Gaming

Laro: The underrated Binary Domain

This is going to be a quick review of the game after binging it in one session. I just wanted to compile some of my thoughts about it because I enjoyed playing it more than I expected to.

This game is pretty obscure and it’s a shame because it’s very well made. It was released back in 2012 by the same studio that gave us the Yakuza series. When I first heard about this game, I was interested because it deviated from their usual offering of beat-em-up games.

Binary Domain is a third-person shooter where the only common thing it has with the Yakuza games is that it takes place in Japan. Everything else is distinct, from the characters to the locations and the story.

The game is set in the year 2080, in a world where humans and humanoid robots co-exist in a master-servant relationship. Things go awry when it is revealed that a Japanese robotics company has been manufacturing robots disguised as humans called “Hollow Children”. You play as Dan, a member of a group of clandestine special-ops soldiers tasked to enter Japan, find proof of these robot-humans, and arrest the company president.

You can think of it like the movie iRobot mixed with The Expendables plus a little bit of Blade Runner. With that said, let’s get into the juicy parts and list down the things I liked about the game.

Things I liked about Binary Domain

Characters

I think RGG Studio did great with creating a cool bunch of characters. While it leans on the usual stereotypes like the gung-ho Americans and the uptight Brits, the game does well to make the characters distinct and likeable. Shoutout to my bot, Cain, who is absolutely lovable from the get go.

Personality wise, there’s nothing deep about these characters. They’re here for a single purpose and they stick to that for the entire game. Completely understandable. But this doesn’t mean they aren’t enjoyable as their interactions still gave me a chuckle every now and then. It’s generic, but fun.

Upgrade System

I liked the upgrade system and the game’s simple economy. While you don’t get to play with all the characters at the same time, you can upgrade those that are in your current team. At certain moments in the story, you can switch out the members of your personal team so there is always a chance to max out all your characters.

I have to admit that I did acquire a bias to some characters as the game went on, but the game gives you a lot of chances to earn money that you can upgrade every character by the time you reach the final stages.

Gameplay

The gameplay is absolutely crunchy. Destroying robots with guns is a genre that will never get old. I’m not the most skilled person when it comes to shooting games, but I loved hearing the confirmation “ping” whenever I shoot off a robot’s head. There are multiple weapons to use and a variety of enemies to keep the gunplay interesting.

My favorite part about the gameplay is the importance of where you shoot the enemy robots. Shoot their legs, and they will still crawl towards you and attack unless you finish them off. Shoot at their arms and they will sometimes drop their guns and have to pick it up. And most importantly, shoot at their heads and their bodies will just shoot randomly, most times aiming at their allies. It’s very satisfying to see the armor chip off from where you shot them at and these are the details I love seeing.

And since you are playing through the story as a squad, you can assign actions to your team like having them charge in front of you, or provide cover fire as you advance. This command system interacts with another gameplay element which is the trust level.

Basically the higher your teammates’ trust in you is, the more effectively they’ll follow your commands. Get it too low and they’ll disobey your orders. Trust can be gained through performing well in-game and by choosing the right dialogue options in some conversations. Doing the opposite lowers their trust, obviously. However, I never really gave a lot of commands during the game aside from “regroup” which brings my team to where I am currently. It’s a neat feature but isn’t really necessary to win (at least in the normal difficulty mode which I played).

Graphics

The visuals, despite coming from the early 2010’s still hold up for me. But do keep in mind that I’m not really picky when it comes to graphics. I still think that Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater graphics are great. The game performance was good and I didn’t encounter any crashes in my entire gameplay. The visuals do well to serve the game and I didn’t find any part to be lacking.

The characters are modeled well, each with their unique outfits and faces. Enemies and players are visually distinct from each other and even from the background environment. The locations are stunning and I especially like the old slums of Tokyo despite it being just a small one-time area.

I especially like the player movement and voice acting in the cutscenes. I have to say that it’s even more realistic than some of the animations in the later Yakuza games. The details put into this really stood out to me and are *chef’s kiss*.

Story

Finally, the story. Knowing RGG Studio’s track record with the Yakuza games, I expected an overly complicated story with convoluted plot points and twists. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see that Binary Domain has a simple story that is easy to follow along. Even the twists and reveals are believable and don’t come out of nowhere. The themes being tackled aren’t exactly new, as Man vs Robot stories have been told since forever, but the execution is done well enough that I was still looking forward to every chapter.

I wouldn’t have finished this game in one 10-hour sitting if I didn’t find it engaging. This game really has a lot of great things going for it. But now, let’s take a look at where it falls short.

Things I didn’t like about Binary Domain

Voice Command feature

First, I think that this game aimed too high with its voice recognition feature. It simply didn’t work despite me saying the required words into my mic repeatedly. I think it only worked once when I said “okay” but it wouldn’t detect even simple words like “yes” or “charge”. I got too frustrated so I just turned this feature off and relied on manual inputs to coordinate my team.

This isn’t a bad feature at all. I just think that the entire concept is too ahead of its time and wasn’t well-executed for the game. I don’t know if it worked for the original Japanese release, but it just wasn’t compatible in my case. With the technology we have now, I think this is a great feature for single player games. RGG Studio had the correct idea back then, they were just limited with the technology of the time.

