For SEGA’s CS1 R&D Division, Binary Domain was a step into the unknown. After all, for the past several years the team has dedicated itself to one the Japanese publisher’s modern mainstays, Yakuza. Mixing brutal hand-to-hand combat with plenty of dialogue and exploration, the series keeps fans coming back year after year as CS1 continues to expand its faux-Tokyo criminal underbelly.
Having also overseen the Super Monkey Ball series, it came as a surprise when the studio’s latest game finally touched down in early 2012. Ditching hostess girls and fisticuffs for climate change and robotics, Binary Domain was a fresh change in direction and a game that stills holds up today.
One thing that really stands out in Binary Domain is its intriguing premise. As First Sergeant Dan Marshall, players get to witness the modern world through the eyes of an elite special unit. The 22nd century is on the horizon and our world has been racked by increasing sea levels and economic disparity. In the midst of it all the robotics industry has surged as governments look to rebuild and prepare for the future. This ever-increasing demand has led to competition between firms, one of which creates a robot so intuitive, it genuinely believes itself to be human.
Incidents such as these have caused controversy, leading to the formation of a special international unit tasked with regulated such practices. As Dan, you lead one of these “Rust crews” on a mission to Japan. You’ll befriend a squad of allies along the way, some of whom may not be standing when the end credits start to roll.
Binary Domain could have easily been a run-of-the-mill humans vs. robots scenario but the narrative and characters give it that much-needed extra dimension. The cover-based gameplay does function as one would expect but isn’t anything groundbreaking, occasionally dishing up a fun interactive set piece here and there.
What Binary Domain really lacks is consistency. Though some players will have had no problems with the pacing, I found it incredibly sluggish and disorientating at times. Where some cutscenes and gameplay sequences really push things along, others are passive and feel more like filler than anything else.
This inconsistency also spills into level design, too. The very first chapter of the game does a grand job in kicking things off and even has a neat boss battle and stealth sequence, too. However, as the hours tick by, things become sloppy and every now and then a glitch will rear its head.
One example is a boss battle players run into half way through the game. Without giving too much away it’s a flying robot that sprays your Rust Crew with a deluge of explosives, the only way to take it down being homing missiles. After firing off a few rockets you’ll have to start scavenging, scouring the map or shooting down carrier droids. It wouldn’t be so bad if you weren’t being constantly bombarded, each hit knocking off his feet, scattering the launcher across the floor.
Without completing Binary Domain I’ve encountered several other scenarios, two of which were so ambiguous in their objective that it took ages to realise I couldn’t progress simply because my game had glitched.
One final inconsistency rests within the narrative. Though the setting and overarching plot get a thumbs up, the characters themselves can be a total turn-off at times. When they aren’t being stereotypical or misogynistic (in the case of the blokes) then they’re simply one-dimensional with little else going for them.
Though it has its merits, there’s a reason why Binary Domain never reached blockbuster status. In parts it is a great game though it only takes a few bugs or drawn-out objectives to heave it back into the realm of mediocrity. If anything, I’m told I should keep playing just to see the ending.