Fighting their way through armies of deadly machines, a multi-national team of special operatives is sent to Japan to capture the head of the Amada Corporation, the vengeful organisation behind the rise of the robots. In SEGA’s ambitious new team based shooter, you have to fight the scrap heads, deal with power struggles of global corporations intent on world domination, while keeping the trust of your war-weary, cynical, squad members.
While it sounds like your standard shooter, the thing that sets Binary Domain apart is the voice recognition that’s integrated into the gameplay. Before you start, you can use your head-set to set up around seventy reactions and commands. After choosing a word or phrase, like ‘hold’, ‘regroup’, or ‘you idiot’, you say it a few times and then you can issue commands through the headset rather than a typical list based response system. It works well (at least as well as trying to get through to a government call centre), but if you don’t have a headset then choosing responses with your controller works fine.
Your responses, whether spoken or clicked, also have implications within the game. If you annoy your team mates with rubbish instructions, or too much abuse, not only will it make a difference within the story, they will also be reluctant to follow future orders. And though the impact on the story isn’t that significant, it all adds nicely to the game’s flavour.
But, Binary Domain is a shooter, and shouting at team-mates through the headset aside, the game offers a fairly solid six chapter story lasting around ten hours. The controls are your standard shooter set-up, and it sports a ‘press x when you’re near a wall’ variety cover system. There’s health packs to pick up, credits to earn, and stores where you can upgrade everyone's primary weapons, as well as buy nanomachines. Each team member has six slots for nano-tech, allowing you to equip various combinations such as extra health or armour.
And the extra health and armour comes in handy, because you have a lot of robots to destroy. There are little ones, big ones, and really big ones that standard weapons won’t damage. There’s also flying robots, sniper robots, and fast robots that rush past you and attack from behind. So, if I haven’t mentioned it before, there are a lot of robots. While armies of robots might sound boring, the range of enemies and reasonable AI keep the whole thing more than interesting.
Unfortunately, your team’s AI is not up to the same standard. Even in the first chapter, when it’s just you and your off-sider Big Bo, you have to spend as much time trying not to shoot him as you do trying to destroy the scrap-heads.
Although it really helps to be able to scream ‘you stupid #!!@ing idiot’ at an NPC and actually have them hear you - sort of. But, friendly fire is not just a problem for the humans. If you manage to destroy a bot’s head it get a bit confused, it might end up attacking any other robot within range.
However, when the game stops being a shooter, it gets a bit pointless and frustrating. For example, early on you and Big Bo have to escape by sliding down a water-way. It’s almost impossible to control the slide, hard to avoid damage, but almost impossible to take enough damage to die. Hard to control and pointless - not a good combination when it comes to a videogame.
Despite this, and although it takes the whole first chapter to really get going, once you do figure out the who, where, and why of Binary Domain, the story mode is very enjoyable. And, the banter is generally entertaining - even if the characters are generally stereotypical: big black guy, hot Asian, arrogant Brits. For example if you choose the two female squad members for your first mission, they make the observation that you’re a sleaze. You can deny it if you want, but I just said ‘my bad’ and got a few credibility points for at least being an honest sleaze.
Also, if we’re being honest, the level design is fairly simplistic and very linear. Recently we’ve grown accustomed to the trade off between a linear story and spectacular, cinematic visuals. Either you go Skyrim, and put up with the odd glitch, or you head down the Uncharted path, where you’re only option is to move from stunning set piece to stunning set piece. While Binary Domain looks fine, a mixture of advanced technology and war damaged cities, it is a very linear story. It’s not stunning, and not spectacular.
Unfortunately, the online mode is equally underwhelming. Firstly there is the Versus mode. This is where you can fight against others in free for all battles and team deathmatches. There are also last man standing team survival matches, where you don’t get to respawn, as well as demolition and capture-the-flag match types.
Unfortunately, when I tried to quick join games I kept on getting stuck in matches where no-one was taking damage. Everyone joined the game, charged around frantically, ran out of ammo, realised that no-one was dying, and left. It was all very surreal.
More successful ("successful" as in it actually worked) was the horde-like invasion mode. Here you get to fight off 50 waves of various scrap-heads with the help of online team-mates. While the early rounds are just races to get your number of kills up, the further you get the more important team-work and tactics becomes.
While there was nothing exceptional or innovative about Binary Domain online, what worked was fine - which sums up the entire game. With the fairly significant exception of the voice recognition, what you have is a pretty good shooter. But, aside from the voice recognition, we’ve seen it all before. And, to various degrees, we’ve seen it done much better.