Sega’s third-person shooter Binary Domain is probably the first game in recent memory to bring up the age-old conflict of man versus machine. However, while it doesn’t revolutionize the genre or bring many new ideas to the table, it still offers a fairly solid gaming experience, despite a few nagging issues.

Binary Domain is set in the not too distant year of 2080, after global flooding and upheaval have given rise to a quasi-dystopian society and robots have become commonplace. Players control Dan, an ex-spec ops soldier, who is part of an international team called a “Rust Crew”, and has been sent into an isolationist Japan to investigate a robotics company known as the Amada Corporation. As it turns out, Amada may be guilty of creating androids complete with human emotions, a practice that is banned by the New Geneva convention.

While the story may sound a little convoluted at first glance, and certainly starts off rather roughly (the first chapter rehashes your mission what feels like a half dozen times), Binary Domain‘s story and characters actually hold up well, despite having their fair share of action-movie stereotypes. Films like Ghost in the Shell and Blade Runner have probably done a much better job of exploring the whole philosophical mess of what it means to be human, but Binary Domain certainly offers up its own ideas along with few intriguing plot twists and likeable characters. Dan himself starts off as a rather generic, sarcastic action hero protagonist, but eventually starts to get some depth as he begins to re-examine his own personal vendetta against the robotic “scrap-heads,” as he likes to call them.

Binary Domain‘s combat is pretty straightforward but surprisingly fun. Taking pages out of Gears of War and Mass Effect, Binary Domain has a very well-implemented cover system that you’ll use throughout the game’s various firefights. You can hop in and out of cover with a simple button push, and can use your surroundings to great effect as you try to get into a prime firing location. You’ll have the standard gamut of weapons at your disposal, like LMGs, sniper rifles, etc., but you’ll also have nifty gizmos like Decoy grenades or your assault rifle’s alt-fire energy blast, giving you options on how exactly you can dispatch your mechanical foes. Your enemies will be robots of varying size, type and difficulty, which helps ensure that gameplay doesn’t get too repetitive after you’ve blasted through your umpteenth tin can. You also can aim your shots and disable robot’s legs to slow them down or take off their heads to cause them to attack their allies. While for the most part you’ll be you’ll just be aiming dead center and blasting away, it’s nice to see that there’s a little bit of strategy available in how you fight. There are several rail-shooter sequences and a handful of quick-time events to break up the action here and there as well.

You’ll be thrown up against some rather large and imposing cybernetic beasts in the game’s boss fights, each one so different from the other I started to wonder who exactly in Amada’s R&D department thought building a huge robot super-gorilla was a good idea. Unfortunately one issue with the boss fights is they have a tendency to take most of the usual gameplay features, like the whole “taking cover to avoid death” business, and throw them right out the window. When you take on a colossal, spider-like mobile fortress or quad-engine airplane, you’ll be dashing around frantically with your finger pressed down on the trigger or hunting down a heavy weapon in order to take them down. In a way, it does break up the normal combat routine you’ll usually follow, but on the flip side it ends up leading to some particularly frustrating in-game deaths.

Where Binary Domain does succeed in being a competent third person shooter, it falls short in a few of its secondary features. There are some gameplay mechanics that simply don’t hold up to the rest of the game’s more polished features, like the trust system, which is affected by how quickly you dispatch enemies, if you accidentally shoot a teammate and what you say at certain points in the game’s story. Supposedly your teammates will ignore you if their trust in you gets too low, but unless I purposefully targeted them repeatedly, they liked me enough to revive me if I went down. Furthermore, even though the game’s female love interest didn’t find me particularly trustworthy, apparently she trusted me enough for a post-fight make-out session.

Second is a quasi-RPG system in the form of nanomachines and weapon upgrades you can purchase to boost your and your teammates’ abilities. You earn credits for each robot you smash, which you can then use at various ammo stations to buy weapons, nanomachines or upgrades. However, aside from your own character, it’s difficult to tell if upgrading a teammate’s fire rate or installing a health-boosting nanomachine made any difference. Also, given how often you switch out your characters (and in some cases you don’t get to decide who backs you up and who stays behind), it’s annoying to sink money into improving a teammate’s stats only go a full third of the game without seeing them.

Finally, if you happen to have an Xbox mic available, Binary Domain also allows you to issue voice commands to your AI teammates. Pressing down on the left bumper and saying something like “Charge!” or “Regroup” will issue orders, and you can also use it during the “Trust” conversation points. However, you’ll probably find it just as easy to issue orders with a button press or two then it is to try and get the game to understand you’re asking for cover fire or if you’re trying to agree with Big Bo that “yes that last firefight was intense.” There was even a few times where Binary Domain thought I was dropping eff-bombs at it, leading to my teammates telling me to quit being so negative when I wasn’t even touching the voice command button or really saying anything at all. It’s an interesting idea to mix in more voice control into a hectic shooter, but Binary Domain does it poorly. Thankfully, though, the voice commands aren’t required in order to play.

Bottom Line: Binary Domain is definitely a very solid third-person shooter, and while it falls short in some areas, there’s enough variety in the meat of the game to make it worth a playthrough.

Recommendation: If you’re a third person shooter fan, you won’t be disappointed with Binary Domain’s gameplay. Those also looking for an in-depth examination of humanity and robotics, on the other hand, might not be too impressed.

[rating=3.5]

Game: Binary Domain
Genre: Shooter
Developer: Yakuza Studio
Publisher: Sega
Platform(s): PS3, Xbox 360
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US), Amazon(UK), Play.com(UK)

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