The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 13
Beneath the somewhat uninspired setting, mediocre dialogue, and generic cover-based third person shooter mechanics, Binary Domain actually has a rather stellar story at its heart.
[I originally submitted this as a review, but since it doesn't seem to be showing up, I'm posting it as a blog as well.]
Concept: Borrow a number of mechanics from other games, without caring enough to make sure any of them are implemented well.
Graphics: Crisp, sharp and colorful, they look like the love child of Sega's Vanquish and countless arcade light-gun games from a generation ago, and make it a joy to blast enemies to pieces.
Sound: Nothing particularly memorable about the soundtrack, but the constant drivel coming from your squadmates will make you want to shoot them even more.
Controls: Your standard cover-shooter controls, complete with unintentional hopping over cover during a gunfight.
Replay value: You can always play the same game again with different squad selections. A co-op horde mode offers a little more, but I was unable to find any games to join while I had it as a rental, so I was never able to actually even try it out.
For once, you get to see a futuristic city before it goes to sh**
Binary Domain's central characters are "Hollow Children," cyborgs who don't even know they're not human. The game itself is similarly confused; beneath a thin, easily damaged layer of flaws, lies a surprising intellect, but the game sometimes isn't sure what it is. Fans of Sega's Vanquish will probably notice similarities immediately; the futuristic setting and slick tech-heavy visuals and interfaces are very familiar. The third-person shooter gameplay is right out of the Gears of War playbook (and any other title using the same take-cover-and-shoot approach,) while the dialogue options for your team elicit glimpses of a dozen other games.
The problem with Binary Domain isn't that it does things that other games have already done, it's that it doesn't do any of it particularly well. The cover mechanics are as clunky as any other game where you're accidentally snapping to cover, or hurdling over it during a firefight. The gunplay is solid enough, but there's not a lot of weapon variety to be found.
That overpass does not look like a practical way to get from anywhere to anywhere.
The dialogue is by far the worst mechanic the game tries to incorporate. Conversations within your squad feel dull and lifeless, and especially at the beginning of the game, you simply feel like the entire squad has already decided they hate you (despite singing your praises in battle, or asking you to handle the difficult tasks.) Responses either increase or decrease the level that squadmate likes you, and I can't for the life of me remember it making any difference in the actual gameplay.
The make-up of your team feels like the standard Hollywood demographic-pleasing diversity workshop, a hodge podge of women and minorities lead by yet another hero who I simply call "caucasian male protagonist" since he's virtually indistinguishable from every other white dude with a tight haircut and an assault rifle I've ever played as. It's sort of telling that even in 2012, the video game industry still 90% of the time envisions the hero as some guy who looks like he JUST missed the cut at the NY Jets offseason tryouts.
Darkie, sugartits, fall in line. I'll handle the decision making, and also the right to vote.
[These same teammates will, for what it's worth, CONSTANTLY run in front of you as you fire at the enemy, then scold you for shooting them. Just FYI.]
The gameplay itself is actually enjoyable, in a sort of throw-away summer popcorn movie sort of way. As long as you don't think too hard about its flaws, or other similar games in your backlog, the chance to shoot the bejesus out of endless waves of robots is rather satisfying. The damage model on the enemies is fairly nice, with little bits and pieces of ceramic chipping away as you blast them, revealing the metal skeleton beneath. Damaging body parts leads to headless enemies shooting wildly, or legless robots crawling to get closer to you.
The boss fights are large-scale and equally fun, and invoke memories of the giant creatures from the Lost Planet series. Three story tall humanoids and massive multi-legged spider robots are probably the best part of the game, and it's a shame they're somewhat few and far between. Unfortunately, many boss fights come hand in hand with the requisite "you need to use the heavy machine gun / rocket launcher / MacGuffin Rifle to defeat the boss since none of us can apparently do it" trope. It's nice to be front and center sometimes, but it would also be nice to be able to command your squad to take certain actions, like flank a boss and use an RPG. The lack of multi-player co-op means you can't even play through with friends, Lost Planet 2 style, and enjoy the boss fights all over again.
As with most games, it's all downhill after the robo-spider battle.
Blowing up all those robots earns you great big paychecks, and you can spend that cash at various kiosks to buy new secondary weapons, medkits, nanite upgrades, or upgrades for your team's main weapons. Weapon upgrades boost clip size, fire rate, damage, etc; nanite kits give you boosts such as max health, or the ability to carry additional med kits. Each nanite pack has a size and shape, and you can only equip as many as you can fit in a 2x3 grid, so you'll need to pick and choose which ones you really want.
It's like tetris, if the game was much shorter and only made you 10% better at something.
Despite its limitations and empty calorie guilty pleasure upside, the plot is really rather interesting. The future depicted here is, for once, bright and optimistic, and resembles the clean utopian city of Appleseed's Olympus more than the countless Rapture-esque post-disaster dystopian cities we've seen lately. The underlying story surrounding those Hollow Children is one of corporate and military espionage, theft of technology, and a variety of moral grey zones that you'll find yourself wading through. There are hints of the usual military conspiracy tropes, but the story is still original enough to stand out oon its own, and it's a shame they couldn't build a better game (or at least better supporting cast of squadmates) to make you care more about it. At least the French robot with the bandana was pretty awesome.
Yippee Ki Yay, mes amis! Je suis le meilleur morceau de ce jeu!