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Monday, October 27, 2014

Review: Binary Domain

I started playing Binary Domain by accident. I was playing Killzone 2 and getting frustrated at one stage. That's the fault of the first person shooter experience: while you have no problem figuring out where you are, it's sometimes difficult to map where your enemies are relative to you because they're moving while you're moving, and if you're playing hide-and-seek like in that particular stage of Killzone 2, you can end up dying repeatedly because your mental map can't compensate for the AI's movements without a frustrating (to me) amount of repetition.

I ended up finishing Binary Domain first, because the third person shooter perspective is just more intuitive, and to me, more fun. The implementation in Binary Domain is also very well done. One of my favorite things about the Uncharted franchise is that you almost always have a buddy with you to help out during combat. Well, in Binary Domain, you can have up to 4-5 buddies, and sometimes the story divides you up into teams and you get to decide who to have on your team, which lends you the ability to customize your play experience. Your conversations and banter on the team will be very different depending on who you chose to take on any given mission.

What's more, there's a trust mechanic, where how you perform with each team member (buying them upgrades) as well as combat performance increases trust, and accidentally shooting them in combat lowers trust. This affects the ultimate outcome of the game and ending in various ways, which I think is pretty cool. Furthermore, at easy difficulty, the game is not frustrating, and the fact that you're shooting robots means that this is one of those games that's easy for a parent to let a child play.

What's more, the game's story is very good for a video game. It's set in a science fiction universe with global warming, robots, and even features ethical dilemmas which I thought were appropriate when we start mixing in AI along with advanced robotics. The problem here is that the game is very linear, so you're dragged along by the story and ultimately have no control over the ethics (or even your choice of love interest), but for what it's worth, this is not the usual poor story line game.

The big weakness of the game is the AI companions. They're just not very effective, even on easy mode. Now, part of it is by design: in the big boss fights, it'd be kinda lame for the player protagonist to not make the killing blow. However, it's also kinda silly to have a very long dragged out fight while your companions who seem to be competent the rest of the time suddenly be unable to hit the broad side of a barn. The other problem is that sometimes they blithely walk into your zone of fire, thereby causing you to hit them through no fault of your own. That's frustrating if you're trying to build a high trust level with the rest of the team.

But none of this was enough to keep me from playing the game all the way to the finish. It's a lot of fun, and while it doesn't beat Among Thieves, I think that it's a game that's under-rated by the standard gaming press reviews. Third person shooters are still rare as a genre, and this one is very well done. Recommended.

P.S. There's one final scene after the credits roll, so keep the game running through the end credits.

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