Toshihiro Nagoshi, along-side Sega, had all the right ingredients with Binary Domain to create a truly awful game. Fortunately, Sega failed in meeting those criteria – and what we’re left with is a lengthy, compelling and visually stunning 3rd person action game that, for me at least, has set a new benchmark for the genre.

The Yakuza creator and his venerable team of developers set out to create a game more suited to the Western market. There are numerous cases where this has worked wonderfully well, and other cases where the idea has fallen flat on its face. In fact, Japan has always had trouble understanding the western market, but Nagoshi, backed by Sega, has created something that, whilst humming to the tune of old cliche’s, really delivers an east meets west product that excels in what it set out to do.

Let’s just get this out of the way first…

Note: since 03/05/12 Binary Domain has been patched to include: a proper working FoV slider, configuration tool fixes, keyboard and mouse navigation to the menus, screen size fixed and button icons. 

Okay, before I sing its praises, Binary Domain has been packaged with a few large, but not game-breaking issues. Firstly, the port. Although a beautiful game, the long awaited port has been somewhat marred by an incredibly poor configuration tool. A sloppy, hard to work and difficult to understand key-mapping tool designed to allow PC gamers to use their beloved mouse and keyboard seems like it should be great. FOV sliders, yay! No. Limited graphical options and a poor layout left myself and others confused for up to two hours trying to figure out how to get our designated inputs working. Without really knowing what some of the controls did, it was hard to map them. What’s more, anyone with a Logitec G3, or, any other mouse(?) may still suffer from arbitrary mouse movement. This had to be fixed by editing the configuration file and gave us all a somewhat bitter taste come game-play. Aside from this, you need to go into the in game video options and scale the screen to your monitor, for some reason. Rest assured it’ll display the proper resolution, though.

Once these were all sorted for some of us, I plain gave up and, being able to switch between a gamepad and mouse and keyboard without wanting to rant on Reddit, played the game with my Xbox 360 pad, anyway. Minus points for Sega.

Voice commands. So high tech. So useless.

My second legitimate complaint is the voice system. Kitted with a Speedlink NX 5.1 Medusa headset, I am able to treat myself with shouting commands at my comrades. You’d think that’d be great, wouldn’t you? No. Neither did I. I didn’t expect much from this feature, and I was right not to. Although presented with a list of confirmed working words, the only ones I could really get to work were ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Even then, I felt myself shouting Y-E-S… N-O… into the microphone about as comfortably and eloquently as a robotic answering machine. In the game, you’re supposed to react to questions and queries naturally, and when someone asks something like “You gonna’ get some women when this is all over?” and my reply is “yes… YES… Y-E-S” you start to get an uncomfortable rapey vibe, which ruins the whole immersion of interaction.

Now the negatives are out of the way, let’s talk about the game.

From a $10 indie vibe to a AAA $60 title in a single chapter.

You play as Dan Marshall, a member of a ‘Rust Crew’ on a covert operation to look into corporate espionage and a break in the second Geneva convention. Dan, with a host of incredibly stereotypical team members of other nationalities, fight their way through hordes of robots with view to enter the Amada corporation and arrest him on suspicions of great, great injustice. You see what I mean by the right ingredients for a terrible game?

Opening with a short and pointless tutorial, the bitter taste quickly dissipated as I was met with my first cut-scene.

My god, did that robots armour just flake and smash and fly off? Why, yes it did. Your first fight in Binary Domain settles our first worry: is combat meaty? Whilst other games have tried and failed at creating compelling and exciting robot enemies, Binary Domain manages to tweak ‘meaty’ into something entirely different. Of course, since our robot friends do not have flesh and bone, what meat is there to hit? But with beautifully crafted particle effects and layers of out-er armour to kill, the debris and shrapnel off the robots alongside your powerful and awesome weaponry gives you an insanely satisfying shooting experience.

Able to carry three weapons, you and your team mates have an arsenal of most of the expected stuff you’d see in this kind of shooter. Assault rifles, sniper rifles, shotguns and machine guns galore – they’re all there. Each weapon shoots wonderfully, and every impact gets the blood pumping. It is so damn satisfying to pop the head off one of these things and watch it wonder around, shooting it’s own team.

Smashing them in the legs sends them to the floor as they scurry to either escape or attack, and whilst they can’t do much to hurt you, if they get close they can tear you away from your cover – with the Gears of War style cover system an integral element.

Cut scenes screaming of Kojima

Binary Domain features a wealth of hugely expensive looking, beautifully voiced and animated cut-scenes. These generally come into each of the six chapters as a beginning and end. A huge part of my enjoyment of the game, the in-house engine manages a smooth and vibrant animation style sure to make the legendary Hideo Kojima jealous. Whilst not merely eye-candy, they serve to alleviate any doubts we had over the characters. Whilst, as I said, cliched, the characters really open up in both the action and conversational cut-scenes. They are indeed catering to each stereotype of their relative nationality, but in a sort of loving, Hollywood kind of way. The British guy with a tough, Roman nose – quick to get angry – the master tactician. The Chinese PLA conscript a cold and boding beauty queen; if it weren’t for the cool dialogue and brilliant story-telling, the characters would have fallen flat on their faces. However, the depth and complexity of the story allows each character to bond and adapt – surpassing anyone’s exceptions of these action heroes.

