|System: Xbox 360, PS3|
|Release: February 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Sean Engemann
When an American audience is looking for the next shooter to cramp up their trigger fingers, they generally look to Western studios for their fix rather than to games developed in Japan. It's not that the folks across the Pacific don't have the smarts or the resource to produce shooters; there's simply little demand for these types of games for consumers in the island nation. So when acclaimed Yakuza creator Toshihiro Nagoshi announced Binary Domain, a squad-based third-person shooter with a strong cover system and many influences from the Gears of War series, it definitely caught our attention. It should be interesting to see how it fares in a Western-dominated genre when it's released this coming February, since it attempts to cater to all the big gaming nations. This may intrigue a wider audience, though, if not pulled off properly, it could simply alienate them.
There are certainly some original elements within the design of Binary Domain. The war herein is one of the more realistic of recent sci-fi offerings, taking place in Tokyo in the year 2080. Artificial intelligence has been conceived, albeit with built-in restrictions, but somewhere, somehow, these laws have been bypassed. Robots have taken control of their own destiny and individuality, seeing humans as a chaotic race that must be purged. As Sergeant Dan Marshall, you will lead your squad through the battle-worn lower sections of the city, under constant attack by robots of all sizes.
Since you'll be battling against waves of robots, absent is the screen-splattering blood found in most shooters, but the endless shrapnel that fills the air while you're unloading a barrage of firepower should make up for that. More interesting is how persistent the enemy is, as they will continuously encroach upon you, despite lacking a head or having lost mechanical limbs. Requiring a manic level of overkill to be certain they've all been dispatched shouldn't bother fans of firepower. Taking on a battalion of man-sized machines or a three-story behemoth will require different tactics, and will yield many options for resourceful players. Understanding the strengths of your squad and exploiting them in the most effective way possible serve as the basis for two of the game's central features.
The first of these, The Consequence System, shapes both the story and combat in a dramatic way. Inside and outside of combat, you will be making many decisions which will reflect what kind of leader you are. Do you always put the team's safety above your own, or do you make them fodder so you can save yourself? Do you have an ear to lend and a kind shoulder when a group member is in dismay, or do you simply tell them to stop whining? Each interaction will have an effect on how your squad evolves and perceives you through the course of the campaign. They may fall back and disobey commands if you've given little care to their worries, or they may gladly dive into the fray if you've been a compassionate leader. The concept appears rather open-ended, a refreshing change of pace in the mostly linear alignment system of shooters. However, I have yet to see any tactical advantage in going down the renegade path.
The second feature here is the voice command system, delivered to your A.I.-controlled squad via a headset. Calling the member's name first and then issuing a simple order such as, "regroup," "fire," or "cover me" will have your squadmates comply in real time—that is, unless they choose to disobey you. When complete, the final version should be able to accommodate eight different languages for input, and developer Yakuza Studio is even testing the built-in microphone on the Kinect as another possibility. This is a bold move that would require absolute perfection in both the accuracy and timing of the vocal input. After all, it could be frustrating for players to issue the command for their soldiers to engage, only to have them retreat. Also, a lag of a few seconds between commands and responses could seriously break an otherwise innovative command system. Of course, as a failsafe, controller inputs are also available should you prefer a more traditional approach.
The overall aesthetic looks good in some points but outdated in others. The backdrops look well put together and certainly believable for the locale and time period, and the representation of the A.I. enemies are well formed (although very reminiscent of those in the film I, Robot). The character models of you and your squad could use some touching up, or more accurately, some dirtying up. The textures are too smooth and the colors too clean, which makes them feel disconnected from the deteriorating city. We'll see how they look in the final product, and whether it will be a major gripe come review time.
The shooter genre, whether it be first-person or third-person, is probably the toughest genre to stand out in. Binary Domain certainly has a tall and shear wall to scale, with its hopes to appeal to every gamer from East to West. Some features have the potential to absorb the player into the fantasy, and possibly cause other developers to rethink their future designs. However, the execution of these unique features must be absolutely flawless, on top of needing engaging combat, a gripping story, and online multiplayer that is at least on par with the current standards. If enough hype can be built before its release on February 14th, Binary Domain may be the new war everyone wants to get in on.
CCC Contributing Writer