E3 2011: Binary Domain Hands-On Preview – Rise of the Robots
Written Friday, June 24, 2011 By Richard WalkerView author's profile
If The Terminator movies taught us anything, it's to stop messing around with cybernetics, robots and most importantly, to not under any circumstances create a synthetic humanoid machine. It'll all go wrong and inevitably end up turning on you and mankind at large. In 2080, the human race knows this and has sanctions and laws in place to prevent nations from building robots that look like humans. With the US and Japan the leading nations in robot technology, an incident in the US breaches international law when robotic humans begin to surface, and suddenly things threaten to boil over into all-out chaos. And so begins SEGA Japan's futuristic tactical shooter Binary Domain.
Previously, man and machine co-existed happily, but with this law-breaking transgression occurring, a crack team of robot exterminators are sent in to infiltrate Japan to investigate. Lead by Dan (rubbish name, I know) Marshall who acts as the game's core protagonist, you'll pick your squad from a team of operatives, taking two allies into the field with you. Selecting British Special Operative Charlie and fellow Brit Rachael, who is an explosives expert, it's time to head out and kick some robot ass. Before getting our hands dirty, it's worth noting that we could have chosen Big Bo, the burly American heavy gunner or Faye, the recon expert from China, but hey, we're British and so is Producer Jun Yoshino who takes us through our first look at Binary Domain alongside Co-Director Daisuke Sato who is on hand to offer unique insight into the game he's developing with with his Yakuza cohort Toshihiro Nagoshi.
And so the squad strides out into Tokyo's Shibuya Station Square circa 2080, where partway into chapter 2 (of which there will be a total of six in the final game) we're immediately set upon from all sides by hostile robot endoskeletons packing heavy guns and from the very outset, we can already see that Binary Domain is no ordinary squad-based shooter. Each character has their very own preferred combat style and weapons loadout, so picking your party is a strategical choice as well as a personal one. You can also customise each member of your team by assigning 'nodes' to their skills, with three different presets to store alternate configurations. Your squad will also build a level of trust towards the actions you perform and your overall behaviour while playing as Dan, which will have an affect on the attitudes and actions of your teammates.
Your fluctuating trust levels will also affect the course of the storyline, how events unfold and the content of the game's cut-scenes too. If that alone isn't enough to convince you that Binary Domain is more than just a straight-up squad shooter, SEGA has also managed to cram voice-recognition into the game too, so you can bark commands at your team or select them from a list of options. The list comprises of commands like 'fire', 'regroup', 'retreat', 'help' and so on, but the voice-recognition will be equally responsive if you shout alternate words like ' shoot', 'return' or 'aaaarrrgggh!' OK, maybe not that last one. There's also in-game chatter between your party during the down time between the action that you can even respond to if you like. So, if Rachael asks a question, you could offer up an answer and she'll form a comeback line of dialogue. Smart stuff. Allies might also suggest strategies too, so when Charlie recommends a flanking manoeuvre at one point, we can shout 'OK' in response and his trust level will go up.
Advancing past the first wave of robots, an enemy dropship delivers more as we hunker down behind cover. “Rachael! Advance!” we shout, to which she aptly responds by saying, “you're completely mental!” Suffice to say your comrades won't make suicidal runs just because you say so, instead assessing each situation and playing it by ear. Binary Domain's shooting mechanics seem quite intricate too, so shooting off a robot's head will send it off on a confused rampage, while shooting off its arms will disarm it (although shooting off one arm will cause a robot to switch its gun hand) and shooting off its legs will send it crawling across the floor grasping at your legs as it strives to kill you by any means necessary. Dealing with robots efficiently will earn you positive trust points as well as CR credits to spend at the nearest ammunition transit shopping terminal, where you can top up your ammo, health items and grenades, as well as purchase weapon upgrades like an electrifying shock burst.
Like fellow SEGA stablemate Vanquish, Binary Domain also has its own line in massive boss battles, of which there'll be between two or three per chapter, so staying tooled up is of utmost importance. In our hands-off portion of the demo, we're shown a boss battle against a 100-foot tall four-legged robot called the T-B 62010 Mobile Fortress 'Arachne' while in our hands-on we face another towering boss with an unknown weak spot. First, we'll look at the Arachne boss, who according to intel fed to us from mission control has weak spots in its legs. With some carefully aimed rockets, Dan peels the armour-plating from each leg and then proceeds to rip up the internal power cores and drive systems fuelling each of the mobile fortress's appendages.
Going hands-on, we're flung straight into another boss battle, which like all intense boss encounters involves a massive battle of attrition as we chip away at its outer shell. What we're waiting for is some helpful intel to let us know where we're supposed to be concentrating our fire, so for the time being we're forced to focus on large ball-shaped leg joints that we hope will destroy the massive mechanical monstrosity when it topples. Finding cover inside a bombed-out building, we collect some grenades and ammo to keep the robot occupied, then shortly after finding a rocket launcher, word comes over our comm link that the robot's drive system is located in its head. Cue some rockets aimed at its head and the robot sheds its armoured casing, leaving its mechanical innards exposed and ripe for a shooting. A few bullets, grenades and a concerted team effort bring the robot down and Dan climbs onto the robot's back, filling its artificial brain full of lead to finish it off. You're terminated!
Binary Domain was one of our biggest surprises at this year's E3, with a pre-alpha build that already looks incredible. Visually strong, Sato-san also promises a dramatic and emotional narrative with more intense action-packed set pieces and visceral boss encounters. There's a danger that there might be a bit too much in the way of greys and cold blues in the game's muted colour palette, but the core shooter mechanics and cover system are already remarkably robust, and the sequences we saw and played were both impressive. Citing sci-fi references including Ghost in the Shell, iRobot and The Terminator flicks, Binary Domain looks like it may well be yet another game to place on your radar alongside all of the other shooters vying for your attention in 2012.
Binary Domain will be switched on in February 2012.