19 August, 2012

Binary Domain

written by Blain Newport on Sunday, 19 August, 2012

Binary Domain was Sega's attempt at a Gears of War style game, released in February this year, less than a month before Mass Effect 3. It pretty much went nowhere sales-wise. But for ten bucks on a Steam sale, I was still willing to see just how bad of a train wreck it was. (It should be noted that I did skim the Steam forum for the game first to make sure there weren't major technical issues. Between From Dust and Toy Soldiers I've been burned enough lately.)

It turns out it's not much of a train wreck at all, just a big dumb action game with a few gimmicks that kinda sorta work.

Let's start with the big dumb action game stuff.

Big Dumb Action Game Checklist

Silly body armor? Check.

Multinational team of stereotypical bad asses? Check.

Gears of War camera and mechanics? Check.

Traumatic childhood memories likely leading to an endgame revelation / catharsis? Check.

"Extreme" Quick Time Events? Check.

Late title card? Check.

Initial meet-up in E. Honda's stage from Street Fighter?

Check? (Of course for all I know, half the bath houses in Japan have cloudy Mount Fuji murals.)

Regardless, it definitely qualifies as a big dumb action game.

Additional Gimmicks That Kinda Sorta Work

You Fight Robots - That's not a new thing, but it's well done. Shoot off limbs to cripple them. Shoot off heads to make them turn on their allies. It works.

You Have Companions - While they may be stereotypes, the companions still feel like a net positive on the experience to me. They're not in the same league as Delta Squad in Republic Commando or Alyx Vance in the Half-Life 2 episodes, but they do have one advantage over both.

You Can Talk To Them - It's janky as heck, but the game has a voice input system. After I learned a few phrases that actually worked it was cool to be able to compliment an ally on a nice shot, apologize for friendly fire, call out tactics, and respond to simple questions from the team. There is definitely some convoluted irony around the jankiness of the voice system forcing the player to talk like a robot to be understood by his or her computerized companions as they fight against robots.

They Might Matter - Every companion has a trust meter. If the player does well in combat and gets along with them, it will rise. Since the player gets multiple opportunities to pick which team members they'll be working with, this makes for some interesting choices. "I like so-and-so, and so-and-so's combat specialty might be useful for what's coming up. But so-and-so's trust meter is maxed, so it might be wiser to take someone else." Not having finished the game, I can't say whether this will ultimately be rewarding or a waste of time...

Good Bad Theatrics - While it's definitely a big dumb action game, it's pretty good at it. The pacing and variety are the keys. Shoot some robots. Slide down a long tunnel. Shoot some robots. Meet up with some allies and chat. Shoot a boss robot in the glowy bits. Jump in a vehicle for a turret sequence. Enter a new setting. Meet some new characters. Shoot some robots.

So far I'm liking it. We'll see if I manage to finish it by next Sunday.

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