Game Reviews: Binary Domain

    Binary Domain is a third-person, squad-based shooter by Yakuza Studios, published by SEGA. It was released at the end of February on XBox 360 and Playstation 3, and mid-April on PC. Yes, it’s a console port on PC. Before I start, I have to say that the game is pretty generic at the start but gets much, much better. As usual I talk about gameplay and how fun the game is in general; I don’t really talk about graphic quality, or things like that.

The story is very cheesy, action B-movie-esque. In basics, it’s 2080, and a robotic work force is part of every day life. Several years ago, many nations signed the New Geneva Convention putting restrictions and guidelines on the construction of robots; most importantly it restricts the creation of sentient AIs, and robots that can pass for humans (known as “Hollow Children”). Well, a Hollow Child turned up, and a “Rust Crew” (international spec-ops squads sent to deal with New Geneva Convention breaches) is sent to Japan, a very isolationist state, to track down the most likely culprit. The dialogue and voice acting especially are pretty badly done, additionally. The characters are alright, but there will likely be one or two you want to have killed, but more on that later.

In gameplay, there’s only one major issue I have; it’s too geared towards consoles (keep in mind that I play exclusively on a PC). There’s a generic action button that makes you sprint, duck-and-roll, get behind cover, leap over cover, etc., and too often it does one when I want to do the other. It takes a hell of a lot of getting used to, to get the precision to jump into battle exactly the way you expect to be able to. There’s also this really horrible mouse acceleration (TotalBiscuit explained clearly in his “WTF Is Binary Domain” video) that they said was fixed in patch notes, but is still around and I can’t find an option to disable it. It also seems to get worse when the frame rate dips, making it impossible to play when you dip to 20 FPS or lower.

But that’s enough for problems, the gunplay itself is very satisfying. Every enemy is a robot, and every enemy can be blasted literally to pieces. You can blast off armor on almost everything to be able to do more damage to that section; you can shoot an arm off to get them to drop their guns; you can shoot off a leg so they have to crawl at you. Most of the weapons aren’t very useful, unfortunately. Your normal, undroppable assault rifle is a better weapon than most other things (especially when you upgrade it), though occasionally you find a light machinegun or submachinegun that does more damage in a shorter time. There’s also a sniper rifle that I really enjoyed using as well. It also has an system where you can buy upgrades for yourself and squadmates. Throughout the game are consoles where you can buy ammo and weapons with credits you earn through destroying enemies. You can also purchase nanomachines to upgrade certain aspects of certain characters (more defense, more health, more melee damage, etc.), and upgrades for weapons, like better accuracy, bigger clip size and more damage. I generally like this because you can improve the fighting abilities of certain favourite squadmates; or smooth out their crippling downsides.

The lineup of enemies is well-designed, as well, and I would consider it an excellent example of good progression of monsters over the course of a game. As you progress, you run into new models of robots, each with different dangers and most requiring different strategies. My only complaint about this is that some of them weren’t as common as I felt they should’ve been. The Creeper, Needle Bug and Tube Gunner, for example, could’ve been used more often, to keep battles more interesting. Generally, you fight the standard Assault Shooter model (and its three variants) too often, and using those aforementioned three more often could’ve made several sections more interesting. It also has robots that only work in certain sections of the game, such as the Roadie, Simian and Condor, which balance it out. Some models, such as the Shinobi, were excellently designed as well.

Probably the best feature of this game is the lineup of bosses. I hope you like boss fights, because this game has a HUGE amount of them. There’s one part that features almost three bosses in a row (You finish off the Gorilla, cutscene, then fight the Crab, rail-shooting segment, then fight the Tsar Runner). Each boss is of the “shoot the flashing weak point when it’s visible” style, but each boss attacks so differently that it keeps each one different. The designs, like the Tsar Runner and Medusa, are brilliant, as well. Probably the only two bosses that I don’t really like are the Spider (it just looks silly as you get later in the fight), and the Gorilla (just drags on and on until you finally kill it). I would say that these bosses feel like bosses from Sonic the Hedgehog, if Sonic didn’t move quickly and had an assault rifle. Being a game published by SEGA, that doesn’t feel particularly surprising, but it is surprisingly fun.

The game also has some quicktime events, but they’re pretty rare. Occasionally, it has the “use movement keys to keep your balance” variety, sometimes it’s the “press button at the right time to not die,” but they never feel like huge problems. You can also order your squadmates around through microphone, apparently (I never tried it, I just used the key commands), but past a certain point of the game you probably don’t even need to. There’s a trust system implemented into the game as well where saying the right things to your squad mates make them trust you more. Short-term, that affects whether or not they refuse your orders but over the course of the game, the story branches slightly depending on how much certain squadmates trust you, and some squadmates might actually get killed off. All I will say further about this is that to get the best ending requires you to max out your trust meters on every squad mate.

This game is a very underrated gem. If you can get past the cheesy story, dialogue, voice acting and the first section of the game, it becomes an excellent third-person shooter that many say is better than Gears of War. Not having playing that, I can’t comment, but I thoroughly enjoyed this game.


Game Reviews: Crysis

     I just played through Crysis. It was… interesting. It has a reputation as a benchmarking game more than anything else with very little thought put into how it plays, but its gameplay was surprisingly solid for the most part. However, it should almost be treated as two separate games.

