You know, if Sega had simply marketed Binary Domain with the slogan, "Shoot some robots", I probably wouldn't have been so down on it all these months. That was all I needed to know.
There's something about a dystopian future where some sort of robots have gained sentience and you've got to blow bits of them off. There's some multiplayer that may or may not involve robots blowing up. It's got some incredibly blue and grey screenshots. It comes on a disc. It's for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, though not at the same time.
Let me read that back for you: Blowing up robots. It's so simple even six of the assembled game reviewers of the internet get it.
There's a recurring question perplexing the denizens of Binary Domain's dystopian future: am I one of a kind, or a factory-line clone? That's because they live in a world where robots in disguise walk among men, often unaware of their true nature. It's also a question to ask of the game, since it repeatedly ticks cover-shooter boxes – aping Gears Of War's roadie runs, cover system, weapon slots and overly muscled archetypes – while only occasionally throwing design curveballs that hit and miss with equal measure.
Official Games Radar
The futuristic Tokyo of 2080 is overrun with 'hollow children' - robots which have have begun infiltrating the population. They're covered in human flesh who (what a twist) think they're human! Blade Runner, eat yer heart out. So it's your job to take the fight to the headquarters of Amada, the corporation responsible, and stop them.
That said, it's plain old metallic robots for the most part. Like all the best shoot-em-ups, these plentiful robot enemies have proper hit zones, with multiple stages of destruction allowing you to pick them apart with careful gunfire. You get more in-game credits for shooting off as much armour as you can before finishing off with a kill, so there's even an incentive to do so.
What makes Binary Domain's otherwise boilerplate brand of combat enjoyable is the enemies you face. Forget about the bullet sponges that so often inhabit games of this type, the destructible nature of Binary Domain's robotic foes gives a tangible sense of the damage you're inflicting with each bullet fired - armor shreds into scattered pieces of shrapnel, legs are blown off leaving enemies to drag themselves along with all the relentlessness of a Terminator. Given that you're essentially facing off against an army of glorified appliances, it's somewhat surprising just how violent it all feels. Put simply: machine-gunning robots to death is awesome.
The action never stagnates, either. When you're not shooting at robots, you're surfing on robots, getting chased by giant, transforming biker robots, even taking control of a fallen robot in order to use it as a de facto mech. There are plenty of imposing bosses to take down along the way, and the game's 10-hour campaign hurtles along at a breakneck pace – although some of the palate-cleansing gameplay diversions such as the jet ski section suffer somewhat due to clunky execution.
The big gimmick with Binary Domain lies in the interactions one has with the squad. Players step into the shoes of Dan Marshall, and he'll be typically joined by up to three other team members. While the A.I. partners are quite adept at fighting autonomously, their effectiveness is enhanced when Dan gives them direct orders in keeping with their particular skills. For instance, Rachael is a demolitions expert an it's a good idea to send her into close-quarter combat where her shotgun is most effective. Meanwhile, Big Bo is skilled at distracting enemies, drawing their fire and allowing the rest of the team to flank. None of these tactics are especially intricate, but they can make the difference between a pitched battle and outright humiliation of the opposition.
These commands can be dished out using a limited menu of options, but Yakuza Studio doesn't want you to do that. To access a wider range of interactions, players can plug in a headset and directly speak to the squad. The A.I. can recognize voice commands and responds to your every command. At least, that's the idea.
In practice, voice control is very much a hit and miss affair. Incredibly simple statements such as "Yes" and "Fire" are usually recognized without a hitch, but it becomes pretty messy when you're trying to get individual squad members to do specific things. For instance, it's very hard to get your team to regroup, since "Regroup," will often be translated as "Shoot" or "Retreat." Allies also seem to struggle with the word "No," which can be turned into any number of other statements. Still, the system is quite remarkable when it works, and it's also rather amusing to constantly tell Bo you love him, or call Faye an idiot.
Then there's the contractual obligation of the online component. Though Japan has brought us some of the best and most inventive multiplayer modes in recent years with Monster Hunter and Dark Souls, they're not really an eastern speciality, and that's evident here. Leaving a game can be more trouble than it's worth when multiple players try to quit and hosting is transferred from one to the next, forcing you to wait until a suitable host is found. Otherwise, there's nothing particularly wrong with the seven team deathmatch, domination and capture the flag variants: character classes, purchaseable perks and levelling systems are all present and correct, and the stages are varied and visually interesting. Invasion, meanwhile, is Binary Domain's very own Horde mode, an entertaining and surprisingly challenging aside thanks to the relative paucity of ammo that nevertheless stands little chance of supplanting its inspiration.
Sega is a company cursed by nostalgia, that prevalent and rather cruel notion that they'll never make the amazing games they once did. Binary Domain doesn't quite prove that wrong. But it gets damn close, and does enough to show the future may be bright indeed.
Now I want to shoot many robots.