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Binary Domain

Score: 86%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Sega
Developer: Yakuza Studios
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 10
Genre: Action/ Third Person Shooter/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Binary Domain uses the Unreal Engine to great effect, although we always find that human characters built this way look a bit shiny and undead... What can be done with facial expressions and movement animation is pretty amazing, not mention the surrounding world during gameplay and in seamless cut-scenes. The world of Binary Domain is a bleak future, but it's not boring. Changes in location happen with regularity, including a rousing waterslide sequence within the first 30-60 minutes that works much better than you might think in a combat title... Giant enemies and hordes of smaller enemies fill the game with frenetic action, and the squad combat aspect means you'll have plenty to keep track of on your side of whatever cover you can find.

More special than the graphics is the use of sound input in Binary Domain. Unlike the typical online multiplayer game where you spend your time trash-talking with friends, you can now trash-talk the A.I.! Okay, that was just for effect... What you really do is issue voice commands to your A.I. squad members through a connected headset or Kinect system. The same technology used to navigate menus in your dashboard comes to bear on in-game controls, such as responding to a squad member's question, or giving commands. If you don't like the idea of shouting commands at your television, you can disable voice commands and do everything from your controller. We've always found issuing tactical commands on the controller tedious, so this feature is long overdue and perfectly suited to available technology. Being able to leverage the Kinect for something outside a pure Kinect game is a nice touch, as well. Whether this is a feature you use faithfully or not at all, won't dictate whether you enjoy the game. Yeah, we said dictate...


To be honest, we really tried to dislike Binary Domain. In the first few minutes, it feels like a Gears of War clone, which tends to prompt a knee-jerk reaction in us, based on preference for innovation and original properties. However, the longer-term experience playing the game showed a really solid squad-based combat title that shouldn't really be compared to Gears for anything other than its cover mechanic. It's like the silly patent wars going on now between tech companies; Binary Domain may not have invented the cover mechanic, but should be able to use it without being dismissed as completely unoriginal. The rules of engagement for squad games haven't changed much over the years: Join a party of fighters who seem incapable of doing anything other than running around getting shot, and not protecting you from enemies. What Binary Domain does right is create squad members you really come to care about, who can make you laugh, who you can talk to, and who actually play the game with some competence. Not to say there's any confusion about who the real hero is, but you can actually call for an assault or a retreat and get consistent results.

The storyline is more fleshed out than most games in this genre, although it stretches credulity a bit in some places. It's like a mash-up of Will Smith in "I, Robot" and Gears, except you play a guy who bears more than a passing resemblance to Commander Shepard. The battle against robots is bloodier than you might imagine, because it turns out some of them are now posing as humans. Yes, it's exactly as Sarah Conner predicted things would turn out. Much like Conner, you get to pack some great weapons and kick lots of cyborg butt. Not only is there a nice teamwork element introduced here, but you have the chance to outfit your team and upgrade their equipment and base characteristics. If it's starting to sound a bit like an RPG, don't worry; Binary Domain is 99% action, but it does recognize that giving players the ability to tweak characters, work out puzzles, and experience emergent gameplay, helps supplement the streams of hot lead and explosions that otherwise dominate your play experience. If you get tired of the Solo Campaign, you can jump into local co-op or online play, extending the experience and the game's shelf-life considerably. The multiplayer may feel more derivative because some of the programmed interaction with your squad is gone, but in exchange, you get a greater level of challenge and more fluid gameplay.


This is one of the more forgiving games we've played lately, which isn't to say it's easy. There are several layers protecting you from the dreaded "Game Over" screen. Binary Domain adopts the convention of providing visual feedback as your character takes damage, getting fuzzy and red at the edges to let you know you need to grab some cover. There is an element of physical protection in the form of armor and natural vitality. Finally, you can "revive" your character when fallen by packing a first-aid kit, which is a last-ditch thing since you don't actually have a health gauge. Some players may feel like the game treats them with kid gloves, but we appreciate any chance to stay immersed in the experience, and didn't find the A.I. contrived for the most part. There are times when the A.I. acts dumb and charges you, but in many cases, it's because you're acting like a timid little mouse and need a good slapping. You're almost always up against uneven odds, so you learn to favor skill-shots over trigger-happy torrents.

Directing your squad comes in at least two flavors. You use tactical direction to respond appropriately to enemy threats, and you interact with your team using voice commands. In both cases, the "wrong" responses will cause you to lose face, while the more leaderly actions will cause your team to hold you in high regard. This reputation system makes success in Binary Domain a bit slippery. Going the entire game with the sole focus of killing enemies only gets you so far. If you really want the full experience (or want some replay value), you have to keep in mind how you're relating to your team. The tactics you use during battle have a real impact on how your squad responds, or doesn't respond, when you call.

Game Mechanics:

If you don't like the way things are configured, you can tweak almost everything to make it fit right under your fingers. We found the default controls solid, if a bit too sluggish without some adjustment. The sighting and firing is similar to Gears in the sense that you can blind-fire from behind cover or while running, and you can also zoom in by pressing the Left Trigger, to take a more precise shot. Weapon selection also works as you would expect, with four slots that can be filled with unique types (pistol, rifle, specialty, and grenade) you gather during play. We don't love the idea of a limited inventory, but it's definitely more realistic. Not being able to collect and horde weapons makes you both cautious about wasting shots, and capricious about picking up something new. There are weapons available for purchase, in addition to the ones you scavenge. The upgrade system is harder to describe than to use. Each weapon can be upgraded in a number of categories, and we liked that you earned an achievement for altruistically upgrading your partner instead of hording all the upgrade points.

Binary Domain is a game that delivers solid gameplay. It rarely stutters in the Solo Campaign, and provides enough multiplayer action to make it a decent rebound game for rabid fans of the Gears franchise. Good story, intense action, and well executed A.I. make this a nice diversion that will have you shouting at your screen, giving commands to your team, and playing with a smile on your face. How you end the game depends largely on the choices you make and the style of play you use during Binary Domain, which is a novel approach that we'd love to see other developers use. This is a no-brainer purchase for fans of third-person action titles, and one title we can see making a few "Best of" lists by the end of this year.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

Related Links:

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