Controls

Another thing I dislike is some of the controls. Being used to the standard shooting games, having to press the middle mouse button to reload is a massive thing I had to relearn. Having sprint and jump bound to the same key (spacebar) is also another big disconnect from the usual FPS control scheme.

It’s even more frustrating because spacebar also makes your character stick to walls for that tactical peeking position so whenever I run too close to a wall, my character just ends up sticking to it. There are also times where some walls can be stuck to and some can’t, so good luck figuring those out. It’s not a game-breaker, but it can get frustrating at times, especially when the enemy boss is shooting at you with lasers that can knock you out in one hit.

Upgrade System

I said before that I like the game’s upgrade system, but most of it only applies to the main character. You can feel the incremental upgrades you buy. When your gun is maxed out, you can definitely feel how strong your bullets are against the normal enemies. However, you can barely feel this when it comes to your teammates. They still get the job done, but I can’t help to question if the 5,000 credits I spent upgrading their gun is worth it or if they’ll still be able to kill the enemies just as efficiently without it.

I think maybe a special skill that is unique to each member would be a good addition to this system. Maybe give the sniper a special skill that they can use against enemies that are far away, or have the demolitionist do a heavy explosive attack when you want to. These can add more dimension to the gameplay instead of just a “2% increase in accuracy” which is pretty hard to notice.

Boss Battles

One big thing I don’t really like is that some of the boss battles get really irritating just because of how much of a bullet sponge the boss is. Remember when I told you how nice it was to see the armor chip off the enemies when you shoot at it? Well I wish they distributed this more evenly when it comes to the bosses.

Usually when the armor comes off a regular enemy, you know that the vulnerable part is just a few more hits away from being destroyed. But when it comes to the boss battles, the armor comes off when the boss is at 98% health, so you have no visual indicators that it’s taking damage for the rest of the battle.

I actually had to pause in the middle of a boss battle to check online if this is really how it goes because I thought I had a bug in my game. I had already emptied out 4 magazines’ worth of armor-piercing bullets and the boss was still rampaging about without a scratch (the correct answer is to just keep shooting it and eventually it will die). I’m not against bosses with large health pools, but a visual indicator (or even a health bar) that my guns are still damaging it would have made this game better.

Ally AI

I mentioned the trust system as something I liked in the game. It was something that gave depth to the simple gameplay, whether you utilized it or not is up to you. But one of the frustrating things about this system is that trust lowers when you do friendly fire.

Normally, the AI of your allies are pretty good. Most of the time, you are a joined by two members of your choosing and they do well to back you up. However, they have this really weird habit of running straight into your line of fire and then complaining that you shot them. I swear it happens 80% of the time. It’s a minor nitpick as their health regenerates after they stay out of harm’s way for a while, but I never did max out some of my teammates’ trust because accidentally shooting them lowers the bar a lot.

Trust System consequences

Another minor nitpick about the trust system. I only found this out after completing the game and watching some videos on YouTube. Apparently, the ending of the game changes slightly depending on the trust level of your team right before the final battle! I realized I never got the best ending because of the previous issue with friendly fire. Bummer.

But then again, having multiple endings just makes me want to replay this game again. Because it’s doable in a short time, the replayability of this game is high, so I don’t think other people would consider this a bad thing.

Game Length

That’s also another thing about Binary Domain I didn’t like. It’s over too quickly. Sure, it tells a complete story and you really can’t add more to it before it gets repetitive and dragging, but I just want more of this game. Maybe this is the optimal length of a shooter game. I haven’t played a lot of single player shooters to know how long a regular campaign goes for. I just wish we’d get an expansion or a sequel because it’s a shame to let this game’s assets go to waste.

There is virtually no post-game content as well. You unlock chapter select after finishing the game once so you can play choice parts, but that’s it. I would have loved a new game + where I can replay the game with the upgrades and nano-machines I have from my first clear. Shame.

Conclusion

I want to replay this game right now. I have more dialogue options to hear and more character interactions to see. I’m sure I’ll be doing it again down the road. For now, this game is staying on my Steam library.

In general, this game feels dated (because it is). But you can see the potential if something like this was made with today’s technology. Imagine a more robust voice command system, an even deeper character leveling system as well as teammate interactions, more destructive terrain and innovative boss battles. I just know that RGG Studio is capable of making Binary Domain even better if they had the chance.

RGG Studio once again proves that they are my favorite game maker for a reason. While this is not as ridiculous as the Yakuza series, it has its moments of seriousness and comedy as well. The laughs are mostly delivered through dialogue as I can hardly recall any cutscene that was made to be humorous. But it is still similar to Yakuza in that the serious themes are delivered well and hard. It doesn’t pull any punches to deliver its message.

I’m happy to see them produce a well-made and excellent game in a different genre from their usual products. It’s a shame that Binary Domain sold poorly outside of Japan, so we might never see a sequel be made. Truly, this is a very underrated game.

Would I recommend this game? Hell yeah. It’s dirt cheap on Steam whenever there’s a sale so it’s worth checking out. If you’re looking for a detailed and fun shooter to pass the time, Binary Domain is one you should try.

That’s it for now. Stay safe!

-jgzn

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