Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Binary Domain: Rhymes with "Buy This Game".

I just finished a game that had been sitting on my "to do" pile for months and months. That game is Binary Domain, and I was horrified to discover that it only sold 20,000 copies at launch. The videogames industry is bad and you should feel bad.

The last time I came away from a game feeling this pumped (mixed in with absolutely nail biting moments of OH MY GOD THEY'RE DEAD THEY'RE ALL DEAD NO WAIT THEY'RE ALIVE YAY) was the finale of Mass Effect 2. Everything you do here can get your team killed, and I'm still not sure if it's possible to save everyone / get the whole team horribly murdered.

That alone is replayability you can take to the bank, especially as my first runthrough chalked up a considerable list of casualties. I got the end I wanted for my character, but I have a feeling I could have done so much better for the team which becomes a primary concern as the game winds to a close. I mean, nobody is a Mordin or a Zaeed but you won't want to see anybody get smeared across a wall.

Despite looking like a fairly generic shooter, it mixes a fairly intelligent plot concerning transhumanism bereft of the "I'm so smart and angsty, look at me" trappings of Deus Ex (doing a better job of it into the bargain) and mashes it up with the Suicide Mission of Mass Effect 2, stretching it out over the entirety of an eight or so hour long campaign.

The bare bones of it are that you lead a team against an endless army of increasingly large robots, managing your team mates, their abilities and their loyalty levels. Everything from your (frequent) interaction with them on the battlefield to how your orders pan out (and associated daredevil antics) will decide how the game challenges you, how the team operates and even who lives or dies. Levels are varied, the numerous setpieces veer between spectacle and odd bouts of timer countdown tension and a couple of excellent vehicle levels break things up nicely.

Typically you have a squad of three or four with you, occasionally walking into absolute fragfests where your entire team goes up against what seems like every robot on Earth at the same time. The QTEs are well done and the plot seems to delight in throwing curveballs at you - there were a number of occasions where I sat rolling my eyes at the direction the story was telegraphing, only to be pleasantly surprised when it pulled the rug out from under me.

One particular character's trust level seemed to take what was going to be a rather frustrating cliche - that I couldn't even physically influence as it took place in a cutscene - and turned it on its head. One of many "fuck yeah" punch the air moments. Binary Domain has a few scenes like that, and beyond shooting things in the face (while arguing with your antagonists at the same time) you really don't know which direction the story will go in towards the end.

It sometimes felt like playing Vanquish from the perspective of a team of regular grunts, instead of Dude Mc Awesome in his robocyber ninja suit - especially when fighting the (often massive) enemy bosses, who'd certainly give some of the cyborgs from that title a run for their money. I never felt threatened by the enemies in that game - here, you're powered down appropriately and the team is absolutely crucial to evening the odds. That may not be for everyone, but I loved the Hell out of it.

Unfortunately, this game had no fanfare, no marketing and (from what I can gather) came out at the same time as Mass Effect 3 which is a great way to launch your ship and set it on fire at the same time. It's entirely possible there won't be a sequel, which is a horrible, horrible shame and it takes pride of place on my shelf alongside Alpha Protocol as "things that should have another go but probably won't get one". And this is a hell of a lot more polished / fun than AP. If you were hoping for some sort of Suicide Mission 2.0 in Mass Effect 3 and were given three month's worth of PTSD as a result of what you ended up with, you could happily wash away some of that nasty aftertaste with what's as close to the next best thing as makes no difference.

If you wanted your suicide run a little longer and decked out with a bigger team onscreen, there's absolutely no excuse to delay buying this game any further. It's big, it's colourful, it carries a nice line in humour, the characters aren't douchebags and the tension of endlessly making decisions / looking after your squad as they walk into their worst day ever is pretty much through the roof near the end of the game. If I can somehow work out how to juggle the team throughout the six chapters in a way that gives everybody enough trust / loyalty to survive the finale, you can bet there'll be a few more rounds of punching the air in celebration.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have robots to slaughter in a manner befitting a group of big goddamn' heroes.

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