Binary Domain is – in my opinion – secretly one of the best
third-person shooters from the last generation.
Unfortunately, the game was dragged through the mud thanks to
its focus on voice commands, which was a contributing factor to Game Informer's review. When Binary Domain launched and the voice commands
didn’t work, the failure of a relatively superficial system stole the thunder of its unique conversation mechanics, solid gameplay, and
What It Is:
Binary Domain is a handful of things that don’t seem like
they’d fit together on the surface. Its combat and some of its characters
resemble Gears of War’s brand of squad-based cover-shooting, complete with most
of the mechanical polish you’d expect from one of Epic’s shooters.
It feels good to unload on the robotic enemies, and the
ability to dismantle them with your gunfire is one of its best design choices.
It’s endlessly satisfying to blow up a scrap-head’s leg and watch it crawl
around like a Terminator, or shoot off a head and watch it turn on other robots.
A handful of massive bosses present excellent opportunities to explore the
well-crafted environments and toy with destruction.
Just below the surface is a slightly pared-down version of everything
you’d expect from a last-generation BioWare game. You upgrade main character
Dan Marshall and the rest of the party along with their weapons and skills,
respond to dialogue as you move through the world, and even decide how the
party splits up.
Topping off the excellent gameplay is one of my favorite
science-fiction video game stories of all time. Binary Domain is set in a
future where mass flooding of the planet forces the human race to turn to robotic
help to rebuild and survive. After it’s discovered that someone is violating
international law to create robots that look indistinguishable from humans, a
group of soldiers known as a Rust Crew is tasked with tracking down the man
believed to be responsible.
The story eventually unravels into a satisfying blend of
Metal Gear Solid-level craziness, thoughtful reflection on the technological
future of the human race, and a dash of Japan’s always wonderful take on American
action-hero bravado. The cast of characters steal the show though. The Rust
Crew is more than just cookie-cutter military filler; they feel like real
people, and that makes getting to know them a treat.
The one downfall of Binary Domain is that the voice commands
just don’t work. Fortunately, voice commands can, and should, be turned off in
favor of more traditional inputs.
When It Stopped:
Developed by Ryu ga Gotoku Studios, the team behind the Yakuza
games, Binary Domain released in the spring of 2012. The biggest problem with the end
of development for Binary Domain is the same problem that occurs in other
multi-project studios: People leave when the project is over.
Following the release of Binary Domain, director Daisuke
Sato was bumped down to the role of an environmental artist for Yakuza: Dead
Souls. He now works for Konami as an environmental artist for the Metal Gear
Sold series. Losing the director was bad enough, but other key players have
Lead Designer Hiroyuki Sakamoto hasn’t been credited for
working on anything since Binary Domain, and producer Jun Yoshino now works for
Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. Toshihiro Nagoshi, credited as a producer
on most of the studio’s prior work, took over as Sega’s chief creative officer
shortly after the game shipped, and has worked sparingly on new projects since.
What Comes Next:
announced more restructuring plans to move away from the console space,
where games like Binary Domain tend to perform better. The best thing that
could happen to the franchise would be its inclusion in a sale of assets as a
part of current or future changes. Sega clearly wasn’t sure of the game’s
strengths anyways, so it’s probably better off in the hands of someone else.
Abandoning the first game’s multiplayer and voice
recognition is the next step. The voice recognition was a cool idea, but Ryu ga
Gotoku Studios proved incapable of implementing it. I would gladly welcome it
back if it worked, but even the new Kinect struggles with voice commands on
Xbox One. Getting rid of the voice commands would allow the main character to
speak their responses to the rest of the team, and the dialogue options to
expand into something similar to what BioWare offers.
The multiplayer featured far less potential, however, and
there’s no real reason to keep it around. The last thing the shooter genre
needs are more of the uninspired deathmatch and survival modes that were tacked
onto Binary Domain. Shifting some of that manpower to the good portions of the
game, or to story-based co-op could really flesh out an already interesting
If a new game in the series got picked up, the team
developing it would have to decide where to take the story next without ruining
the excellent foundation of the first. Binary Domain didn’t end on a cliff-hanger,
but there’s room to keep going. A post-credit sequence shows main characters
Dan and Faye on the run, so there would be room to expand on the exploits of
the original Rust Crew following the events of the first game.
A better option might be to pick up a different Rust Crew
with new faces. It would avoid trampling what the previous game set up, but
would also be more difficult. If they got new characters right, though, there’s
plenty of room for a tale that runs parallel to the disappearance of the
original crew; or even one that has players hopping about the globe in search
I’m not kidding when I say I’d put Binary Domain in my top
10 list of last-generation games in a heartbeat. There’s so much potential left
in the world Ryu ga Gotoku Studios crafted, and it seems like a shame to leave
it to die.