Like the rest of the world, when SEGA announced Binary Domain, the new IP by Toshihiro Nagoshi, I was wondering to myself if a Japanese studio could make a great third-person shooter. At least one that could stand up against the offerings of western developers. Now that Binary Domain has released on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, did Nagoshi’s team deliver in the end, or should they have stuck with the Yakuza series?
The story starts in the early years of the 21th century, when global warming has caused worldwide flooding. This leads to three quarters of the world’s cities becoming uninhabitable and forcing the world governments to build new cities above the waterlines. What happens to the underground cities? They are left to rot. With millions of humans dead due to floods, the government starts to use robots as its main source of labor to create these new cities. Bergen, an American-based company, rose to dominate a large majority of the world’s robotic industries, which led America to become “the world superpower.” The Japanese company Amada Corparation claims that Bergen stole its technology, and tried to sue Bergen but it was too late. Bergen had become too strong.
In 2040, a set of international laws called the “New Geneva Convention” was created. Clause 21 banned the research of robots that could pass for humans, which they call “Hollow Children.” The I.R.T.A. (International Robotics Technology Association” created a global task force which they called “Rust Crews.” If someone is found in violation of Clause 21, the Rust Crew is sent in to arrest, destroy and stop research of Hollow Children. Now in 2080, a Hollow Child attacks Bergen’s headquarters with a gun claiming he had no idea he was a robot. IRTA thinks that Yoji Amada, founder of Amada Corporation, created the Hollow Child, so a Rust Crew is sent to Japan to find Mr. Amada and bring him in for questioning. This is where you come in, controlling the American soldier named Dan Marshall.
Writer Tsuyoshi Furuta was hired to script the game, and I have to say he did a pretty great job. It’s hard to write for video games as it is, and he had a Rust Crew full of characters from different countries, which can cause a headache because almost anything can go wrong. This is why most American games take place in America, as it’s easier to write about what you know. But I have to say, I enjoyed each character and I love that they brought up American stereotypes in a comical fashion. Even though the writing in the game doesn’t feel Japanese at first, when you start getting all the characters revealed, you can see the Japanese influence, especially with the quirky jokes and the cool sidekick robot (who is named Cain and is a part of the Rust Crew).
If you have played the Yakuza series, you should know that all the clues given at the start of the game come back in the end and that there will be a ton of plot twists. This game still uses those damn suspense moments where you think someone dies, but they don’t, which is something I complained about in my Yakuza 4 review, though Binary Domain doesn’t commit this sin as much as Yakuza 4, thankfully. Most of the best moments of the game happen in the last hour or two, so if I was to mention them here it would spoil it for you. It’s a good story, which is something not so typical with most shooting games nowadays.
The Yakuza series was never known for having a good engine. Everyone, including me, liked the games, but agreed they weren’t visual masterpieces. With Binary Domain, the developers are introducing a brand spanking new engine and it looks damn good. There are little issues where some areas don’t look as detailed as the area before it and some items seem to have less texture detail. But every game this generation is like that, and this title looks better than most western-developed space shooters.
This game uses highly detailed models with very convincing lip syncing. It’s actually creepy in moments when you see a character talk, you can see lines forming on their forehead when they pronounce some words. You can tell that the mo-cap team and animators put a lot of effort into little details, and I guess you can say little things like this is what makes us human. This game also has some pretty cool robot shattering effects that look really cool. All in all, the engine is solid and runs pretty slick. The only time I saw any slowdown that was noticeable was when I let over 20 robots pile up and blew them all up. Ha, scrap-heads.
Controls & Level Design
If you didn’t know, the level designer for this title is actually Hiroyuki Sakamoto, the director of F-Zero GX. I think his ideas and designs for levels are actually rather neat. The game puts a lot of emphasis in keeping you moving so you won’t be bored. Imagine the level designs of Vanquish, but with squad-based gameplay. The game focuses on action, getting you to one area and moving on to the next one. There are cutscenes in between some of the bigger missions, but mostly just to explain why the characters have to move on. They sprinkle story bits that aren’t explained until the end of the game, as is expected from Yakuza developers.
The game features solid controls. If you guys played Gears of War, you will feel right at home with Binary Domain. Unlike Gears of War, you actually have control of your squad mates during combat. You can give them orders like shoot, cover me, regroup and charge. You have to use the commands in the appropriate situation. Let’s say there are 3-4 low class robots that aren’t very dangerous – if you choose to charge them, your group will take them out quickly and easily. They will then fill up their trust meter. Trust does impact the story, especially the ending.
You might be asking why you would want a trust meter. Well, you get special stuff if the characters trust you. There are a few ways to fill up the trust meter, and it’s a rather interesting concept used before in SEGA games like Valkyria Chronicles and Sakura Wars. You can earn trust in battles by saving a crew member who is about to be attacked, aim really well, or tell your teammate what they want to hear in a conversation. Reading the characters can be tricky sometimes, but after you get to know them it will become very easy. One of the most useful bonuses came from Cain, where he distracts all the enemies so you can start taking them out.
Unlike most Western games, Binary Domain is heavy on boss fights. You will have to take on huge robots, each of which have an animal form. A few that stuck out were a massive whale robot and a tiger-inspired robot that you fight on a roof (which reminded me of punching tigers in the face in Yakuza 2). A part of the game I wish they extended were the towns. There are only a couple of ‘towns’ you visit and there isn’t anything to do in them. You can walk around slowly (for some reason there is no running when in town, so you walk at the slowest pace ever) and have the ability to talk to people and your teammates. You can obviously use town sections to learn more about the world and rank up some more trust on your characters.