My favorite of all is Cain, a French robot with accent to match. This shapely ninja-bot is written well, with quips and charm and the heroics of Spock, he’s a clever and interesting character in this already whimsical mix of hard, soft and complicated.

That awkward moment when a 15 year old asks you to be her boyfriend, and you say ‘yes’ through the microphone

Binary Domains lengthy and compelling story features a foray into the sunken underground of Shibuya district, Tokyo. Here, you’re met with one of the many questions in Binary Domain. A self confessed 15 year old girl working for Yakuza boss Mifune asks you “would you be my boyfriend?” Since the only choices in the speech software which work are ‘yes’ and ‘no’, and the question is so bizarre, how could I do anything other than say yes? So I did it, just to see what would happen – and so would you.

This is a great part to introduce you into another element of the squad based combat. Your squad is with you for 98% of the game, and what you say and do they react to. Although the reaction doesn’t really affect the story in any real, meaningful way, it does affect whether or not they will follow your orders. Orders are given over the microphone (although they’re not, since it doesn’t work). The squad AI is generally very good, and when you’re out of medipacks, one of them will surely come to your aid. I didn’t experience any real issues with the squad-AI, and they genuinely do help. They’re not the hollow-shell AI from other games that so happen to miraculously have terrible aim and weapons, they do a great deal of the killing. It’s a good thing, there’s a lot of killing to be done.

Still, all commands can be given using the controls too, if the voice is also a problem for you. Like myself, however, you probably won’t need it so won’t use it.

You’ll note the character models and facial expressions are quite astounding. We can all complain that this is a console port, but many games I’ve seen for PC from recent years haven’t captured the likeness and emotion and technical detail of some of the characters and actions within Binary Domain. If you’d wondered what all the fuss was about on the consoles, and why we had to wait so long, I’d probably say it was this. Textures and effects are detailed and rich, and although they could be better, they’re still beautiful. Edges are soft and round and there isn’t anything that looked noticeably crappy.

Bad-ass bosses and beefy bots

There’s something thrilling about being out-gunned by something the size of a small shopping mall. And whilst Binary Domain doesn’t leave you feeling unfairly outgunned, it does leave you in awe over the scale and size of the boss enemies. Whilst the game doesn’t have a true boss dynamic, huge enemies tend to come out of nowhere and get in your way. Similar to Lost Planet 2, defeating these guys is about knocking out plate armour to hit their sweet spot. It isn’t as dull as it sounds, though, the scale, sound and excitement of a cut-scene is crammed into these fully interactive battles. Binary Domain features some pretty awesome depth of field effects that really help to scale things out proportionately – not to mention the fact that armour doesn’t only extend to the areas you’re supposed to shoot. Everything in the game is coated in beautiful, smashable armour – and it’s so much fun watching the bosses tear down and wear away to their interior skeletons.

The boss designs are inspired and original, often taking inspiration from animals, and sometimes just… big hunks of metal. Each one, much like its predecessor, is great to fight and although you might think this gets boring after a while, it really doesn’t… it just feels good.

Tell me a story, would ya’?

The story in Binary Domain isn’t as dumb as you’d think. Featuring many intertwined characters, some playing a bigger role than others, there are essences of real philosophy and questions of humanity. These are real issues we deal with as a society today – what it is to be human, and the limits to which we can extend that token. These questions are dealt with quite well, and as you’re playing through the body and eyes of “Mr Yankee man” (a name that pops up quite a bit) you aren’t bogged down in pseudo-philosophical clap-trap. It’s somewhere in between Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Gears of War. Would Markus sit through a lecture? No. But he’d sure shoot one up.

The story has many plot-turns and interesting twists – featuring both English and Japanese languages respectively – notably for the cop on your tale and his buddy, earnest sidekick. Needless to say there are twists – and whilst you’ll guess the nature of some of them, you won’t guess exactly what they are or who they entail.

Should I allow such Binary into my Domain?

Don’t get me wrong – this is a 3rd person shooter. It’s not a ‘standard’ one though, and it really pushes the boat out. It feels like a well made, super expensive story with a great dynamic and a host of lovable characters. Clocking in at 12 hours, the campaign is a respectable length given the type of game – and it kept me compelled the entire way through.

Multiplayer is a nice feature, too – using Steam rather than GFWL to lobby and group up. Don’t get too excited, though – it’s only a horde mode and luke-warm vs mode. And whilst horde mode is fun, it isn’t a game changer. Perhaps something to do whilst you and a friend are talking about your campaign experiences.

There are other elements, too, to keep your interest. You pick which characters to follow you and stay behind at certain junctures of the main campaign, which can drastically change the story (although I won’t ruin that for you.) There’s also upgrades and item purchasing that can dramatically improve your weapons.

If you’re a fan of 3rd person shooters already, or if you got a little tired of the repetition of Warhammer: Space Marine but still generally enjoyed blasting the living crap out of hordes of enemies, then this game really is for you. It’s a AAA adventure that merits both name and cost, and is my new benchmark for a story driven, 3rd person shooter.

If it weren’t for the problems I mentioned above with the port, and the crappy voice activation system, Binary Domain would have gotten a solid 4.5 stars from me, but although annoying, it isn’t a buggy experience or a poor port, so it gets a good 4.