Binary Domain: catchup review

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Binary Domain is a sci-fi squad shooter carrying clichés which may scare you off. A steroid-inflated hoo-ra buddy; combat which relies heavily on a cover system; an evil corporation for an enemy; and the question of whether or not an intelligent robot can be considered to be a living thing. Give the game a chance however, and you’ll quickly learn that not all is as it seems.

The campaign starts out shaky for the first few minutes, as the aforementioned steroid freak turns out to be a black guy who, in painful stereotyping which thankfully doesn’t last, initially insists on saying “a-ight” at every opportunity. This is Roy “Big Bo” Boateng, your one and only squad member for the first chapter. You quickly meet up with another three (with two more making an appearance later), though you’ll often be asked to pick just two to fight alongside. In-game banter is witty, and will make you smile and raise your eyebrows in pleasant surprise.

Combat is remarkably well done, not least because the cover system actually works. It’s incredibly rare to find something you should be able to take cover behind but can’t (this happened to us just once) and entering, moving behind, and exiting cover is smooth and simple. Less successful is the game’s much-vaunted implementation of speech recognition. Despite fiddling around with the wisely included modifiers, we found it to be patchy at best. When you say “fire!” to a squadmate ahead of you but the game hears “come here!”, that’s not terribly helpful. You can of course forego a mic completely and rely on joypad communication with your team, which is thankfully quick and easy to use.

"Please don't leave me! I can change! Is this the emotion you humans call love?"

Everybody, including you, can carry up to three medkits at once to revive yourselves or somebody else when taken down. Your squadmates can and will revive you if needed; are you listening, Operation Raccoon City?!?

Your enemies are, without exception, robots – and the developers have taken advantage of this in a unique way. The vast majority you come across are humanoid and, with accuracy, you can shoot off individual limbs and heads once you’re past the armour. Take out a leg, it’ll take a second to steady itself and attack again; take out both legs, it’ll drag its torso towards you to continue the attack. If such a torso is unarmed and sneaks up to you without you noticing (possible in the heat of battle) it’ll grab your leg, leaving you to (possibly) scream like a girl and take it out at point blank range with your pistol. Successfully take off a robot’s head, and it will instantly ignore you and start attacking other robots, giving you some breathing space – or an opportunity to ‘recruit’ more enemies – for a few seconds.

The game encourages you to pull robots apart like a heavily armed arachnophobe before finishing them off, as this increases the amount of credits you’re rewarded with. Credits are used at shopping terminals to buy medkits and ammo (which are also found), upgrade weapons for you and others, and to buy ‘nanomachines’ – basically passive stat enhancers. You don’t need to worry much about your squadmates because, until you come up against the unlockable difficulty (which is pretty brutal), they look after themselves very well.

Presumably, somebody told him 'don't shoot till you see the whites of their eyes', forgetting that robots just have red lightbulbs.

The bosses are heeeyooge and, despite relying on the overused ‘expose and shoot the glowing bits’ mechanic, are also very impressive and great fun to fight. That said, a high-speed motorway battle – while looking awesome – goes on about three times as long as it really should. This is one of several sections where gameplay is changed briefly to introduce variety, though the other examples are much more successful.

Perhaps the biggest surprise here is the script. The story is told mainly through many fairly lengthy cutscenes. They’re all skippable, but we recommend watching them; they’re far more intelligent than the average videogame script. That said, some aspects and at least one of the final twists don’t stand up too well under close scrutiny. It’s best, therefore, to approach it as an exceptionally witty and thoughtful B-movie.

There is a ‘trust’ system, which has an effect on a few of the cutscenes and even the ending. Each squad member has an individual trust meter, which goes up or down when you perform various actions. Between fights, somebody might ask you a question, and your answer will affect their trust with you. A squadmate’s trust will also fall – surprisingly – if you shoot them in the back of the head, or refuse to revive them if they ask you. Conversely, any squadmates who see you rack up a number of kills within a few seconds will trust you a little more. Let somebody’s trust slip too low, and they’ll refuse your orders in battle.

All the online versus modes you might expect are present, but in our experience everybody wants to play team deathmatch and nothing else. The cover system and diving ‘evasion’ is good enough to support such a game, and it’s good fun; but there are many superior online experiences out there. Far better is ‘Invasion’, where up to four players work together to survive a maximum of fifty rounds against waves of robotic enemies. In lieu of multiplayer in the campaign, this is a great co-op experience (though oddly, headshots don’t work as they do offline).

With enemies and squadmates that react to your actions in a way that almost no other game offers – combined with a gripping story with some great twists – Binary Domain is a memorable experience, and one that you’ll gladly play through at least twice. Online certainly adds longevity, but the story is the star of the show. You owe it to yourself – and the developers – to play it through. If all the above hasn’t convinced you, listen to this; there are robot monkeys, Robot monkeys, people!

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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