Imagine a world where your toaster hates you, and would revel in your and your species’ total annihilation. That’s the world presented in Sega’s latest sci-fi shooter Binary Domain. Sort of. The game is set in a not too distant Tokyo future, in which the Amada Corporation has begun to manufacture humanoid robots/cyborgs which have infiltrated normal society and which must be stopped at all costs to ensure the survival of the species.
The plot is very obviously influenced by the dystopian sci-fi of Philip K. Dick, bearing the same grotesque extrapolations of the destructive technophilia of Blade Runner, and the same futuristic horror tones of the Terminator franchise. In that respect, the game is able to rise well above its traditional market siblings, and though the gameplay feels remarkably familiar (there is certainly a massive genetic similarity with Gears of War in the cogs of the game) that clever narrative fabric makes for a refreshing spin on a well-trodden generic road.
The other thing that makes Binary Domain stand apart from its fellows is the choice and quality of the enemies you face as Sergeant Dan Marshall. Not only are they good to look at, the destructive behaviours of the robot foes make shooting them a whole lot of fun, offering not only an oddly gorey element to their “deaths”, but also a tangible gauge as to how close they are to being stopped. And that counts for a lot when you consider the charisma-less, barely evolved henchmen that most FPS games (even those that profess to higher intelligence in their narrative) deal in.
There is a gleeful irreverence to the violence on show here, and a frenetic pace that drives the action, which makes the 10 hour run time fly through, and though familiarity will lurk around every corner for most gamers familiar with the genre, there is never a dull or overly-cliched moment to distract. That is partly thanks to the variation in enemy types, from grunts up to several challenging bosses, but the most crucial factor is the game’s diligent dedication to using tried and tested formulas and adding a flourish of innovation (in superficialities like character design, narrative and destruction) without bending or breaking too many conventions.
The flip-side of that unfortunately is that when Binary Domain does make departures, like in the now oft-mentioned jet-ski section, it begins to become a little threadbare. The slickness that was obviously based on familiarity wanes a little and you begin to wish, in some illogical defiance, that the developers had just kept to the typical blue-prints.
Binary Domain is also a team game, and allows basic voice commands (though through a headset as opposed to using Kinect), including some swears, as well as standard button commands for those who don’t feel comfortable shouting at sprites. Alongside the command system, which allows for basic prompts like “cover me” and others of that ilk, there’s also a reputation system that dictates relationships based on your actions and responses. So basically, do right by your squad, and treat them nicely, and they’ll respond in kind, but be a tyrranical leader and you’ll not enjoy their tips or responsiveness in battle.
In all honesty, despite how good the system sounds in theory, it isn’t executed at a deep enough level and it takes an awful lot of badness to really turn your squad off you. Where the behaviour system is responsive and multi-stranded in a game Fable or Mass Effect, where it works very well, there doesn’t seem to be anything like the same kind of immediate response between behaviour and consequence in Binary Domain. And your choices won’t actually affect the outcome of the game, other than very superficially, so it’s difficult to feel really invested in the feature.
The long and short of the solo campaign is that it does a lot well, chiefly those elements that very obviously lend from other cover-based first person shooters, but there isn’t enough innovation done well to make it any more than a good game, and the fact that most of the attempted innovations fail means Binary Domain can’t really aspire to the highest level of greatness. But it is remarkably good fun while it lasts.
Aside from the solo campaign, there is a typically familiar multi-player (but no Co-op campaign play), including the now obligatory Horde inspired mode (called Invasion here), as well as death-match and base capture modes, which are all disposably diverting enough, but the question of longevity is a completely different matter.