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Video Game Rewind- Binary Domain (2012, Xbox 360, PS3, PC) Overlooked and underrated

Welcome to our second edition of Video Game Rewind! Not sure what it is? Well here’s a rundown:

Sometimes life gets in the way of playing a certain game and it ends up slipping through the cracks. We mean to pick it up at some stage but as newer and newer games come out, it just keeps slipping further and further away. This is why we’ve decided to create a new segment dedicated to the games we may have missed when they first released or the ones that we only just recently dusted off from our ever-growing backlog.

We will look at a wide variety of games; from big studio releases to small indie games, that we believe are worth a second look, served straight to you, the reader!

This week we look at:

Binary Domain (Released February 2012 on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC)

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Gamers largely ignored Binary Domain when it first launched in 2012. Low sales numbers coupled with decent but unspectacular reviews from critics pretty much killed the franchise before it had even begun. It’s a pity because to call Binary Domain overlooked would be an understatement. While the game does have its fair share of faults, under the hackneyed guise of a generic first-person shooter is a surprisingly deep and ambitious game that deserved to find an audience. Now, four years on, here’s why it deserves a cult status.

Developed by Sega, by the same team who created the Yakuza series, Binary Domain retains the developer’s penchant for fast paced, arcade-like action balanced by a strong central narrative. In the interest of brevity, the narrative’s emphasise here is on the nature of humanity in relation to robots, set in a futuristic Tokyo. You control the leader of a rust crew sent in to put a stop to the production of artificial intelligence after discovering that robots are passing themselves off as humans, putting the future of mankind at risk. The pertinent philosophical question that the game explores is: What does it mean to be human? It’s a much deeper question than the game can even pretend to answer but the fact that it raises it alone pushes Binary Domain a notch higher than your standard shooter.

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The main issue with the game however is that it takes a while for it to get into gear. The game begins with a string of unremarkable missions set in dull underground environments with same-y looking corridors. For a game set in a futuristic Tokyo, my first thought would not be to explore its sewer system and slums. This is made more disappointing by the game’s adherence to the cover-based shooter formula where your only goal seems to be to move from point A to B, mowing down hoards of robots as you go along.

The other major issue is that the game’s characters never feel fully formed and come off mostly as caricatures. The rust crew is a ragtag bunch of soldiers assembled from different countries but sadly their character traits are mostly built from stereotypes of their respective nationalities. They lack individualism and the stilted one-liners that many of them repeat ad nauseam during extended battles only helped to further my disconnect with them. The largely redundant trust system also seems like an arbitrary means of making you care for the characters. Only towards the end of the game, after a number of major revelations, did I begin to feel some sort of connection with them, but that was more to do with the interesting turns the narrative had taken than the characters themselves.

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Those issues aside, when the game finally starts to open up around the halfway point, it truly becomes a blast to play. The environments are expanded and you start getting a sense of the scope of the game’s world and its rendition of futuristic Tokyo. Car and Jet Ski chase sequences do well to show off the world and to break up the otherwise relentless cover-based shooting. Sure there’s an ‘arcadey’ feel to these segments but they feel like fun mini-games and provide much needed variety to the action. The combat itself, whilst generic, is incredibly satisfying in the way that the metal crumbles off robots as you chew through them with bullets.

However, for a futuristic game, the range of weapons is sadly limited to the standard variety of shotguns, assault rifles and sniper rifles. The real variety comes from the different types of enemies you can test the weapons on. At regular intervals you face up against bosses, huge imposing mechanical beings each with their own unique abilities and means to take you down. These battles deserve special mention in the way that they are both exciting and well designed whilst also being challenging. You can empty an entire mag on a boss and only dent their armour. On the highest difficulty, bringing in your biggest weapons is essential in swinging the battle in your favour and ensuring you don’t fall prey to the mechanical beast.

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Finally, on the story front, things really get into motion in the second half. The finale itself is stuffed with enough twists and turns to make your head spin. The narrative ended up engaging me on a level in which I hadn’t expected when I first started the game and it remains one of the standout aspects of the game. The only bummer is the cliffhanger ending, given that it will likely never be resolved.

Conclusion: For me, Binary Domain got better as I progressed through it. I trudged through the opening levels not expecting much from the generic gameplay but by the end found myself pleasantly surprised by the game. The fun, occasionally ‘arcadey’ gameplay, the epic boss battles and the surprisingly deep story all mixed into a potent blend that made me overlook the game’s many faults by the end. It’s a game that deserves cult status, and I don’t regret my time with it.