Sega's 2012 third-person shooter, Binary Domain, was sort of slipped into the gaming domain quietly as a sleeper title. Featuring a science fiction plot and philosophical themes, the game boasted an intriguing blend of thought-provoking story and original, immersive functions in its gameplay. However, sluggish sales quickly relegated this one to the bargain bins of many game stores. So was this to be another lost cause, or a hidden gem?
What were my expectations going in?
I actually really wanted to play this game. The trailer seemed pretty fantastic, with excellent third-person action, a serious and deep plot, and depth to its characters. Admittedly it seemed like a game knockoff of Ghost In The Shell in many ways, but I was willing to swallow that despite my massive hate-on for anime. I remember distinctly watching the trailer, asking "how have I never heard of this before?"
|This screenshot makes me laugh. Every. Goddamn. Time.|
So how was it?
I know I'm making a very base, sweeping generalization here, but I generally don't like about 90% of games that come out of Japan. It's along the same reasons I really dislike Anime. Many will say I'm closing myself off to an entire world of games, but I honestly don't care. This doesn't come from me writing them off for no reason; it comes from 30+ years of being a hardcore gamer and the experiences I have developed from that. There is a different mindset, a different tone to Japanese game design, characters, and story that I just do not like. This game was absolutely no different. If anything, it reinforced my thoughts on the subject.
Binary Domain is at heart a squad-based tactical third person shooter with a heavy emphasis on cover. It utilizes your microphone to issue commands like Fire, Charge, Regroup, et cetera. Barking commands at your teammates is pretty fun, as long as you don't have any roommates, family, or anyone else in the house wondering why you're yelling "FIRE!" at the top of your lungs like a ninny. Fortunately you can, as I chose to do, use your keyboard or controller to issue the commands. To the game's credit, it does recognize a lot of words, in six different languages.
|That gun looks really awkward.|
Controls are a little clunky. Firing never feels accurate, the camera often feels drunk, and the cover system is incredibly awkward. I've yet to find a single game with a cover system that manages to be effective without feeling sticky, and Binary Domain is especially bad about it. Once you're in cover, it's kind of hard to exit that cover, unless you want to fault over it into oncoming fire. The game can also never seem to decide which is the action button. Sometimes it's A, except when it's not, and it's B. Or vice versa. Then suddenly, random quicktime event out of nowhere! And it never does it again. Yeah, it's kind of weird and haphazard like that.
One MASSIVE zone of contention for me, at least on PC: Why the fuck can't I fiddle with any options in-game? You can't even change them in the title screen. The only way to change your graphical, audio or gameplay options is to completely exit out of the game, boot up the config menu, and then change, then restart the game.
Graphically, Binary Domain is not awful, but you can immediately tell it's a budget game. Polygon counts are pretty low, and textures are a little too flat and shiny, but they're masked decently with filters. Early on we get to see that the water physics are hilariously bad, creating what looks like a gravity well around characters. Even slow casual swimming leaves a ridiculously deep, long wake behind you. The human characters look decent, although they have some very awkward facial animations. The vast bulk of your opponents, the game's robots, are kind of neat but fairly uninspired, looking like every generic sci-fi anime ever made.
|Oh look, a giant spider robot. *yawn*|
One of the biggest mechanics in the game, alongside the mic functionality, is a trust factor with your teammates that determines how well they react in battle. Trust is gained or lost by dialogue options and by not shooting your teammates. This would be fine, if your AI teammates weren't so very fond of running directly in front of your shots. That is, of course, when they're not violently shouldering you out of your cover spot, that is. They love doing that. Dialogue options aren't much better, because you're never sure what their reactions will be to anything you say.
Then there's the characters. Christ...these ruined the game for me entirely. It all started with your partner, Big Bo. Holy shit, talk about your typical Japanese "black stereotype" character! Complete with starting every sentence with "Aight den". Every single character in Binary Domain is a two dimensional cardboard cutout stereotype. The Brits are snotty and posh, with a superiority complex against the "Yanks". The Americans are big dumb action guys constantly spouting one-liners. The Chinese chick is the cold, severe, no-bullshit warrior type. Almost every single one of the Americans are jingoistic good ol' boys that talk like the bastard lovechild of General Patton and John Wayne. 'MURICA!
|No, Dan, I guess I wasn't.|
And then there's my other issue with almost every game that has come out of Japan in the past decade or two. Japanese game developers, please...if you want to make movies, then fucking make movies. Stop saddling us with "games" that let you play for five minutes, then treat you to a long cutscene. This is getting really old.
Binary Domain almost does this; instead it does something not much better. Players are treated to five minutes of bland combat, followed by a long conversation amongst your teammates. This may as well be a cutscene, because all of your actions are taken away, your movement speed is reduced to a crawl, and you can't go anywhere until everyone's done talking. This ruins any kind of flow that the game might have, and completely destroys my gameplay experience. If I wanted to watch a movie? I'd watch a movie. In the past decade, it has been proven time and time again that it is possible to incorporate excellent storytelling into the gameplay! You don't have to keep the two separated like that! Anymore, that is just piss-poor game design.
On one final note: this bugged the shit out of me the entire time I played. It's such a tiny little thing, but it's so blatantly obvious, and pointed out specifically in the game. Dan and Bo have these super high-tech combat suits, with this protective visor. THEY NEVER PULL THE VISOR OVER THEIR FACES. Not when they're in the water, not when they're worried about bullets, or dust, or anything. They even make comments about protecting their faces at a few points.
YOU HAVE A FUCKING VISOR ON YOUR SUIT!
Why don't you-
Play time: 6 hours
Finished: No, I lost interest.
Recommended: If you pay more than $5, you got ripped off.
Available For: PC, Xbox 360, PS3