I almost skipped Binary Domain. Its hackneyed boxart, its plastic characters and environments and its Final Fantasy-esque user interface — all of these things gave me the impression of a game attempting to emulate, rather than adapt, the modern standard. But the third-person shooter is such a stagnant, conservative beast that even minor changes in its formula tend to pique interest. So while Binary Domain is still “just another shooter,” it’s the minor differences that are worth mentioning, and ultimately what prevent the game from being entirely forgettable. For the first time in a while, a shooter feels human.
For one, there’s a lot more talking in Binary Domain than I was expecting. The central question of the game, whether sufficiently sophisticated AIs can be considered human, gets harped on constantly by the entire cast of the game at length. But rather than give me varying perspectives, though. Binary Domain makes its mind up early on, and makes it point to tell me how terrible automatons mixing with humans would be. Only in the last act of the game did I ever question the game’s stance and, call me a extreme futurist, but I don’t find integrating robots and humans all that offensive.
The amount of cutscenes and conversations with teammates (including dialogue choices that are anything but, since agreeing with the person asking the question is the only viable option if you want combat to go more smoothly) in Binary Domain sound completely removed from the image of the average shooter, but the surprise isn’t that it was there, it was that I liked it. Much as I disagreed with the game’s thesis, the fact that I was even arguing with it is noteworthy, and I much preferred that to engaging in combat.
I haven’t said much about how Binary Domain plays, but that’s because it’s “just another shooter.” A crash-course on the design of Binary Domain: the level design is poor when it isn’t boring, the bosses are tedious, and most of the guns, upgrade system an all, are interchangeable. Of course, those criticisms are important, but they’re the robotic failures. The human failures are there too, but that Binary Domain even has human flaws is the most interesting thing about it. The theoretical prototype android will likely have plenty of defects, but I think most of us would say its existence will itself signify a success.
*Yes, I hate coming up with titles.