Sunday, 9 June 2013

Now Playing: Binary Domain

Binary Domain looks pretty much like a mediocre Gears of War clone. In fact, its gameplay is pretty much lifted directly from Gears of War and other cover based TPS. You have the basic cover mechanic combined with blind-fire, snap out of cover fire, quick cover-switch, cover-vault, a basic dodge-roll and a simple melee attack.

You carry three weapons. A standard pistol and your choice of the typical machine guns, shotguns or sniper rifles. You also have a few grenade types you can use. So far, so generic. And unfortunately it doesn’t seem like it gets any better, as the game opens with an incredibly bland and lacklustre opening mission to teach you the ropes. But once you move past this opening things, fortunately, start to turn around, and Binary Domain manages to excel beyond its copy and paste TPS framework.

To begin with, the shooting is very solid and satisfying. Weapons feel like they make a real impact as you rapidly strip away the armour and components of your robot adversaries. You can shoot off arms, legs, even heads, but they’ll keep on coming. Take out a leg and they’ll crawl at you still firing. Take out their arms and they’ll charge. But their head? Watch them turn and begin shooting their own kind.

There’s a pretty good variety of enemy types aside from the standard issue grunts, ranging from small and fast, to large and lumbering, each with different weapons and types of attacks. On top of that, there are frequent boss robots to contend with, some of them massive in size. These fights sometimes involve the use of QTEs, but not to any irritating degree. Fighting these giant robots is a hell of a lot of fun. Between the standard run and gun shooting, the game also throws in a few little gameplay additions to mix things up such as a few on-rails shooting moments or vehicle sections.

In terms of graphics and environments it has to be said that BD isn’t exactly a looker. It’s not terrible, but a lot of the levels, although nice and varied, are pretty bland and flat to look at. Human character models look like something from several years ago, although it has to be said the robot designs are great.

Binary Domain also features a surprisingly compelling and interesting story and setting, along with a cast of entertaining characters who make up your squad. I honestly can’t remember the last time I enjoyed the banter between squad mates in a game quite so much. It’s very amusing at times, making you smile even in the thick of the action. You can select different squad mates at different times, which impacts slightly on how the story plays out and ties into the ‘Trust’ system.

The Trust system is odd. I like the idea, but it doesn’t quite work right in practice. The idea is that by responding in a certain way to your team, or by performing certain actions (such as killing tons of robots like a badass, or just, you know, not shooting them by mistake) you raise their ‘trust level’ so they’ll always follow your orders.

The only problems are 1) It’s never abundantly clear what your responses mean as they often boil down to ‘yes’ ‘no’ or ‘damn’ (?) which doesn’t always make sense within the context of the question 2) Orders are pretty much worthless anyway 3) Squad mate AI, although decent overall, still has a habit of running into your line of fire and 4) You quickly learn that simply agreeing with everyone is the best way to win trust making the options rather pointless.

This system also apparently ties into how the ending plays out by mixing in a couple of variations. I didn’t have max trust with all the characters at the end. As a result, one cool character pretty much disappeared entirely. I kept waiting for him to show up, but he didn’t, which was a little disappointing, but it certainly didn’t detract that much from what turned out to be a very satisfying ending. Not perfect, not in my case, but certainly fulfilling, and it made me want to play through again to do better.

The default difficulty which I played on was a bit too easy, so it’s worth bumping it up a notch if you want a better challenge. There are collectibles to find plus a weapon and character upgrade system which is nothing special, but a nice bonus.

Overall, Binary Domain is a game that just manages to excel beyond its rather generic, cover based TPS gameplay. It has a solid, intriguing story, great characters with amusing banter and enjoyable, satisfying combat. It doesn’t look great, and unfortunately some levels are less interesting than others, but if you like shooting giant robots in the face, this is definitely worth checking out. It’s far from perfect, but a game I’d easily recommend to those who are willing to overlook a few flaws.


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