Vault Play: Binary Domain

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When I first started up Binary Domain on the PC, I became angry. To call this a console port would be doing a disservice to other console ports. It’s clear that the job of Devil’s Details was getting it to run, and that’s about it. No effort was made in bringing typical PC game settings, such as resolution or even controller settings, in-game. There isn’t really even any mouse control for menus. All the settings are handled by another executable outside of the game, so if you’d like to update something simple like mouse sensitivity – which for me was wildly unwieldy by default – you’d need to quit the game, update the setting, and then re-launch.

Even after five initial restarts and tweaking throughout my playthrough, by the end of the game I still wasn’t happy with the way Binary Domain controlled; it’s just meant for a game pad. If it wasn’t for the added touches, it would have been easy to write off. Instead, there’s a bit of charm in multiple areas that elevate what would seem to be an unremarkable title to decent heights.

binarydomain-2To improve the cover-based shooting, SEGA has made more than headshots count. While battling legions of robotic drones, you’ll waste a ton more ammo if you aim for ‘center mass’. Instead, you’ve got the fun of knocking out their legs to make them shimmy along the ground instead of just coming straight at you. They’re still able to shoot at you, but fast robots can be crippled quickly and are opened up to a nice mechanical curb stomp. Additionally, while a headshot won’t take down a robot immediately, it does destroy their targeting ability. This means robots just shoot or punch whatever is nearest, including other robots. These seemingly minor changes help keep the action fresh and entertaining throughout.

When the smoke clears and the fodder has fallen, your “Rust Crew” – an international special forces team for dealing with robots – will go up against gigantic and powerful boss machines. Instead of just sequestering these to a single arena, some will take an entire level to defeat completely. They won’t die easily. Multi-stage and faceted, their intriguing designs are fun to face and destroy.

binarydomain-3Another piece that SEGA tried to innovate on was issuing squad commands and talking to your crew. You’ll team up with several different, mostly interesting personalities and how you interact with them changes their perception of you. This is handled with mixed success through crappy voice recognition or keyed input. If you accidentally shoot a friendly or say something they don’t agree with, they’ll like you less. Perform admirably in battle or say stuff they like? They’ll like you more. These binary states are fairly uninteresting during gameplay but apparently lead to minor differences during the endgame. I’d recommend turning off voice control as it just doesn’t work as advertised.

Not unlike Spec Ops: The Line, Binary Domain layers an interesting, twist-filled story of ethics and technology on top of mostly standard gameplay. Science has advanced to a point where robots can truly resemble humans, and in some cases think they are humans. The manufacturing of ‘Hollow Children’ is not allowed by the New Geneva Convention and anyone caught doing so is to go on trial for their crimes. That’s where your “Rust Crew” comes in. You play as Dan Marshall and are joined by Roy ‘Big Bo’ Boateng to represent the United States arm of the crew, dispatched to bring the purported evildoer to justice.

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While at face value the Hollow Children may seem to be a weak concept, they present an ethical dilemma that’s believable, and creepy enough within the context of the world. Combined with convincing motion capture and voicework, it’s easy to get caught up in the questions that arise. I was surprised at how uneasy it made me feel.

Binary Domain is easy to write off, but its story makes a playthrough worthwhile and changes in standard cover-based combat combined with huge boss battles certainly keep it from being stale. It won’t make you question violent video games like Spec Ops: The Line, but Binary Domain isn’t the slouch that it appears to be. If you find it on sale, give it a shot.

About Jim Hunter

Jim Hunter is Editor-in-Chief of Splitkick and host of the Rocket Jump podcast. He has three kids and is constantly cranky, but also highly awesome.
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