I had a lot of interest in SEGA’s action game Binary Domain, so I was glad to see that the Windows version was on sale for $10 at Amazon. Binary Domain is produced by Toshihiro Nagoshi, more known as the producer behind SEGA’s Yakuza games, a series I have grown to love over the years. After completing a run of Binary Domain, I quite enjoyed myself. The game is gloriously clichéd, but its cyberpunk inspiration, aesthetic, and Hollywood-level of silly plot kept me rather engaged, and so did the game’s shooting mechanic.
The plot centers on “Hollow Children,” robots with extreme artificial intelligence and look and act human. This is actually a violation of the New Geneva Convention, and when one is seen acting insane and attacking people in a public area, a strike force team called the “Rust Crew” is assembled to bring in its creator to answer charges. The backstory also centers on the world being destroyed by global warming, and a new world emerging from its ruins, with Japan now an isolationist state.
Dan Marshall and “Big Bo” are the Rust Crew members you start with, until you meet up with a few other characters as the story progresses. The game allows the player to pick certain squadmates and give them orders (“Attack!” “Regroup!” “Hold position!”) through selected dialogue options or voice command. It was my experience that the game couldn’t really understand a few of my commands and would pick the wrong response. There are options to adjust the microphone settings nevertheless. Binary Domain also has a trust system in place, where certain responses and actions build squadmates’ confidence in Marshall, which actually influences the outcome of the final battle. Even how much you contribute in a battle will result in praise or a scolding or somewhere in between. Here is one issue with this system: friendly fire will cause a loss of trust. It is unfortunate and likely that your squadmates will run into your line of fire quite often and hurt your relationship with them.
Binary Domain features the now standard cover and blind fire mechanic seen in other third-person shooters today. You’re fighting robots the entire way, but have certain behavioral traits depending on where they are shot. Legless robots will crawl towards you like the way the T-800 crawled after Sarah Connor. If a robot loses an arm, it will look for any weapon to attack you with. Headless robots don’t know friend from foe, and is likely to attack their own allies and make battles a little easier. It makes battles pretty fun, and there are different kinds of weapons to mess with although nothing extraordinary: the typical shotgun, sniper rifle, submachine gun, the more extreme light machine gun arsenal. Marshall’s default assault rifle which can be upgraded via vending machines, comes with an energy shot that can stun enemies or, upgraded, wipe out entire groups of enemies in one shot per charge.
The thing I found interesting about the story is that a lot of its characters are actually developed as the story progresses and there are certain personal motivations behind their actions. The characters all share a strange chemistry with one another, especially since a lot of the dialogue is back to back banter and one-liners. The voice acting is well-directed and feels intentionally silly. Marshall as a character is basically another version of Sam Gideon of SEGA’s Vanquish, another sci-fi shooter from 2010, with a lot of loud and obnoxiously outspoken tendencies that the others characterize as “American.” Big Bo is basically the “Roadblock” (of G.I. Joe) of the group, the overly muscular black guy with the heavy machine gun who, like Marshall, just wants to kick ass. I’m not particularly sure how much the story changes if you really mix up your squad, as I only ever traveled with two squad members: Faye, a marksman expert from China, and Cain, a robot with a French accent who honestly became my favorite character in the game because of his friendly nature and, in a script filled with one-liners and jokes, is the game’s comic relief.
The plot has a few twists as well as a moral discussion taking place on the existence of the Hollow Children and the ethics of allowing them to exist at all. The Hollow Children not only look human, but believe to be human, and the prejudices they experience in a future shared with these machines. When they find out they are machine and not man, well, they actually go insane, which is more or less what kicks off the story. It’s the kind of discussion seen in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner or maybe I, Robot (I’ve never read the novel).
Binary Domain is perhaps the second attempt by a Japanese developer to try their hand at the third-person cover shooter that the west helped popularize since this generation of games began five years ago (unless we’re counting Resident Evil 6). Although robots are not the most unique foes you can attack, that the game has you consider your aiming is a nice sort of challenge for the player. I found myself thinking about the situation at hand during firefights. It also features an incredible boss battle against what I can only call a reject from Michael Bay’s Transformers universe. Its characters are ridiculous, but the visual design has a nice “mecha” aesthetic to it. It’s a very fun game.