After developing a host of games in the well-regarded but somewhat niche Yakuza series, Toshihiro Nagoshi and his Yakuza Team of developers seek to appeal to a more worldwide audience with Binary Domain.
Set primarily in a futuristic Tokyo about 70 years into the future, players take control of Sergeant Dan Marshall, leader of a team called “Rust Crew,” an international paramilitary squad created by the “New Geneva Convention” and tasked with policing robot-centered crimes in a world where a drastically reduced population has the man-like machines used as a primary source of labor. In this world flooded by global warming, the biggest crime a robot manufacturer can perpetrate is the creation of a “Hollow Child”, a robot indistinguishable from another human being. When one of these Hollow Children attacks Detroit-based robot manufacturer Bergen, Rust Crew is dispatched to bring in for questioning Yoji Amada, head of a rival Japanese corporation suspected of perpetrating the attack.
Once players get into the game, it quickly becomes evident how much inspiration was taken from other third person shooters of the Gears of War era. Action is heavily cover based, and Rust Crew is equipped with a reasonably standard (if future-flavored) suite of guns and grenades to do their dirty business with. One feature that helps spice up combat against the mostly robotic opposing forces is a Dead Space-like body part targeting system. Shooting off a robot’s head, for instance, disables their friendly fire detection, turning it into a danger to its own side; while shooting off the legs of a heavily armored foe can neutralize the threat without wasting too much ammo.
This strategic play you can employ through the majority of the game unfortunately takes a backseat during boss battles, which usually end up being nothing more than uninteresting bullet sponges. In one of the most egregious examples in the game, one of the many ammo-restocking vending machines encountered throughout is actually within the boss battle arena itself – and you are all but required to make use of it to finish the fight off. The boss battles grow more frequent, and more tiresome, as the game progresses.
This fatigue is not helped by the game’s Metal Gear Solid-esque reliance on cutscenes. Like that poster child for confusing and drawn-out storytelling, cutscenes will frequently pass the ten minute mark with no gameplay between, and often different cutscenes will be separated by only a scant few minutes of actual playtime. The fact that the characters typically fall flat throughout does not make sitting through them any easier.
The game’s primary innovation is what it deems the Trust system. Throughout most of the game Dan Marshall is flanked by a few of his Rust Crew squadmates, and the player can actually issue orders to these squadmates with audible voice commands. The effectiveness of these commands is based on how much that particular squadmate trusts the player: solid leadership increases trust, while friendly fire and questionable orders decrease it. With enough bad decisions, the squadmate will eventually ignore orders altogether. It sounds interesting, but in practice, the entire system is unreliable and frustrating. Even party members at full trust will sometimes fail to carry out orders or do so incorrectly, and it is impossible to tell whether it is due to bad voice recognition, bad AI or a fluke with the trust system itself.
The game’s saving grace is the environments. While the graphics are not revolutionary, the art design depicts a convincing futuristic Tokyo built upon the flooded remains of the old city. Missions take players through a pleasant variety of locations, from majestic bridges between skyscrapers to flashy casinos and the occasional burnt out parking garage or desolate tunnel. Colors are vibrant and the robots are interesting enough as enemies, especially when they display their single-minded tenacity crawling toward the player despite being almost totally destroyed.
Multiplayer is present, but it’s a very standard tacked-on affair, with basic Horde mode, team deathmatch, and capture the flag options. Like much of the rest of the game, it is not bad and in fact perfectly serviceable; it just does not offer much new or special on its own to justify playing it over other, more robust options.
Despite all of the flaws, Binary Domain is a functional and fun enough game, especially for those who perhaps do not consume third-person shooters at the same rate they come out. The story premise is interesting that sci-fi fans may find plenty to enjoy despite the hiccups, and the environments and fun details can give an observant player plenty to like in the roughly ten hour playthrough of the campaign. If you are searching for something a little different than the nitty-gritty Call of Duty fair but still want to shoot things, Binary Domain might be worth a look.
Developed by Yakuza Team
Published by Sega
Released Feb 28, 2012 for PS3 and X360