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Binary Domain is set in the year 2080, with the world having been devastated by rising sea levels decades earlier. Though millions died all around the world, civilization persevered, with major cities building upwards into the sky, creating an overcity/undercity dichotomy that is basically a prerequisite for this kind of dystopian future setting. With the loss in population and increase in the need for labor during production of overcities, robots became the prime workforce. Robotics continued to grow in the decades since, and in the present of 2080, robots are common. As the presence of robots grew, the New Geneva Conventions were ratified, which outlawed the production of any robot that could pass for human. At the beginning of the game, it is discovered that there are hundreds of sophisticated robots living among humanity that not only appear human, but believe they are human, with false memories and everything. It is believed that the recluse CEO of Japan’s largest robotics manufacturer is behind it, and the UN sends in a “rust crew” to apprehend him, which is basically a special military organization with the sole purpose of enforcing the New Geneva Conventions.
While the premise and setting are not the most unique, taking many cues from things like “I, Robot”, “Terminator”, and “Battlestar Galactica”, it winds up being interesting and a lot fun. One thing I really appreciated about the game was that it isn’t afraid to tell it’s story. So many shooters feel like they are afraid to go more than 30 seconds without the player shooting something; but Binary Domain takes the time to lay out the setting, characters, and plot in such a way that gives the game more of a purpose. There are lots of cutscenes, consisting of both lengthy dialogue scenes and over-the-top action with the kind of Japanese cinematic flair you’d find in something like Metal Gear Solid. The game also raises some ethical and moral questions, like what really is the definition humanity. These types of themes have certainly been done before, but nevertheless, they’re done well here. It’s not all good though, as some of the dialogue, especially the combat dialogue, can come off as cheesy, and some of the “emotional” moments fall a bit flat. Despite those minor issues, the story and storytelling is a lot of fun, and the game delivers those kinds of crazy Japanese cutscenes you’re just not going to find in other third person shooters.
If you want a very basic and very unfair description of what exactly Binary Domain is, then I would say it is Japanese Gears of War. Like I said, this is a very unfair description, but it is mostly accurate. The game is a cover based third person shooter, with linear levels and some cinematic set piece moments thrown in for good measure. The game actually does have quite a bit of a variety, and while you’ll spend most of the 8-9 hour campaign stopping and popping through linear levels, there are lots of parts that change up the gameplay, meaning you’ll never really be doing one thing for very long. There are a good amount of boss fights, with some being simply enormous, having multiple weak points and several phases. The level design is fairly standard for the genre, but it gets the job done.
One of the most talked about features of this game leading up to its release was the voice commands and squad interactions, but I was unimpressed with this feature. The combat commands are no more advanced than what games like Socom and Rainbow Six 3 have done, and the social interactions serve little point. In between combat encounters, your squad mates will sometimes talk to you, and you have the ability to respond, which seems like a cool way to engage you in the game and make you feel like you are actually interacting with your teammates. Unfortunately, your interactions are very limited, usually meaning you can either disagree or agree. Each squad member does have a loyalty rating, which affects how they respond to your orders and can even affect some late game story stuff, but this doesn’t really add much to the game.
I had a hell of time getting the game to recognize my voice commands, and oftentimes the mic would pick up background noise, and the characters would think I was trying to say things, constantly yelling “speak up!” and “I didn’t catch that!”. It’s entirely possible my sound environment was not ideal, but it hardly matters given that it is much more reliable to give orders and respond to squad mates using the controller. I turned off the voice commands a few hours in, and never missed them. I find it odd that this was such a touted feature, considering it’s not that crucial to the game. It would have been cool if it worked better, but I didn’t really feel the game lost anything when I turned the voice commands off, in fact, I enjoyed myself more not having to worry about it.