Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Review: Binary Domain

Binary Domain is... an interesting game, to say the least. After playing Gears Of War 3 towards the end of 2011, I was craving for another cover based third person shooter, and Sega (of all companies) heard me. Then came Binary Domain, which felt like Gears Of War... with robots instead of aliens-- what the fuck, wasn't that basically what Vanquish was? Well, not quite, because Vanquish had a huge sense of speed thanks to the thrusters in your suit. Binary Domain doesn't have that, and although it does have a gimmick, it didn't do much to the game, and overall, it just felt like Gears Of War with robots. Now, I don't have a problem with that because I like Gears Of War. Not my favorite games in the world, but it's a fairly strong trilogy, so eh, let's go with what works. Does Binary Domain hit a home run, or does it just feel like an inferior clone? I bet you've figured out the answer, so... if you want the answer, read on.

At first, Binary Domain is about two guys, Dan and Bo, who have to go to Japan and find Yoji Amada to bring him in for questioning because he was the guy who created the hollow child (basically what a hollow child is is a robot that's a lot like a human, but without human weaknesses... and it gets to the point where they believe they're humans themselves) that attacked Bergen's Headquarters. Why? Well, the people at Bergen believed that the Amada Corporation wanted to get back at them because Amada sued Bergen for stealing the technology used to make hollow children. The story starts off fairly convoluted as it chucks a lot at you at once, plus it starts off boring because the characters are either giving you bits of the story or are spewing mostly unfunny one liners, but as you proceed, you'll eventually find yourself getting invested into Dan and his love interest you meet an hour into the game, Faye. Eventually, the story starts to make sense as it develops, and as a result, the second half becomes very addicting because you'll want to know what they'll do next, and there's even some philosophical stuff like what it is to be human. Nothing deep, but it's enough to keep you coming back, so whatever. It's pretty much a slow burner, which isn't a good thing for shooters that are like 8 hours long, but it does pay off when you find yourself really getting invested into the story.

But yeah, if you've played Gears Of War, you'll immediately have an idea of how this plays out. If not, well, what you have to do is go through a set of corridors and open areas to fight the next wave of bad guys. When you encounter said bad guys, you duck into cover and shoot them in the head. While Binary Domain boasts a decent arsenal of pistols, machine guns, a shotgun and a rocket launcher, god, it's so much easier to just fill two weapon slots with machine guns and one with a pistol. The shotgun is fine if you're getting into plenty of close quarter encounters, but it's better to chill in cover, and since rocket launchers carry fuck all, well, you're limited to machine guns and pistols there. Then you're given grenades and EMPs, and at least they have their purposes in fucking shit up.

The thing with the robots is that you pretty much need to either shoot their bodies off or shoot them in the head in order to truly kill them. Getting them in the legs will cause them to drag themselves up to you and basically hump your leg. So yeah, get them in the body or the head. I can name all the games that make hitting the right limbs mean the difference between using a bullet or two and wasting a whole clip on one hand - Goldeneye, Perfect Dark and the two Dead Space games. An interesting thing you can do is blow off their heads and have them shoot each other... I don't know why they're not just firing blindly everywhere, but I'll take it!

Another interesting thing is that boss fights are different from enemy fights. While enemies require you to blow off their heads while you're in cover, bosses tend to require different strategies. Even if it boils down to finding the rocket launcher, constantly resupplying it with ammo and shooting down the targets without getting yourself blown up, it's still something different and as a result, it does feel like you're fighting a boss and not just an enemy with more HP. A couple of the bosses were pretty frustrating, especially the final boss, which delivers more explosions than the average Michael Bay movie, and since Dan's actions get delayed because of the impact - not to mention kill his squadmates and force him to revive them since if one dies, it's game over, restart from the last checkpoint - it becomes a right pain in the ass. But beyond that, the fights are tricky and extreme enough to keep you on your toes as you'll constantly be in danger of getting blown up. Just... yeah, some of them get to the point of overkill...

