Anyone else getting a Terminator 2 vibe?
If I chose one definitive Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Terminator 2 would rise to the top of the list. The inevitable man-versus-machine apocalypse, heart-stopping action sequences, and the conflict between Arnold and the T-1000 seeking to protect or annihilate humanity's last hope make for a compelling narrative that ages incredibly well under the magnifying glass of today's cinema critics. The protagonists of Binary Domain find themselves in a similarly bleak future, but a sensible Japanese-developed storyline muddles its memorability with poor AI execution.
The fate of Earth shows no chance of reversing the downward spiral plaguing the industrialized planet. At the turn of the 21st century, three quarters of the world’s largest cities flooded thanks to the melting ice caps. With humanity at an all-time low, governments were forced to make a tough call: draft robot laborers to rebuild. To keep possible insurrection to a minimum, the New Geneva Convention ratified Clause 21, prohibiting the research and development of more intelligent androids. For four decades the peace appeared genuine, but in the year 2080, an assassination attempt on the CEO of America’s most powerful robotics manufacturer brought new developments to light. Robots have been walking among the population disguised as civilians. The world’s administrations termed this breed of cyborgs “Hollow Children.” What’s worse, these machines actually believe they’re human. Now mankind is fighting a war against the monstrosities they once created.
Your job is to keep this ragtag "Rust Crew" alive.
Enter Dan "The Survivor" Marshall, an ex-armed forces member known for his intense dislike of “scrap-heads.” Together with a contingent of specialized soldiers, Dan must retrieve the founder of Amada Corporations responsible for the Hollow Children’s construction. Dan’s old friend Big Bo accompanies the player on their robot shooting journey, along with the stereotypical “I hate Yankees” Englishman Charlie and a French automaton named Cain. Faye happens to be the group’s eye candy, meanwhile, but her deadly marksman skills will make any man think twice about crossing her. Rachael rounds out the cast, then, an up close and personal grenadier with a love of all things explosive.
Despite initial preconceptions, the story maintains a coherent scheme throughout the fight across Japan. The voice acting may not satisfy players expecting dialogue of Mass Effect's caliber, but I found myself genuinely enjoying the company of my squad mates. No matter the hellish conditions, the party manages to come out of each situation with a smile or a wise-ass comment to lighten the mood. Whether Charlie’s being mocked for his lack of James Bond knowledge or Faye’s turning down Dan’s multiple pick-up attempts, the group’s chemistry elicits hope in the face of adversity.
Dan may be nicknamed the "Survivor," but even he needs time to regenerate from multiple bullet wounds.
Too bad my teammates took little care to avoid my incoming rounds in the midst of firefights. On several occasions, my team members casually wandered through my firearm's reticle as I unloaded on advancing enemy reinforcements. Normally I could write this stain off as a mere AI blemish, but the problem goes much deeper. The developers at Yakuza Studio implemented a trust-based system that affects the way your allies perform when under fire. If they see Dan sending robots to the scrapyard afterlife with expertly placed headshots, they are more likely to obey orders. However, the more friendly fire damage Dan inflicts, the less often they comply with commands. For many of the normal encounters, the player's skills will suffice in putting down the android opposition, but against bosses capable of launching barrage after barrage of incapacitating missiles, hearing teammates refuse to revive me because I put an accidental round in their backs severely detracted from the enjoyment.
Standard contextual commands range from regrouping to laying down covering fire, but for those so inclined, one may also issue orders with the use of an Xbox Kinect or headset. Unfortunately, the voice recognition is shoddy at best. While the menus provide an impressive list of acceptable commands and reactions, I could only get the game to accurately acknowledge a handful. I repeatedly shouted “Regroup” and “Attack” during a number of instances, but Binary Domain recognized “Rush” and “Affirmative” respectively. Thankfully, this type of interaction remains completely optional, and I do not recommend a playthrough with these settings unless you want to see nonsensical translations.
A fair number of boss encounters keep the lengthy chapter tedium from setting in.
As I previously mentioned, your own skills are more than a match for scrap-heads thanks to the tight controls that exceed expectations. I consider shooters of all varieties my video game specialty, and let me say, I find few things more infuriating than dead zones that inhibit precise movements required in the heat of battle. Without the presence of aim assist, I was able to target specific enemies without hitting the usual snags when multiple targets fill the crosshairs. This lack of aiming interference is important because Binary Domain gives players several ways to dispatch their adversaries. Popping a few rounds into a robot’s head will temporarily rewire the headless machine to fight its former allies. Blasting off another’s arms will disable its firing capabilities, but taking out its legs will cause the metallic scrapheap to stumble or crawl toward Dan’s position in desperation.
When not pinned down by gunfire, Dan can spend credits earned from each robot destroyed on new nanomachine boosts and weapon upgrades. The typical improvements in health, reload speed, and first aid carrying capacity remain purchasable from the scattered vending machines, but players can only equip enough perks to fill a three-by-two grid. And alterations to the damage, accuracy, clip size, etc. of each squad mate’s unique firearm mean weapon enhancements are no more varied.
Nanomachines give Dan's squad a critical advantage in tougher firefights.
Free access to the multiplayer also comes as part of the package. Four maps can be played competitively across seven different modes with very minor twists on standard Team Deathmatch, Search and Destroy, Capture the Flag, and so on. Disappointingly, the online component neglects any sort of depth or originality. Instead of five-on-five battles pitting humans against their robot equivalents, the only competition lies between resistance forces and military police. Glaring issues further exacerbate my complaints, namely the allocation of one spawn point per team and the lack of any skill-based matchmaking. Out of a dozen matches, I faced off against someone nearing the upper 40s in rank (50 in total) with frustrating regularity. I wish I could say the cooperative Invasion mode felt less tacked-on, but all that awaits is more exploding scrap-head action already plenty abundant in the campaign.
At least the gorgeous detail of a dystopian Japan rounds out Binary Domain’s pro column. The Yakuza franchise boasts considerable details to its characters and environments, so it comes as little shock that the same engine powering Binary Domain looks equally astounding. Androids fragment and disintegrate to realistic degrees, and fantastic lip syncs do the impressive character models more favors. The humans even sport a remarkable lack of jagged/pop-in textures.
Although it would be too easy to write Binary Domain off as another Gears of War clone, there’s enough polish and fresh content (implemented poorly) that helps distinguish this shooter from the rest of the third-person genre. However, I am undoubtedly sure Sega’s latest publishing will go largely unnoticed given the wealth of other upcoming releases. A few memorable campaign moments and tacked-on multiplayer suggest little more than a rental for Binary Domain, but I do recommend the cheap investment once the slower summer months hit. If the prospect of humanoid machines overthrowing their captors amid the slums/luxuries of a Tokyo setting appeals to your inner sci-fi nerd, Binary Domain will guarantee your money's worth, provided you are short of overwhelming expectations.
Developer: Yakuza Studio
Release Date: February 28, 2012
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign), 2-10 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3