I'm settling down to play SEGA's new third-person shooter Binary Domain, and the atmosphere couldn't be more suitable. For a start it's dark, and a bit dingy. At the same time it's also a light hearted affair, everybody is friendly and people are all around me cracking jokes. It provides a juxtaposition that fits perfectly.
The first thing that really struck me about Binary Domain was not the guns (of which there are several), the robots (of which there are many), the explosions or the graphics; the first thing that struck me was Binary Domain's personality. This is a likeable game. Most obviously it is funny. Very funny in fact. There were several moments during my extended play-through of the preview code in which I laughed out loud. That's not something that happens all that often in computer games, so credit where credit's due. That being said, the Yakuza games (for which developer Toshihiro Nagoshi is widely known) are infamous for their dark sense of humour. The banter between the characters really does add something to the experience; like them or loath them, their exchanges make for compelling viewing.
Underneath the humour there was something else brewing, something that I wasn't able to put my finger on straight away: this game has a serious side, it has a conscience. It asks the player some very serious questions about morality and justice. Though SEGA has been clever enough not to tell you how to feel, they still present you with a series of scenarios that insist on you taking a moral standpoint, for better or worse.
Graphically this is a solid game. From the off I was firing countless bullets into a constant barrage of enemy troop movement. Featureless green robots marched in and out of cover, attacking me relentlessly. The start of the game had seen me tasked with infiltrating the city of Tokyo (circa 2080), and the constant stream of enemies guarding the gates was a sign of things to come.
The bullet animation is ok, if a little over the top. However, all is forgiven when the bullets actually make contact. The procedural damage is well animated and satisfying - the cause and effect is clear to see. You shoot a leg and metal and circuits splinter off, crackling with electricity, you shoot off the head of one of the many robots you're fighting and it's not long before they're staggering about aimlessly, shooting at their robotic brethren.
The differences between organic and synthetic are immediately obvious; you shoot a human and they'll go down. In Binary Domain, if you shoot a robot, it'll just keep coming. Shoot it some more, say in the legs, and it'll drag itself along the floor trying to grab at you, and it will keep coming until you fill it so full of bullets that it explodes. These machines are utterly relentless.
So there's me and my buddy Big Bo, and we're trying to infiltrate Tokyo. We're due meet up with the rest of our 'Rust Crew' inside the city walls and then kidnap some dude who is suspected of flooding America with 'Hollow Children' (synthetic people who don't know they're robots, programmed to think that they are really human). To understand the reason why there are robots who think they are people we need to delve deeper into the games backstory.
In the futuristic setting of Binary Domain the world has changed dramatically from how we know it. The oceans have risen and many of the World's major cities have become immersed in water, leaving the planet massively underpopulated. Robots are made to substitute for people (to do their work). Eventually the technology is developed to make robots who actually think they're people, but this technology has been banned. It seems that somebody hasn't been listening to the powers that be and has been secretly making these ‘Hollow Children' for years.
It's entirely up to you how sympathetic you are to the plight of the blissfully unaware ‘Hollow Children'. But no matter what side of the fence you decide to stand on, you're still going witness some things, horrific things, that are completely out of your control.
So there we were, Big Bo and I, blasting our way through the rubble underneath Tokyo. We've barged through several checkpoints, destroying a small army of robots along the way. It's all going well, and then we meet our first real test; a giant robot who, on the face of it, looks pretty indestructible with the tools we currently have. There's nothing to be done other than getting the hell out of town. So off we run.
Of course, all we manage to do is run into yet more robots intent on shooting our faces off. C'est la vie.
Over the next few hours Big Bo and I clambered through dilapidated buildings and marched up run-down streets, picking off robots of differing types as we went. In one set piece I even got to jump off the top floor of a building onto the back of one of the larger enemies and fill his metal head full of bullets. I'd be lying if I didn't say that was massively satisfying.
During my time with the game I became embroiled in several large scale boss fights. Although they were epic in scale, they were all beatable once I had sussed the respective systems and began exploiting them. The game was good enough to provide me with the tools I needed to succeed, and although some of the battles took quite a lot of time, I never felt that they were too difficult.
There was good variation within the levels, providing me with different challenges as I progressed through the game. Sometimes I was blasting away from cover with my shotgun, at other times I was holding back and taking out snipers. There were cleverly designed quick-time events that fit snuggly within the game and the amount of skill customisation available looked considerable.
There is a lot of homage in here, that much is clear. This is a game covering the same ground as some pretty seminal science-fiction, but it doesn't borrow so much that it ever feels like it's ripping anything off. Binary Domain explores similar ideas to films like The Terminator and Blade Runner, but it does so without ever being too obvious, much to its credit.
My initial impressions of Binary Domain were positive. It didn't matter what I was doing; whether I was racing through tunnels on a jet-ski, shooting at giant metallic spiders, blowing the heads off robotic snipers or taking the piss out of my team mates; I was never bored. And ultimately, when a game is two months away from general release and you can say that, it's a good sign.