In Context: A “Binary Domain” Anecdote

 Yet another Machismo-driven shooter

Having just come off of playing Metro: Last Night, one of the most unexpectedly boring games I’ve played this year, I was feeling a bit disillusioned by these sort of machismo-driven shooters, as if possibly I had outgrown their novelty. Perhaps I even felt that I had less and less to say about disposable action-hero games. I wanted to love both of the Metro games when I first picked them up, only to have had to wade through “stealth tactics” (which here reads more like “myopic enemies”), a silly trade system mixed with a complicated set of ammo, as well as loudouts which we’ve all seen before. This doesn’t even mention the oppressive sexism pervading this game disguised as grit and realism. I wanted so much for this to be the literature brought to life that I felt was implied by it being based on actual hard-published books, so you can imagine how I was a bit disappointed when the reality clashed with my expectation. My mistake here was to carry this expectation of disappointment to Binary Domain, as if they really had anything in common other than guns and shooting. That being said, the bar was set so low that the game this article is actually about couldn’t possibly make me feel any worse about the action/shooter subgenre. It didn’t, and I was pleasantly surprised.

 Lack of narrative imagination doesn’t mean this game isn’t fun

Let me make one thing clear, this game is by no means breaking any ground. Binary Domain is very derivative and there simply isn’t enough here if you are expecting anything more than a fun time-waster. From the Gears of War Vs. Dead Space gameplay to the Final Fantasy XIII meets Neuromancer presentation, it’s all been done before. That isn’t to say the game is bad by any stretch, it’s not. If you like tearing robots to pieces in damage-mitigation style cover shooters with RPG elements, this game will certainly give you a few good hours of slightly inaccurate assault rifle wielding fun.

Basically, you fight angry robots by shooting their limbs off until they crumple to the ground and explode. Enemies will rise like zombies after falling if you haven’t reduced their HP to 0 and will crawl towards you if their legs have been shot off. A few good shots to the head will actually dislodge this apparently optional digit and scramble their sensors so that they begin attacking one another. This last bit is my favourite part of the combat because turned robots will never attack you and feel more like pets than dysfunctional automatons.

The presentation of this title is flawed but is overall a well-conceived setting. Heavily borrowing from Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell, the city is cool and sleek with a very seedy underbelly. Buildings stab high into the atmosphere and the snaking highways you sometimes access seem structurally unnecessary to the city but still manage to capture a sense of speed and chaotic complexity. Vehicles with five wheels exist alongside copbots which can drive sideways and transform into mobile, scorpion-inspired assault cannons. The UI, the feel of the story, and the highly scripted boss battles remind me quite a bit of Final Fantasy XIII, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This game’s universe hits a lot of the dystopian sweet spots which 80’s and 90’s cyberpunk anime cop series did, so much so that I’ve gone to YouTube in search of lost or unenforced licences to watch in the public domain. City Hunter and Bubblegum Crisis have also made appearances in my living room, and I’m currently making my way through Stand Alone Complex once again. This shit is fabulous.

Issues with core mechanics: Why must you put your bad driving sim’s in my perfectly serviceable shooter?

One complaint I have with the game is it’s flow-breaking deviations from the core mechanic. There are a couple of driving scenes which seem much too sloppily assembled to be included into the final game. Cutscenes would have worked better in these places, but a couple of deaths should be sufficient to leave them behind. There are some cinematic quick time events which get in the way and slow the gameplay to a crawl. Most of these events involve jumping from one place to another and being caught by one of your team-members, the developer didn’t miss an opportunity for your character to leap from an exploding place. Mini-games are peppered throughout the main campaign as well. You will find yourself avoiding flying recon bots and piloting hacked enemies during scripted events once in a while, and they never seem totally organic, as if they are included to artificially extend the length of the game.

The bosses in the game are big and impressively designed from an artistic standpoint. One such boss is a Battletech-looking thing with giant wheelies which allow it to give chase on the highway. It inspires fear at first which quickly gives way to boredom as you come to realize that the mech’s firepower is exceedingly weak, as is your own, which makes for a long, repetitive battle. Many of the boss battles are like this, which doesn’t make for great gameplay. I would have loved some challenge to any of the large machines you end up fighting, even the final battle was a test of endurance rather than skill or strategy.

The modular nanomachine system is reminiscent of materia from Final Fantasy VII in that you have a certain amount of slots and the modifications take up physical space within them. They can be mixed and matched however you like as long as you can fit them together like Tetris pieces. Most of your yen will be sunk into upgrading everyone’s own unique main weapon. Each of these weapons are different enough for your NPC team members to have different strengths, but they each upgrade to different levels. This means that depending on which characters you take into battle most often, you may hit a wall with what you can upgrade with efficient usability. Fortunately, bits of the campaign switch up which characters are available to take along with you, so this is never a problem for long.

With this valley-peak trend of gaming enjoyability beginning, I wonder if my high expectations of Remember Me, the next game on my list, will spoil my happiness with it. With the promise of well-designed characters, a cinematic memory-winding system, coupled with a neat Total Recall-style setting, I’m going to cross my fingers in the hope that it’s a great experience. Game on!

How do you feel about when the reality of a gaming experience clashes with your expectation of it? Do you have any anecdotes about games being over- or under-hyped and your ensuing surprise? Leave a comment below, join the discussion!

Leave a Comment