If there’s one thing that Playstation 3 owners enjoy doing more than almost anything else, it’s bragging about the quality and stylistic breadth of their beloved console’s home exclusives. They aren’t misguided – any gamer would feel compelled to champion the dazzling likes of Heavy Rain, Uncharted and LittleBigPlanet – but playing Binary Domain is a stark reminder that one of the Playstation 3’s most extraordinary exclusives is also (easily) its least hallowed. Toshihiro Nagoshi’s Yakuza series may solely be a cult entity in this part of the world, but no small measure of its Japanese success can be attributed to a progressive attitude towards character and narrative. If you’ve ever played a Yakuza game, you’ll know exactly what it feels like to be completely enveloped in that world (and to feel at one with its heinously mixed-up characters) and despite being comparably light on cutscenes and (very) heavy on action, Binary Domain manages to execute the very same neat trick.
Written by Tsuyoshi Fututa, Anthony Johnston and Tom Jubert – a trio who’ve previously helped to craft Dead Space, Yakuza: Dead Souls and Driver: San Francisco between them – Binary Domain is the kind of game that constantly makes you question its origins: was this going to be a movie at some stage? It’s a tale of international espionage and corporate cover-ups that centres around a sub-section of androids who look entirely human… and are completely unaware that they’re actually cyborgs. These droids are intermittently used (ingeniously) to define your character Dan Marshall, and it’s a testament to the exceptional script that you’ll probably wish that moral choices were employed during those moments. What you get in place of those is a light and unusual squad management system of sorts, in which you can regulate your team on the field via voice control, and in which your actions and comments affect your standing with them.
Using a headset mic to issue commands may rarely prove faultless for any significant length of time (the shoulder buttons provide an able substitute) but it’s a neat and engaging system, as is the intentionally finicky loyalty scheme. It’s difficult to upset someone so much that they stop heeding your directions in battle, and (with a couple of minor exceptions) your dialogue choices only address one person at a time anyway; regardless of whether or not you happen to be standing in a group. That said, this simplicity keeps everything fluid and uncomplicated and means that you’re never forced to play the two-face; which is just as well, because your teammates are fabulously fond of wandering into your line of fire. The gunplay is modelled so closely on Gears of you-know-what that its powerful grip is somewhat predictable, but a few smart little modifications – like the sluggish and risky melee attack, that cannot be spammed during a fight unless you want to get your backside handed to you – gift it with some much needed personality.
The package includes (of course) some rudimentary multiplayer distractions, but originality and panache are at a distinct premium. The Horde-style Invasion mode is exactly what you think it is, but pensive enemy AI means that each wave climaxes in a hunt for the last few stragglers; who are usually cowering behind cover on the other side of the map. Similarly, the competitive multiplayer is functional but uninspired, though hopefully SEGA manage to fix the current (crippling) spawning setup which cluelessly enables non-stop team trapping. Both of these modes are playable at least – which is, depressingly, no longer a given in shooters – but they’re drastically overshadowed by the excellent, expertly composed and ceaselessly beguiling campaign. It’s a terrible shame that Binary Domain won’t ever get legitimate recognition for its smart and succinct script, but action junkies should definitely think twice before allowing it to pass them by. A brilliantly goofy romp.
Binary Domain is available now for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.
Watch the Binary Domain trailer below: