The one thing I thought of while playing Binary Domain was how much of an arcade experience this game is. I could imagine myself at an arcade with a plastic gun in my hand playing this game, something I can’t really say for any of the other arcade games I have played over the years. But this game tries to do more that. Tries, but fails.
In the far future, global warming has forced the governments of the world to rebuild using robot labor. Bergen Corporation controls a large amount of those robots, with Amada being a weak second despite inventing the humanoid robot. Well, cities weren’t the only thing rebuilt at this time, as for new laws were put into place saying that any robot that passes for a human are strictly forbidden. Somebody broke the rules, because next thing you know a robot that looks just like a human attacks Bergen Corporation. This is where you, a member of what is known as a ‘Rust Crew,’ steps in to arrest the man making these machines. Only, things aren’t so simple because the person in question is the founder of Amada Corporation and Japan, his home residence, isn’t too open to strangers.
The best way to describe this game is that it is an arcade-y Gears of War with a pinch of Japanese game influence. The biggest piece to this puzzle is its heavy influence from Gears of War. From its cover-based mechanics to its weapons shows a very Gears feel, but what separates this from Gears is its arcade feel. I found the combination of these two elements to be the highlight of this game. Robotic enemies constantly stream towards you just like in a light gun game, and watching pieces of metal fly off of enemies felt just as satisfying. Speaking of which, another highlight is how shooting specific parts of the body have different effects. Shooting off the head will have robots shoot at other robots while shooting off the leg forces them to crawl. This isn’t the first time I have played a game with similar mechanics, but I thought this game executed it well. But it only goes downhill from here.
While shooting robots was a lot of fun, its terrible controls weren’t. They were stiff and overall it felt like a poor PC port. What certainly didn’t help is that I couldn’t access all of the options in-game, so if I wanted to change anything I would have to quit out of the game and launch a separate program. One of the game’s main mechanics is a squad functionality where you pick a squad to run with, issue them commands, and based on how well or poor you are doing they will like you more or less. The only thing is all of it is useless. While choosing your squad felt useful at first considering each squad member had their own weapon type and whatnot, in the end I was the one going around cleaning up all of the robots. They could’ve been more useful if I issued more commands, but I was fine doing all of the work and I found issuing commands to be too difficult in the heat of things. One of the funniest issues I had with the game is that the game offers voice commands through your headset. While this would have been more helpful than holding tab and trying to choose the right command, I found this function to be utterly broken and it ended with me yelling in my mic over and over only to have it choose a different answer. But all of this plays to you trying to get your friendliness meter higher on each team member. Only, I never really noticed any difference in their performance other than the stream of compliments I got from them whenever I killed a robot and that the ending changes ever so slightly depending on the morale meter, something I didn’t find out until after I beat the game.
One of the ways I said this game reminds me of Gears is through its weapons. The weapons felt very similar, except in this game everything else plays second fiddle to your main weapon. In this game, you can upgrade your assault rifle, but nothing else. So while the enemies got stronger, only one weapon got stronger with them. I wouldn’t say the other weapons did absolutely nothing, but I found myself by the end only using one weapon. The game is also host to plenty of boss fights and vehicle section (and one boss fight even happened while I was in a vehicle section), but all of them sucked. The vehicle sections are just that: vehicle sections, and I found myself in some painful situations with them. As for the boss fights, while I did like the various weakness and attack patterns, I found them to be too chaotic, which didn’t blend well with the game’s clunky controls. At certain times, the game also hits the brakes hard and throws you into a tiny area where you just walk around and talk to other people. While at first I enjoyed slowing down, I found these parts throughout the game to be rather annoying. The one good thing I can say about all of these elements (vehicle sections, boss fights, and slow parts) is that it breaks up the gameplay nicely and I never found myself getting board from the main part of the game I liked: kicking robot ass.
While the story and its elements are the weaker link in this game, I actually think they were overall better than the gameplay. I really enjoyed the world-building of this game. It’s a future where Japan operates on its own and is completely shut off to the rest of the world, and the class divide between the poor and the rich show two different worlds. The plot veers towards a Blade Runner-esque what-is-really-human style while presenting some surprising twists. Not everything was perfect though. I found some of the characters in both their characteristics and their dialogue to be bland, there were a few awkward moments both in story and in specific scenes that made me nervously laugh at how weird they were (like for example a fifteen year old flirting with you), and while the story had some twists, it also had points that were extremely predictable. Overall, I wished the game went harder into a dystopian Blade Runner story and setting, but I enjoyed what I got.
Binary Domain also offers two other modes: multiplayer and invasion. Both modes were dead, but I was able to play invasion solo. One thing I will say about multiplayer and invasion is that the amount of maps (five for multiplayer, three for invasion) felt pretty abysmal. Anyways, invasion pretty much plays out like any other horde mode. You fight enemies and earn money, and that money can be spent on upgrades every five waves. While the mode played out like every other basic horde mode I’ve ever played, one thing to note is that this is actually pretty damn difficult. The campaign proved to be a bit challenging but overall fine, but I had difficulty getting to the fifth round on this mode. Maybe I just suck, but the mode really seems built only for multiple people, something I don’t have.
While I did have a fun time with the game shooting robots to scrap metal, the amount of issues surrounding the game couldn’t be ignored and it ultimately boiled my experience down to just shooting enemies. While the story seemed to be pretty good, it played second fiddle to the gameplay and didn’t feel as impactful. I see potential in this game, but as it stands the game only really offers a good shooting gallery.