So that's the shooting, which is actually pretty fun because there's always shit to blow up and some situations get frantic, which really keep you interested. Sadly, everything else isn't up to snuff. The customization (like stat buffs and shit) isn't as well executed as it could've been. It works to a degree with Dan since you're in control of him the whole time, but with the teammates, all that works with them is letting them carry more medkits because... fuck, I can't tell if the others are making them better soldiers. Ditto for the voice commanding, for that matter. If you got a headset, you can issue commands to your squadmates. I like this idea, but it's executed pretty poorly, mainly because they don't seem to understand what you're saying. I guess it has to do with my voice because I kind of sound like Christian Bale's Batman when he tries to be intimidating, but at times when I'm just sitting there, it thinks I'm dropping f-bombs and my squadmates are like "dude what the fuck". Their AI isn't terrible - at least they shoot the enemies and remember to revive you if you issue the command (sometime most shooters' AI wouldn't ever do), so yeah, it's definitely the voice commanding itself that'll fuck you over. Stick with issuing commands via holding the left bumper and pressing the corresponding face button - it's much easier and they'll actually do it. The trust feature is another idea I like, but it's underdeveloped at best since it doesn't really matter, unless you're going for achievements. Unless you fire at them like a thousand times, it'll never reach a level where they'll ignore you, so it just feels like an arbitrary addition at best. Ditto for conversations where you reaction will either increase or decrease the trust, because half of them have random answers that'll increase the trust... I don't even care, I just focused on kicking ass because that seems to raise trust as well.

But if you want underutilized, try the multiplayer. You'll either fight in free for all matches or team deathmatches... oh, and a horde mode of sorts where you have to kill waves upon waves of robots... sheesh, no wonder bugger all people are online - Gears Of War has more to do! Shit, Soul Calibur 5 has more to do, and that game was rushed. I mean, they work competently enough, no problem there, but if you're going to have multiplayer, go the whole 9 yards not for my sake, but for everybody else's sake... well, unless you want people going back to Halo, Call Of Duty or Gears Of War for more online fun. I also had no desire to replay the game because of the slow intro, and the last boss... just no.

Can't say I liked the visuals all that much though. From a technical standpoint, they feel unpolished. I noticed a good amount of lag when there's a lot going on, and some screen tears here and there. Not to mention, some textures look a little lackluster, like they could use an extra coat to make them shine. The character models could also be considered butterfaces, because their skin is a bit muddy... might have to do with the washed out colors, I guess? But thankfully, it does have a lot of interesting designs, like the different sorts of robots - big or small, they each felt different, not to mention that they just look pretty good, and whoever designed the bigger ones definitely knew about scope because shit, they definitely feel as big as they look. Ditto for the set pieces - despite overall mediocre graphics, there's definitely a sense of scope put into each of them as they look fantastic. Just wish the technology was there (and if it was, then I wish it was utilized better).

The sound department was alright to say the least. The soundtrack is far from memorable and it didn't really have much, if anything in the way of ambiance either. None of the tracks made me feel the emotions I was meant to feel during to cutscenes or inspire me to kick ass during gameplay. Instead, it just existed for the sake of existing. The voice acting was hit and miss - some of it was good, but for the most part, it was just serviceable. Nothing that'll set a scene alight, but nothing that'll ruin it either. Overall, not bad, but not quite good either.

Binary Domain was a good game. Not great, not an underrated masterpiece... maybe the sleeper hit of 2012, but at the end of the day, it was a pretty good game that managed to keep me entertained, especially during the second half. Actually, if all of the game was like the second half, then I'd believe all the claims of it being great and all that. As it is, it's a good game that can pull off gunfights quite well and keep you engaged in its story during the second half. However, I can't really ignore the underdeveloped trust system, poor voice commanding and tacked on multiplayer - all of that does hurt it in the long run, because you just expect more out of it all.

7.5/10 (Good)

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