Developer: Yakuza Studio
Platform: 360, PS3
ESRB: M for Mature
Release Date: Out now
Binary Domain has all the trappings of what one would assume belongs to a bargain bin dive: virtually zero notoriety or exposure, a seemingly bland protagonist and feature set, and voice recognition. However, when you've spent more than a few minutes glancing over the box and its blurbs, having actually jumped right into the action, you're pleasantly surprised with a capable third-person shooter with plenty of chills and action.
Seventy years in the future, mankind has been forced to respond to worldwide flooding by creating robot workers that aid in the rebuilding efforts of the ruins of civilization. Pretty heavy stuff, right? The robots, dubbed "Hollow Children," are taking on personalities of their own, thinking they too are actually members of the human race. This is unacceptable, as part of the Geneva code, and thus anti-robot task forces are deployed to get the rising "problem" under control and as a secondary operation, encroach on the large robot production company Amada Corporation. That's where protagonist (and player character) Dan Marshall comes in. Dan and his crew head the task force, annihilating the malicious robots that stand in their way.
It's your standard stop-and-pop third-person shooter from there, except for one caveat: enemies in Binary Domain feel much smarter than your average drone. They resemble the 'bots you saw in movies like I, Robot and rock a surprising amount of artificial intelligence. It's satisfying to take out their legs and watch them desperately crawl toward you in a bid to finally nail you, or figuring out a strategy that works best to cripple the advancing forces. Because even when they've lost one or several limbs, they're still a threat.
Though the action feels fairly standard (though solid) it's the attention to detail that seals the deal, like the uncomfortably intelligent robots and the strange addition of voice recognition through which you can control your squad. It's more than the flimsy system you may have experienced in games such as Lifeline, and an ambitious way to give players a better way to interface with the computer-controlled members who are also out in the field mowing down robots. Unfortunately, it's criminally under-utilized and a bit frustrating in use.
In theory, it's a fantastic addition -- build trust with your squad mates through simple interactions and pleasantries such as thanking an ally for saving your hide. In reality, voice commands are wonky and spotty, especially if you choose to take up a headset to issue commands or speak to your teammates. On the whole, it's an interesting addition to be sure, but not one that majorly influences your campaign as developers may have intended. It's still an interesting oddity that's fun to explore with. And there are no consequences to be had if you decide to forget it exists entirely.
Binary Domain rocks a great cyberpunk look, with plenty of destructive eye candy (though its soundtrack is understated and forgettable) and an interesting cast of characters whose plights do beg you to delve in a little deeper. The slick, robotic look of modern Japan is unsettling, as was likely intended. It's important to realize throughout your struggle to survive that the robots aren't necessarily "enemies," but unfortunate side effects of humanity's actions gone a little too far. When you take a step back from the addictive and familiar gunplay, you find a surprisingly well-written cautionary tale as far as humanity and robotics go.
Not all third-person shooters must be triple-A, heavily hyped titles. They need only great gameplay, an interesting premise, and solid mechanics to back up their schtick. It would have been fantastic if the voice commands had worked out as spectacularly as we had hoped, but it's an interesting building block for future renditions. This compelling adventure is still well worth your time, especially if you're looking for something to fill in the blanks while waiting for the "next big thing" in the world of shooters. Gears of War it isn't, but perhaps that's why the title excels.
+ Solid gunplay and action
+ AI is remarkably formidable
+ Interesting landscaping and plot that raises a lot of questions
- Tutorials aren't nearly involved enough
- Easily apparent this isn't a triple A title
Overall: 7.0 (out of 10)
Binary Domain squanders its potential to use voice commands in an innovative way, but works quite well as a third-person shooter.
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