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Binary Domain – The Japanese Gears of War [Preview]

17 Jan 2012  by   John Robertson


‘Gears of War a la Japan’ seems to be the most common way describing Binary Domain and, despite my urge to buck prevailing trends, that’s a pretty accurate description. We’ve played the first (roughly) 90 minutes of the Sega published third-person shooter and it’s clear where its loyalties reside.
This is a squad based shooter in which cover, ammo and knowing when to attack and when to hold back are the keys to progress. The camera occupies that same tight over-the-shoulder position we’re used to viewing Marcus Fenix from and key in-game events are accompanied by a button prompt that centres your viewpoint on them – you’ll never miss an out of control aircraft, emerging throng of enemies or endangered teammate again.
Of course, all of this is presented in a thick layer of Japanese design. Therefore, your team are kitted out in slicker, sexier outfits than the brutish nature of those that define the world of Gears of War, music is of the more bizarre variety and Americanisms are as common as they are awkwardly implemented.
To say the presentation is all very Vanquish IPlatinum Games, 2010) wouldn’t be far from the mark, although that particular shooter harnesses an easy sense of style is somewhat missing here.

Binary Domain’s ‘big thing’, and the thing our 90 minutes of gameplay was perhaps most bothered with presenting, is its voice input commands. More than simple barks of ‘attack’, ‘retreat’, ‘advance’, the main idea here is to try and impart some form of personality onto your team – a personality that is, in part, determined and sculpted by the way in which you interact with them.
Outside of combat situations (in which the above ‘simple barks’ are used) a ‘Consequence’ system promises to affect the game’s storyline towards the latter stages and how your fellow squad members react and treat you. From what we’ve played, this revealed itself in the form of us (as squad leader ‘Dan’) replying to direct questions about a team mate’s performance in a recent skirmish, whether or not you like them as a person and if you trusted them as friend and military partner.
Needless to say, the Consequence system is incredibly intriguing. If the team can pull off a suitable level of polish, a genuine feeling of interaction and the promised multiple endings then it could be wonderful, and set the benchmark for future, similar endeavours.
Of course, the opposite is also true – if it doesn’t work, or feels incomplete, then it will surely do much more harm than good. There really is nothing worse than a system designed to feel engrossing that only serves to highlight that it is, in fact, a pre-determined system.

The opinion of your teammates about you is also affected by your actions and commands in battle. If you give them bad orders (such as ordering them to attack against overwhelming odds) then their opinion and ‘trust’ rating of you will decrease. Conversely, it can be raised by keeping them safe and defeating enemies without them taking too much damage.
Also, if you happen to shoot one of your A.I. friends their trust rating will decrease. If their trust rating falls below a certain point, they may stop following your orders and do their own thing in battle.
Having only played Binary Domain for a short time, it’s impossible to judge how well these things work in the long-term. On a technical level they work perfectly well, the game has no problem understanding my (south English) accent and as soon as you’ve spoken the person you’re addressing reacts – there’s none of the off-putting lag often associated with voice commands.
If you don’t want to use the voice commands you can opt to input them through your control, but the sense of communication is reduced somewhat.
The wider story is a classic cyber-punk diet of human fear of increasingly powerful A.I., revolting robots and constant streams of neon reflecting off polished metal.  In true Blade Runner style, the opening hour or so even features a scene whereby a robot-made-to-look-human (and doesn’t believe that he is a robot at all) is revealed to be part of the President’s inner circle.

It seems that the main plot centres around identifying where these robots are coming from and working out how to stop them. If you like cyber-punk story lines, you’ll probably like this one. I like cyber-punk story lines, I think I’m going to like this one.
From what I’ve seen of the actual combat, I’m not quite so sure I’m going to enjoy it all the way though. By the end of the section Sega sent to us I already found myself growing a little tired of the formula. Whereas Gears of War keeps you on your toes with a wide variety of enemy types, large combat areas and constant stimulation through epic on-screen events, Binary Domain seems to want to keep things tighter and more controlled.
Level design is very linear which means your choice of cover points and attack angles are limited. It also means that restarts (after dying) play out in much the same way; your improvement coming from aiming accuracy and use of grenades rather than tactics. 
On the other side of the coin, the enemies themselves do present a decent challenge. While they’re not the brightest bots in the factory, their numbers make them a formidable foe and they’re capable of putting an end to your existence with about a clip’s worth of ammo. In a neat touch you can shoot the heads and legs from the robots – removal of the legs means they’ll crawl eerily across the floor to get at you, while the loss of a head sends them haywire and causes them to attack their own.
Despite its appearance as bog standard futuristic third-person shooter, there are a lot of interesting ideas going on in Binary Domain. Making them all work in unison will be the key to attracting an audience and preventing the lightning fast demise that has been the calling card of many a shooter.
Oh, I forgot to mention. Binary Domain has boss fights against giant robots… that’s worth at least one review point. 

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