Thursday, 13 September 2012

On Domains of a Binary Nature

This here is the title logo
So, I finally got around to finishing Binary Domain the other day.  It was the daily deal on Steam a while back, and I was able to pick it up for a tenner and decided to take the plunge. The game usually goes for around $40, but given that there are so many mixed opinions of it floating around there was no way that I wanted to pay full price for it (and it's not like I pay full MSRP on a game often anyway...), and I'm glad I got the game on the cheap.  Binary Domain has a lot of potential but it's story fell off the rails for me about half way through when it tried to cram a love story down my throat.  Also, some of the game mechanics, while clever in how they were trying to bring an extra bit of realism to the fore, ultimately just made everything feel a little tedious.

It would probably be a good idea to give you all a brief summary of what the game is all about before proceeding,'s a good 50+ years into the future, a natural disaster has caused global sea levels to rise significantly, and devastate the world.  To help with the rebuilding process robots have become essential to civilization, as the manpower doesn't otherwise exist.  However, one company has been secretly making robots that can pass themselves as humans.  That's a big no-no, so an international paramilitary force has been sent to Japan to investigate.  That's where the player comes in, as you take control of one of its members, Dan Marshall, and set forth to fight countless waves of enemy robots in search of answers, justice, et cetera.

Another huge enemy
While the game was in development I was a little curious how it would turn out, as the game was being handled by the same team that brought us the Yakuza series.  Those are some pretty darn fantastic games, so I kind of wanted to see how they would tackle a third person shooter.  The ideas that they brought to the table are novel.  First and foremost is that seeing as you'll be spending much of your time fighting robots it's actually possible to wear these mechanized soldiers down with your gunfire.  What this means is that blasting away at robots will cause some of their armor to fall away, exposing vital areas.  Also, this results in the robots having particularly vulnerable areas, most notably their heads and legs.  So, you can shoot out their legs, and they'll fall to the ground, but they won't give up.  Instead they'll use their arms to try and crawl to your team and attack up close and personal, so make sure to finish them off.  The other area to go for is the robots' heads.  If you can shoot their heads off, they will start to attack other enemy robots.

This may sound like a rather realistic way to go about fighting robots, and I suppose it is, but it also makes it take a lot longer to kill enemies as a result, and ultimately adds a layer of tedium to the game.  I'm usually Captain Headshot when I play these sort of games, so I prefer to have my enemies drop like flies from singular, well-placed shots.  With that, having to slowly whittle down these robots doesn't exactly jive with my play style.  Worse, the whole thing is slowed down even further because Dan can get flung around pretty hard as he takes shots from the enemies.  Again, it's a realistic feature to have because people don't exactly stand still when they take a bullet, but it slows down the pace of the fight once more because you'll lose your shot, and have to take aim again.  I'd just rather have a much faster, more fluid approach to battle.

Dan and company get ready to fight a giant spiderbot

It's also possible to issue orders to Dan's squad mates either by actual voice command, or through a selection of canned orders / responses that can be chosen by hitting specific buttons.  These are largely there to try and get the NPCs tagging along with you to help with specific tasks while fighting, or to improve Dan's relationship with then through idle chit chat.  I'm not one for talking while playing a game, so instead opted for the canned responses.  They didn't seem terribly useful a lot of the time because the NPCs would start complaining they couldn't do whatever it was I was asking of them at that time, or would fail miserably in the attempt, so I mostly used them as first aid kit carriers that could heal Dan when I was in a pickle.  Building relationships with the characters is actually more useful, and you'll need to make use of it to get the best endings in the game (Hint: Use Cain as soon as he joins the group, and use the augment that boosts how much Dan can improve relationships with squad mates in order to get the best ending).

So yeah, the gameplay didn't exactly sit well with me, but neither did the story, and I'm actually really disappointed by that because there is a lot to like about it.  Much of it plays out like a fun science fiction / action movie.  The characters have good chemistry together, there's some neat tech, and a nice take on a dystopian future, but all of a sudden the game tries to force a romance between Dan and one of his squad mates, Faye, and it just feels so contrived.  This is largely done to bring a lot more weight to certain events that happen later in the game, but surely there could have been a better way of going about it because it really takes away from an otherwise quite entertaining experience.

Facing off against another wave of robots
Bitching aside, though, the game does look pretty good. There's nice detail to the levels and characters, and the robot designs are pretty darn cool, especially the bosses.  About the only drawback is that the PC version (what I played the game on) suffers from screen tearing.  I can't really comment on frame rates because I'm the sort that, as long as things move a long at 30 FPS, I don't much care about it.

Ultimately, Binary Domain is just too slow paced of a shooter for my taste.  The first few times I blew out a robots legs, or shot off its head were kind of neat, but after several hours of this, and fighting needlessly long, drawn out battles, it just ruined the pace of the game for me.  Add on a story that start out well, then just fell apart, and boy am I glad that I only spent $10 on it.

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