Binary Domain Review

Ordinarily, I start reviews with general impressions, working my way into the characters and story, potential flaws, gameplay, and then graphics and music. For Binary Domain, I’m going to do something a bit different and post two videos that speak louder than words can. After each video, I’m going to explain why this game should be hated by any sane person with a shred of intelligence.

You’ll notice a few things of particular interest in this video, the first being that it’s a hugely scripted sequence. There are a lot of these throughout the game. Generally speaking, I don’t mind scripted sequences, but you’ll also notice that there’s a quick time event (QTE) that randomly pops up near the end. There are a lot of those, too, and they’re always uncomfortable and frustrating. Always. It’s almost like they were designed to be as awkward and out of place as possible.

You’ll also likely notice the weirdly exaggerated character designs and expressions. These are consistently awful, and they’re nearly universal as far as the important characters go; while the lesser characters and those who get virtually no screen time look realistic enough, the actual characters you’ll be seeing a lot of are almost always weirdly exaggerated. This is made especially troubling by the fact that your team includes several members from different countries, and their character designs will initially strike you as being incredibly racist. Seriously, my first thought was that the characters were designed to adhere to stereotypes as much as possible. The dialogue doesn’t help this any; from the very beginning, you’re teamed up with “Big Bo,” a disturbing caricature of a black man. “Okay,” I thought to myself, “I’m sure he’s actually interesting apart from his weirdly unrealistic design.” He’s not. He comes complete with bugged-out eyes (along with other cartoonish expressions) and colloquialisms like “yo,” “gonna,” “ain’t,” and many other similar gems. He could have asked for a watermelon and some grape soda and I wouldn’t have blinked, because it really is that racist.

I quickly grew to hate him and everything that he said, and I jumped on the opportunity to use different squad members the second I was afforded the choice. Since the other male character was a “condescending British male” stereotype, I was left with no other option than to use Faye and Rachael. That worked out for me, anyway, since Faye was a sniper and Rachael had a rocket launcher. Since I was working with an assault rifle and handgun, I figured this made for a balanced team; I ended up being right, and running ahead haphazardly while mowing down enemies with my assault rifle ended up being easier thanks to their contributions.

Binary Domain

Big Bo exists as a racist, focus group-tested mishmash of one-liners.

Of course, I didn’t want to run ahead and act dangerously, but it had been made perfectly clear early in the game that this was how you were supposed to play. In the beginning, I took my time, used cover to my benefit, and contributed several headshots to each fight. The end result of my planning and caution was Big Bo chastising me for being “useless.” Once I switched tactics to the kind of careless behavior that would doubtlessly get one kicked out of the military, however, my teammates couldn’t stop singing my praises.

It didn’t take long after that to recognize one of the biggest flaws in the whole game: everyone is a living ego-stroke for the player. Even Rachael, who seemed way more grounded than everyone else, constantly exclaimed, “You’re our knight in shining armor!” I couldn’t help but notice how nearly everyone’s compliments were targeted toward the player, not the playable character, and their praise soon began to sound more like backhanded compliments than anything positive; that knight in shining armor bit in particular is so blatantly targeted toward the 18-34 male demographic—those uniquely capable of being emotionally manipulated by a female character in need of protecting or saving, in my experience—that it felt like an insult to my intelligence, and there are plenty more lines like that one.

Fortunately, Faye’s lines were a bit more subdued, so when I was only able to take one other character with me, I took Faye. Her sniper contributions had proven to be the most helpful, anyway.

In the above video, I want you to notice a few important things. The first thing is the praise, which is apparent around 20 seconds in. It’s a bit subdued compared to the lines of other teammates, but it’s worth mentioning that the slightest amount of competence while fighting normal enemies will mean praise like that coming at you every 10 or so seconds. The second thing I want you to notice is the controls. If they seem awkward, it’s because they are. Very much so, in fact. Combat feels like a less-polished version of Mass Effect 2, but it’s actually one of the few decent things about the game; there’s something about mowing down a bunch of robots and seeing their parts fly around that makes the uncomfortable controls bearable.

The last thing I want you to notice is at 2:09. Notice how I’m firing my assault rifle and Faye stands up right in my line of fire? This happens a lot. This would usually be no problem, especially since companions take no friendly-fire damage, but there’s a “trust” system in the game that makes your teammates’ propensity for running in front of your bullets especially annoying. Because of this trust system, friendly fire decreases your trust level with whoever you end up accidentally shooting, even when it’s their fault for running into your line of fire. Not only is the ending (that dictates who lives and dies) based on your trust levels with various different characters, but it also affects their willingness to follow your orders. That second part is meaningless, however, because ordering your teammates around is rarely useful at all.

There are so many things that are either pointless or irritating about this game that I could triple the size of this review, but I’ll keep it relatively short and just hit on a few more points:

- You’re able to upgrade yourself in various ways, but I only ever found it worthwhile to periodically upgrade my weapon and those of my teammates. In fact, I completely forgot that you could upgrade the actual characters until I went through the screenshots again. The game isn’t exactly hard when you completely neglect this feature, barring a few cheap moments.

- Boss fights are the definition of “overlong.” With the single exception of the boss in the above video, they’re all bullet sponges that prove to be far more boring than epic or exciting. I found myself getting bored firing tons of ammo into bosses that just ate it up, and getting bored in a boss fight is never a good sign.

- The story is like a bastardized version of Hideo Kojima’s Snatcher, but with the twists all being completely stupid. I can’t talk about them without spoiling the game’s entire plot, but suffice it to say that they’re hilariously unbelievable, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they made up the story as they went along. To give you a taste of the stupidity, however, here’s a spoiler-free example of something that actually happened: I was teamed up with a robot who was capable of hacking into things, and my team came up to a computer. “Go for it,” everyone said, so I pressed the button and got locked out. After searching for another computer, the robot—who, again, had demonstrated on multiple occasions its ability to hack into things—told me to try again. Locked out again. Why is the robot who can hack into things with ease forcing the technology-averse main character to do the computer stuff? It makes absolutely no sense, and this is just a small taste of the kind of stupidity awaiting you throughout the game (especially toward the end).

- There’s a romantic “thing” between two characters, and it’s incredibly ham-handed and inorganic.

- The game is a lazy console port, and this shows through in virtually every aspect of the game. You’re even treated to black bars if you play on PC with any other resolution than 16:9. Of course, I’ve enjoyed console ports before, but this is an especially atrocious example.

- The music is bland and forgettable, and on the graphical side of things, many characters and objects have washed out textures that look flat-out ugly. It has moments where it looks decent, but most of the time things just look really bad (and this is coming from someone who can appreciate the graphics in Playstation 1 games).

Here’s what you should do:

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