The only complaints I have with the controls is that I missed a lot when it came to using melee attacks. I noticed this same issue in other third-person shooters like Uncharted and Gears of War, so it might just be a problem with me.
AI & Voice Control
One of the big things that SEGA showed off with the game was the AI, so I decided to write a nice paragraph about it. They did something right with the AI, since your squad mates aren’t annoying and don’t usually get in the way. There is one thing I do hate, though, and it’s when you’re firing on enemies and your teammates walk into your line of fire. Why does this make me angry? Doing this will decrease their trust rating. I thought they shouldn’t have done this if they run into your fire. However, this didn’t happen at all in open areas, only in hallways when I took cover next to a squad mate.
Some little glitches happen with the AI sometimes, like this one robot during a fight kept on walking straight into a wall. He didn’t turn around and shoot us, and I assume he was broken. Each robot class has its own fighting style and after a while of fighting their next moves should be pretty obvious. Some are smarter and use more cover, others are snipers and some are just war bots that walk straight toward you while shooting.
I thought the lowest point of the game was going to be the voice control, and it is. It’s a new experimental feature, but in the end it isn’t worth it. I appreciate that the team wanted to take on voice technology and yes, the technology displayed here works great – when it works. It’s very dependent on how you play. If your TV is too loud it won’t pick you up correctly, or it will think you are saying words that you aren’t, which sucks. Not to mention, if someone comes in the room and starts talking to you, it will pick up your responses. Not worth it in my opinion.
The headset I used in the game was the Logitech H330 USB headset. It’s nothing special; it works but doesn’t seem to work very well for Binary Domain. This is the same headset I use on the Swingin’ Report Show podcast and it seems to be clear enough there.
Sadly, I think adding multiplayer to this game wasn’t the brightest idea. The multiplayer already seems like a ghost town. I have only met two types of people online: they are either Japanese or boosting the game for trophies/achievements. Not to mention those Japanese guys still playing are deadly good. So what types of modes does Binary Domain have to offer?
- Free For All: This is typical of every first person shooter. You pick your class and it’s every man for himself.
- Team Deathmatch: The same thing as above, only this time you have a team helping you out.
- Team Survival: You are split into teams, and the first team to get killed loses. No respawns until the round ends. Think Counter-Strike.
- Operation: There are two teams, one that attacks and one that defends. The attackers have to acquire a bomb to use against the defenders, while the defenders have to keep their supply point intact to win. Same rules as survival, people don’t respawn back until the round is over.
- Demolition: Almost like the mode above only both sides are finding bombs and attacking each others’ supply routes. You don’t respawn until the round is over.
- Data Capture: This is basically a new name for capture the flag. The team has to go to the opponents’ base, steal their data and bring it back to their own base. Unlimited respawns per round.
- Domain Control: Once again you are split into attacking and defending teams. This time, the attackers have to take all the control points before the time runs out. Defenders have to hold at least one point to win. Unlimited respawns per round.
The multiplayer elements aren’t super unique, but they aren’t bad either. The game is actually pretty fun online, even though I suck at it. If you play on the PS3, you will most likely be stuck playing Team Deathmatch, which seems like a popular mode. Right when you pop in the game they will ask you to pick a class. The classes have been seen in other games and basically go: Soldier, Scout, Sniper, Heavy Gunner and Striker. Each class has its own set of weapons and attributes. A sniper moves faster and more silently, while a Heavy Gunner can take more damage as well as deal it.
After you rank in some credits, you will be able to use them on items, just like how you are able to in the single player campaign. You can buy health packs, new weapons and boosters. Health packs are handy especially when your kill to death ratio is being screwy. When you die in the game, you enter a near death mode where you can barely crawl and only shoot your pistol. This mode was introduced in Call of Duty: Black Ops as ‘the last stance,’ and in Binary Domain it happens almost every time you die. Why? Because that is when they will allow you to use health packs on your friends or yourself. Don’t expect people to waste points to buy you health packs, because I wouldn’t.
Where is the co-op? There is a multiplayer mode called “Invasion” which is actually the coolest mode in the game. This mode has been used in games like Gears of War (called Horde Mode) and Uncharted (called Siege Mode). You and three other teammates basically fight waves of robots. Each level of the waves gets harder. It’s really challenging and I wasn’t able to make it very far. Since this mode only needs four players, this is what I will probably be focusing most of my time in. Don’t get me wrong, getting killed by Japanese people in Team Deathmatch is fun, but shooting robots with your friends is just better.
Binary Domain offers up a great single-player shooter with a solid storyline, controls, graphics and boss fights. This game just does too many things right to get mad at it. Even though features like voice control are less than stellar, it doesn’t really kill the experience since you aren’t forced to use them. One positive thing about the single player campaign is that there is almost no downtime. The game has you moving from area to area and some of those areas look amazing. The new engine powering Binary Domain is gorgeous and works well.
Even though online mode isn’t anything special or new, it’s still fun to go in and take down some robots in Invasion mode with a few friends. I wish SEGA would have kept the focus on co-op and expanded that instead of adding competitive modes, but at least what is in there is solid.
- Great graphics
- Great controls
- Good story
- Awesome boss fights
- Great pacing
- Online mode could use more players
- Voice control is iffy at best