Binary Domain

We’re surprised that Sega didn’t make a bigger fuss of this third-person shooter being masterminded by Toshihiro Nagoshi, the creator behind the Yakuza games. The Yakzua series has a strong following all over the world and as it’s a franchise associated with Sony-formats this will be the first time that Xbox 360 owners get to experience Nagoshi’s skilful blend of storytelling, art direction and surreal yet fitting sense of humour.

The plot involves global warming forcing mankind to build new cities on top of the old ones, which ergo ushers in a new wave of robots designed to assist in rebuilding the world. Robot manufacturers were told never to make robots that resemble humans but one company located deep inside Tokyo has broken this clause and it’s your job, along with a team of multi-national specialists, to sneak into Tokyo and capture the company president for questioning. During an early cut-scene it’s revealed that these human-like robots – referred to as Hollow Children – have been living amongst us for over 40 years which instantly makes the story engaging. Who can you trust exactly?

As the story progresses and you make it further into Tokyo new characters join the squad who can be picked and chosen. One thing that makes Binary Domain stand out is a loyalty system. Fellow teammates often ask you questions which can be answered with either a dropdown menu or via microphone and your replies will alter their respect levels. Those that trust you completely will be quicker to react to your commands during battle. Teammates also congratulate on shooting skills or will complain if they feel like you didn’t shift your weight during the last gunfight. Using a microphone provides a bigger list of responses but our experience with it was mixed – during one battle we were simply trying to tell another character to “regroup” but for some reason the words “I love you” kept appearing on screen. After just the first level the microphone was left unplugged. There are enough responses and commands to use from the menu, so it’s not as if we felt as if we were missing out.

The art direction is really something quite special – ignoring some cheesy dialogue the cut-scenes are stylish and it looks spectacular in places, easily rivalling Sega’s own Vanquish. The robots you fight against are coated in armour which falls apart as you shoot them, exposing their circuits and weak points. Blast at their legs and they’ll crawl along the floor; take off their head and they’ll malfunction and start shooting other robots. Relentless in their pursuit, we haven’t come across another set of enemies so satisfying to shoot for a long time. Headshots and one hit kills earn extra credits which can be spent at vending machines where you can purchase nano-machines that boost your base health level and let you carry more grenades and the like. You can also upgrade your cohort’s arsenal to make them more proficient in battle.

Mostly epic in scale, the boss battles will stay fresh in your mind for a long time while the environments feel impeccably well designed. There are a few slower sections where Dan and his teammates get to take a little downtime and bond too, including one set in a posh coffee shop.

The two online modes feel like a little bit of a last minute inclusion and are the only real downer of an impressively polished package. Environments from the single-player mode have been recycled here and this is the biggest problem – they aren’t maps especially designed for multi-player death matches. One level leaves you incredibly open to sniper fire, for instance. Like in the main game kills earn credits which can be used to buy better weapons and add claymore mines and such to your inventory. You only get to keep these items for one life – as soon as you die, you’re back to the basic set. You can however pick up weapons that have been discarded thus giving everybody a chance to get the upper hand. Invasion mode meanwhile is a little like Gears of War’s Horde Mode, but without Gears of War 3’s ability to place turrets and electric fences it’s hard to recommend it as an alternative.

When Sega first showed Binary Domain off to the world we thought it would be yet another Japanese shooter unable to compete with western efforts. The reality is quite the opposite – western developers would do well to learn from its variety and pacing. It’s the full package, pretty much – compelling story, stunning visuals and a slight sprinkling of innovation – and one that deserves more recognition than it’s ever likely to get.

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