The main gimmick of this game is that you’re wearing this very advanced nanosuit that has four specialized modes; strength, armor, speed and stealth. Each mode draws from a pool of energy that recharges when you aren’t using any energy-based abilities. You can also customize your weapons with different add-ons, such as scopes, silencers, laser-pointers and flashlights. In actual application, these gimmicks work pretty well. This game does have the reduced player speed (because you would never use speed mode in a firefight) and regenerating health that most modern shooters fall into, however, but it is pulled off better than most. I like how the difficulty settings aren’t just damage scalers as well (it does scale damage, but that’s not all it does); there are actual changes in mechanics.

Most of the game is kind of a sandboxy, objective-based shooter. Most of this is “here is your objective, it’s surrounded by enemy soldiers. Good luck!” Because of your different suit modes, there are multiple approaches to many of the situations, and there are usually some major obstacles to avoid such as helicopters, or very entrenched enemy positions. While it’s possible (though difficult) to play the run-and-gun style, you can avoid many of these obstacles entirely. This isn’t the entire game, however, but it allows for some very dynamic gameplay, with some good replay value.

One example of how dynamic the first half is, in the third map, Relic, after you find Dr. Rosenthal, you have to make your way to the extraction point. As soon as I got to the river, I found a boat and figured I could use it to go the rest of the way. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice the waterfall, and around the bottom was an enemy helicopter. I ditched the boat immediately and tried to hide, but the thing chased me quite a far way for about 15 minutes. I did hit it with the single rocket I had left, but that wasn’t enough to bring it down. Eventually, I got near this one checkpoint on the road I cleared out earlier, but it was on the other side of the river, past this short bridge. I put on speed mode, beelined under the bridge, recharged my energy, cloaked and crawled over to a jeep I left earlier, and used the gun on it to shoot down the helicopter. Because the helicopter gave me some trouble earlier, it was really satisfying! This is impressive because it isn’t scripted to happen like that at all. I could’ve shot down the helicopter earlier on with another rocket launcher I found; I could’ve been in a lot more trouble if I hadn’t cleared out that checkpoint earlier; I could’ve avoided the boat and walked the whole way (or taken a jeep); or I could’ve just not run into the helicopter (it’s on a patrol route, not just sitting there all the time). Any other modern, story-based FPS would’ve forced you to get in the boat and put the helicopter on you immediately (Half-Life 2, anyone?), for example.

But I think it’s a shame that it sets this convention of almost-sandboxy gameplay for the first half, then abandons it (along with some mechanics and weapons) entirely. After the first boss, you have one level where you’re inside of the buried alien installation in this very nice zero-gravity segment (one of my favourite parts of any first-person shooter). After that, however, the game turns into the standard, linear shooter. There is one path, and one way to do things. Additionally, the stealth mode of your suit becomes literally useless because the alien drones can see you regardless. Some of the weapons (submachinegun and precision rifle) disappear too, because they’re apparently not useful beyond that point. Luckily, this part of the game is a lot shorter because the first “half” just takes longer.

The bosses as well are fairly weak. The first one is the general of the Korean army you’ve been fighting up to this point, and he’s wearing a nanosuit like yours, wielding a heavy minigun. I’m not sure if I bugged it out somehow, but I stood under the platform he was standing on, and he couldn’t hurt me. I was able to stealth, pick up ammo and take pot-shots with a precision rifle from my safe position. I didn’t even take any damage. The boss of the latter half of the game is worse. For the first segment, you’re fighting this large walker (the Hunter) and occasionally a few of these flying gunships (Scouts). The only way this can kill you is if it freezes you while the Scouts are shooting at you, which is an instant-kill because you simply get shattered. However, the Gauss Rifle can kill Scouts in two shots, and there is a large amount of ammo for it lying around the arena, so this happens pretty rarely. One other annoying part about this fight is that you get this nuclear grenade launcher right before it, but you can’t use it. It would’ve made it too easy, I understand, but it just feels wrong. Right after that is the final boss (the Warrior), which has some easily-destroyed turrets for the first phase, and in the second phase just throws waves of the basic alien unit (Troopers). When you destroy one wave of Troopers, it immediately throws another wave at you. Oh, and these Troopers can also instantly kill you, especially easily if you’re focusing on the Warrior. That said, besides the Troopers, this fight actually isn’t all that difficult. It just feels poorly thought out in general.

Then the only other weak point of the game is the occasional vehicle segment; especially where you’re driving a tank in the first half. The tank segment is more frustrating than anything else, as there are enemy soldiers with rocket launchers everywhere. Hard to spot, and can kill you very quickly. At one point, it’s a lot easier to just play on foot, as you  are actually capable of spotting and killing rocket launchers then. The VTOL segment is okay, though there were one or two bugs I thought were annoying. Every once in a while I would get caught in a tornado that I was nowhere near, or one of my escorting aircraft rammed into me. It feel like the projectiles from its minigun should be faster, though.

Overall, I kind of like this game. The second half is okay, not terrible but not great either, but the first half makes up for it in a big way. It has its sour parts, but it’s great fun to replay the first few maps a few times, especially the fourth map. If you want me to critique its graphics, though, look somewhere else or watch a video.