Where’s My Sequel? – Binary Domain

by Jon Gregory on Feb 18, 2015 at 12:13 PM

Binary Domain is – in my opinion – secretly one of the best third-person shooters from the last generation.

Unfortunately, the game was dragged through the mud thanks to its focus on voice commands, which was a contributing factor to Game Informer's review. When Binary Domain launched and the voice commands didn’t work, the failure of a relatively superficial system stole the thunder of its unique conversation mechanics, solid gameplay, and excellent story.

What It Is:

Binary Domain is a handful of things that don’t seem like they’d fit together on the surface. Its combat and some of its characters resemble Gears of War’s brand of squad-based cover-shooting, complete with most of the mechanical polish you’d expect from one of Epic’s shooters.

It feels good to unload on the robotic enemies, and the ability to dismantle them with your gunfire is one of its best design choices. It’s endlessly satisfying to blow up a scrap-head’s leg and watch it crawl around like a Terminator, or shoot off a head and watch it turn on other robots. A handful of massive bosses present excellent opportunities to explore the well-crafted environments and toy with destruction.

Just below the surface is a slightly pared-down version of everything you’d expect from a last-generation BioWare game. You upgrade main character Dan Marshall and the rest of the party along with their weapons and skills, respond to dialogue as you move through the world, and even decide how the party splits up.

Topping off the excellent gameplay is one of my favorite science-fiction video game stories of all time. Binary Domain is set in a future where mass flooding of the planet forces the human race to turn to robotic help to rebuild and survive. After it’s discovered that someone is violating international law to create robots that look indistinguishable from humans, a group of soldiers known as a Rust Crew is tasked with tracking down the man believed to be responsible.

The story eventually unravels into a satisfying blend of Metal Gear Solid-level craziness, thoughtful reflection on the technological future of the human race, and a dash of Japan’s always wonderful take on American action-hero bravado. The cast of characters steal the show though. The Rust Crew is more than just cookie-cutter military filler; they feel like real people, and that makes getting to know them a treat.

The one downfall of Binary Domain is that the voice commands just don’t work. Fortunately, voice commands can, and should, be turned off in favor of more traditional inputs.

When It Stopped:

Developed by Ryu ga Gotoku Studio, the team behind the Yakuza games, Binary Domain released in the spring of 2012. The biggest problem with the end of development for Binary Domain is the same problem that occurs in other multi-project studios: People move on when the project is over.

Following the release of Binary Domain, director Daisuke Sato moved on to head research and development for the Ryu ga Gotoku Studio. Lead Designer Hiroyuki Sakamoto has also moved into a directing role for a different project, and producer Jun Yoshino now works for SCE World Wide Studios on Bloodborne. Toshihiro Nagoshi, credited as a producer on most of the studio’s prior work, took over as Sega’s chief creative officer shortly after the game shipped, and has worked sparingly on new projects since.

What Comes Next:

Sega recently announced more restructuring plans to move away from the console space, where games like Binary Domain tend to perform better. The best thing that could happen to the franchise would be its inclusion in a sale of assets as a part of current or future changes. Sega clearly wasn’t sure of the game’s strengths anyways, so it’s probably better off in the hands of someone else.

Abandoning the first game’s multiplayer and voice recognition is the next step. The voice recognition was a cool idea, but Ryu ga Gotoku Studio proved incapable of implementing it. I would gladly welcome it back if it worked, but even the new Kinect struggles with voice commands on Xbox One. Getting rid of the voice commands would allow the main character to speak their responses to the rest of the team, and the dialogue options to expand into something similar to what BioWare offers.

The multiplayer featured far less potential, however, and there’s no real reason to keep it around. The last thing the shooter genre needs are more of the uninspired deathmatch and survival modes that were tacked onto Binary Domain. Shifting some of that manpower to the good portions of the game, or to story-based co-op could really flesh out an already interesting world.

If a new game in the series got picked up, the team developing it would have to decide where to take the story next without ruining the excellent foundation of the first. Binary Domain didn’t end on a cliff-hanger, but there’s room to keep going. A post-credit sequence shows main characters Dan and Faye on the run, so there would be room to expand on the exploits of the original Rust Crew following the events of the first game.

A better option might be to pick up a different Rust Crew with new faces. It would avoid trampling what the previous game set up, but would also be more difficult. If they got new characters right, though, there’s plenty of room for a tale that runs parallel to the disappearance of the original crew; or even one that has players hopping about the globe in search of them.

I’m not kidding when I say I’d put Binary Domain in my top 10 list of last-generation games in a heartbeat. There’s so much potential left in the world Ryu ga Gotoku Studio crafted, and it seems like a shame to leave it to die.