completely wrong, but for once there’s no attempt to overcomplicate things or leave out industry standard features. The controls and movement are solid, reliable and instinctive – far better than many a Western made game.

The only weak link is the cover system, which is less flexible than Gears Of War et al., with the inability to turn corners when ducked down and some objects that look like cover but can’t be used as such. It’s not a deal breaker though and again we regularly see far worse.

The action is not as tightly orchestrated as the genre’s best – it’s obvious that the developer was learning a lot of new tricks while making the game – but it usefully leverages Japanese specialities in robot design and boss battles. Fighting robots all the time is nowhere near as clinical as it may sound and the way their bodies shatter and break is both visually impressive and an interesting wrinkle in the gameplay – being stalked by limbless robots you thought you’d already taken down is nicely panic-inducing.

On top of all this surprising competence the game also has a couple of big new ideas™ of its own. If you connect a microphone up to the console you can actually speak to your squad mates directly (if you don’t have a microphone you can pick a smaller number of options from a menu). Not only can you issue basic commands such as ‘cover me’ and ‘retreat’ but you can also respond to their conversational comments, up to and including swearing at them.

The idea is that you have to maintain a realistic relationship with your allies and that if you keep giving them bad orders, or just act like an ass, then they’ll begin to lose respect for you and either be less enthusiastic in following your commands or stop obeying you entirely. It’s a neat idea and the technology works fine, but the main problem is that it doesn’t go far enough.

Your tactical squad commands are very limited (it’s such a shame Tom Clancy ‘s EndWar was a flop, its complex voice commands were excellent) and you really have to work at it to properly upset team-mates. And even then your actions have only a trivial effect on the unfolding storyline.

The other problem is that the squad members themselves are all laughable stereotypes that spout the same inane lines over and over again. Subtle characterisation is one area where the game doesn’t seem to have learnt a thing since the 16-bit era. Especially as one of the worst offenders is ‘Big Bo’, a muscular black guy with a huge machine gun who seems contractually obliged to use the words ‘aight’ and ‘brother’ in every second sentence.

Clearly this is not a perfect game – the attempts at set piece variety are welcome but some, particularly one section on a jet ski, are far more frustrating then they’re worth. It’s not just that the positives outweigh the negatives though, but that it’s a huge relief to see a Japanese company actually trying to do a game like this by themselves instead of farming it out to some tenth rate Western studio.

There’s not much of a multiplayer – just the obvious deathmatch and capture the flag modes, plus an inevitable Horde style mode called Invasion – but clearly the story mode is meant to be the focus. Even so the multiplayer is perfectly enjoyable and again creates a firm base for future expansion.

Of course nobody buys a video game just because it represents a good bit of practise for the developer, but this is far more than a just an interesting experiment. It’s one of the most successful mixes of Western and Eastern design philosophies this generation has seen and if the game itself is still only good rather than great, that remains a significant achievement.

In Short:One of the best Japanese-made third person shooters of the generation, and one that doesn’t just seek to copy the West but offer interesting new ideas of its own.

Pros:Excellent controls and gunplay, with a good variety of set pieces and enemies – and some top quality boss encounters. Voice commands and interaction is an interesting idea.

Cons:Cover system could be more flexible and not all the gameplay diversions work. Conversation system can seem trivial. Horribly stereotyped and scripted team-mates.

Score:7/10
Formats: PlayStation 3 (reviewed) and Xbox 360Price: £49.99Publisher: SegaDeveloper: Sega CS1 (aka Yakuza Studio)Release Date: 24th February 2020Age Rating: 15
Video:Check out the Binary Domain trailer

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