Blast the screws off the robots and relocate their metallic heads into the walls – that’s the bread and butter of Binary Domain. In the world of this third-person cover shooter, you are a gun-wielding executioner gloriously plowing through robotic parts, and I’m definitely not going to argue here the God-given right of every sane human being to thrash electronic appliances with bullets. That’s just what you’ve got to do sometimes. Also, I have never learned to say no to dystopian metropolises – throw all your sci-fi artworks at me, shower me in terminatoresque monsters, and I’ll happily squeal in a pleasurable manner.
Unfortunately, Binary Domain couldn’t accept to be mediocre and/or normal. The creators clearly wanted more – to cross the rivers of OK into the sprawling lands of greatness. In the process, as often is the case, they crashed and burned, failing immensely at creating a round, complete, thought-out experience. There was not enough skill, not enough planning, and too much posturing mixed with marketing thought.
Like many of its flawed gaming brethren, Binary Domain has an incredibly weak opening segment. The whole first chapter is a tutorial trip through a long drab corridor interrupted by a cut-scene every few steps. It wouldn’t even be that bad because there are waves of robots to keep you company but there’s also Big Bo – the first brother in arms, archetypal hero with a sense of humor borrowed from the most archaic and dead Youtube comments’ sections. I mean, “bro” this, “aight” that, “yo’ momma” something, “yo.” I was five minutes into the game and I already wanted to see my main characters burn.
However, the offensively bad banter isn’t completely the fault of the clichéd writing, because it’s in equal part an issue of design. You see, the game uses a voice-recognition system – with the help of a microphone you can shout commands and take active real part in conversations. So, there’s progress and innovation, but in reality it’s just a broken gimmick. After testing the feature in options and getting one in five of my “OK!” recognized, I just turned it off. I’m pretty sure that’s an advice repeated in every review of Binary Domain – voice recognition is a faulty technology that will only get in the way of fun, turn it off.
But you can’t turn off the fact that the game was designed around that functionality. Without the microphone, every conversation provides the player with around three-four written dialog options: “Yeah,” “Damn,” “No,” and “Roger.” It’s the level of simplification ripped straight from my worst roleplaying nightmares. More so, because just pressing X in every instance of conversation makes characters happy and more trustful towards you. Unfortunately, the trust system is nothing to write home about either – it affects the ending only marginally so this is another waste of time and resources.
The true heart of Binary Domain is in shooting of robots. This is the well-oiled electronic spine of the game that makes it quite hard to just call it bad. I can’t stay mad at a game that lets me avoid cover, or to rephrase it – the awful waist-high walls you find everywhere these days aren’t always a necessity. To the contrary, the game promotes bravado and adds more points for being a quick headshot-happy maniac. There’s a special kind of glee created by picking robots apart with gunfire too.
That point system is also something keeping the mechanics a little bit different from the usual cover shooters. The accumulated virtual currency gathered from effectively exploding robots can be used to buy medpacks, weapons and upgrades. Managing that stuff is useful as a breather and helps create the illusion of gamey progression. You do become stronger, faster, healthier, better, because you see the numbers.
Moreover, the game isn’t shy on boss encounters. There’s a ton of different metallic beasts who want to pound you into the ground. The fights are usually based around destroying a certain, typically glowing, part of the robo, but there’s plenty variety in doing so. I mean, fighting a gigantic mechanical spider (the fiercest killer in the insect kingdom), a mad gorilla and a transformer require different approaches and take place in different settings.
Call me superficial but that’s the reason why I’ve played the game in the first place – the setpieces. Futuristic cityscapes powered by a large robotic population are a ripe concept for imagination. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t play up the scale and instead concentrates around more confined spaces – underground tunnels, tight passages, and when you finally get into the city, there are two car chases and a train ride. Game! Why do you do this to me!? Fortunately, despite the limitations, there is a number of nice vistas and cool-looking places. For every boring sewer, there’s a fantastic ruin with a sprawling city towering above it.
Going back to the story, the character work was rather bland but the plots weren’t half bad. Actually, they were quite interesting. The game starts slow and is really based around two large points of exposition. The one in the beginning sets up the world and creates the main objective for our heroes, and the second one offers a twist and material for the final exciting chapter. So to say the pacing is off would be an understatement. You are a member of a squad of anti-robotic marines, you have to arrest a scientist who created extremely advanced androids which think they are human. That’s most of the game in a sentence – onwards to die!
And that’s the wasted potential part. The last one and a half chapter push the story to a frantic speed with interesting developments and ideas, but there’s just not enough space to create something truly special. The themes don’t get enough attention even though the narrative arc gets a proper conclusion. Binary Domain finishes the tale of its underwhelming characters and only touches upon issues of racism, humanity and evolution that lie at the foundation of this fictional world. There is actually one poignant scene somewhere in the middle of the game where a robotized human is tortured by some folks and then shot by the protagonist. That was emotionally involving and, I believe, could be grown into something greatly compelling. But in here it’s just padding – a little tear in a rain of bullets.
Eh, as a third person shooter the game is quite enjoyable, there’s enough fun scrapheads to blast in order to keep a shooter-liking player interested for this twelve-hour ride into the future. The graphics are up to the standard and the music is a fitting mixture of electronics and instrumentals. Some of the technical and gameplay aspects aren’t as polished as one would expect but it isn’t much of a problem. The problem is Binary Domain could be more, it wanted to be more, and there won’t be no more because it performed badly in sales. It’s a pity because I could see them learning from this one, and taking the universe created here in a new interesting direction signalized by the ending. Just add more story between the shooting. Oh, my disillusioned gamer mantra – add more story, please.