A soldier named Big Bo. A French speaking robot. Robots that look like humans that don’t actually know they are robots. These are a few of the crazy things you can find in Binary Domain. It’s a Japanese take on the Western third-person shooter that actually manages to play well while keeping that insanity we love.
You take control of a US soldier named Dan Marshall. He is part of a Rust Crew, task forces employed to fight against violaters of the New Geneva Convention, particularly Clause 21 which states no robots that can pass a human can be made. Their mission is to infiltrate Japan and go after Yoji Amada, head of one of the most powerful robotics companies in the world and the most likely person to have created these “Hollow Children.”
For most of the game, this is the one plot point. A lot of stuff happens between the beginning and the turning point, sure, but most of it is just fighting to get to the Amada building. It’s when you finally arrive that the story gets a bit more interesting. Unfortunately, it also pulls the old trick of switching baddies in the last act, and it is just as annoying here as ever.
What really saves the story portion of the game is the strength of the dialogue and the characters. The writing is often quite silly, something I’ve come to expect from Japanese games. It’s also very funny at points (maybe not intentionally…) and managed to make me really like some of the squad mates you get over the course of the game. I was surprised to find myself actually caring about a few of them by the end of the game.
As for the gameplay itself, it is your fairly standard third-person shooter fare. Gears of War is the most identifiable point of homage here in the style of action and the feel. Robots blow up really well when you shoot them and shooting different parts will have varying effects. Blowing off the legs stop their shooting and force them to crawl after you instead. Destroying the head actually turns them to your side. The game is also fairly easy (on Normal, at least) and you can go on crazy rampages where you take out five or six robots in one clip. It’s immensely fun when it flows.
That flow is often broken up by boss fights. There are several of these in the game and they range from mildly annoying to downright frustrating. One particular boss is very quick and can knock you over several times in a row before you can get up. Another shoots rockets that fling you through the air and require a considerable amount of time to recover from. You kill each of them by shooting their glowing weak points with ungodly amounts of ammunition. I did not enjoy most of these fights and felt they got in the way of the fun I had mowing down waves of simpler robots.
Binary Domain also has voice support, where you can issue commands to your squad members. I did not use the voice commands but the game also gives you the ability to choose from a smaller set of responses with button presses. These responses alter the trust levels of your various teammates, just as shooting them or killing several enemies in a row can. This trust level triggers various scenes throughout the game and can (mildly) affect the ending. The choices for what to say are often silly but it just adds to the amusing nature of the game.
Killing enemies also gives you credits which you can spend in two ways. One way is to buy nanomachines for each of your squad members. These nanomachines improve the members in various ways, like more health or quicker reload speed. Each of them has their own shape and must be inserted into a small grid, à la Resident Evil 4. This prevents you from using all the upgrades concurrently.
The other way to spend credits is to upgrade the primary weapon of every member. These upgrades are things like accuracy, clip size, and damage done per shot. As you progress, more levels become unlocked. There are secondary weapons to be picked up off dead enemies but those are not upgradeable. These upgrade systems aren’t very deep but give enough sense of bettering your character that you want to check every upgrade terminal along the way.
The campaign clocks in at about eight hours, which I feel is the perfect length. Any longer and I would have started to get bored. Co-op is not part of the game, which is unfortunate. I can imagine some of the frustrating moments in the game being much more enjoyable with another person to help out. There is competitive multiplayer but I didn’t touch it at all and will not bother talking about it.
I had a very enjoyable time with Binary Domain. Its combat was snappy and satisfying enough to keep me engaged for the entire game (only slowing down for those boss fights). The story and characters are crazy but still takes itself seriously in that way only Japanese games do. If you’re looking for a third-person shooter that does things a little differently and can enjoy some crazy, Binary Domain might just be the game you’re looking for.
GamesBeat 2014 — VentureBeat’s sixth annual event on disruption in the video game market — is coming up on Sept 15-16 in San Francisco. Purchase your ticket now to save $200!