E3 2011: Binary Domain

QUICKTAKE: Binary Domain is a new third-person squad-based shooter from Sega's Toshihiro Nagoshi, the man behind the Yakuza series. Set in Tokyo circa 2028, players must recruit a team of soldiers, and battle for the survival of humanity against an army of mechanical doom. Though not evident in the brief demo at E3 2011, what begins as a "seek and destroy" mission eventually leads players to question the morality of their battle against the sentient machines. Many of the mechanics will be familiar to third-person shooter vets, but there are some interesting new twists and tweaks, such as QTE-free boss-type battles and squad-based dialogue choices. BOOM video 8909 THE DEMO: After choosing three of the four squadmates available for the demo--each with different specialties and personalities--I made my way through the narrow back-alleys of the city, blasting the occasional patrol of artificial soldiers, while occasionally conversing with my team. Following several firefights, my squad eventually came upon a much more imposing foe: a heavily-armored (and armed) robot standing roughly two stories tall. After an intense multi-stage battle that lasted several minutes, I was able to reduce the hulking metal beast to a smoking pile of scrap. DETAILS: It's true that Binary Domain is yet another squad-based shooter in a sea of similar titles, but it's looking to do a few things that make it stand out. Being able to choose your squadmates is one difference I noticed. While the application of their individual specialties (demolitions or heavy guns, for example) wasn't entirely evident during my brief session, their unique personalities were. Rather than repeat canned banter, one of your AI-controlled team might ask you to lay down suppressing fire while they proceed to the next bit of cover. The player can respond either negatively, positively, or not at all. Though it didn't seem to change the game dramatically, these choices proved a novel and interesting twist to an otherwise familiar formula. Combat against the standard robotic troops was fun, albeit a bit uninspired. Once again, taking cover is vital to survival, and the arsenal included the requisite machine guns, rifles, and grenades. I noticed that there is an emphasis on location-based damage. Blasting off a robot trooper's legs would slow him down to a crawl (literally), but blowing its head off would cause it to wildly attack anything in proximity, including other robots. As a result, combat feels a bit more meaningful; there's some strategy involved in taking out opponents in the most efficient way.

Some of Binary Domain's larger enemies are multi-stage affairs.

My battle against a two-story tall robot also impressed. After emptying a couple of clips from my assault rifle at its head to no noticeable effect, it was time to try something more powerful. Scavenging a rocket launcher from a nearby building, I emptied its last precious round into the hulk's face. As the smoke cleared, I noticed that the protective armor plates that had been covering its face had been blasted free, and resumed fire with my rifle. After I spent some time jumping from cover to disintegrating cover, the metal beast fell to one knee. Running to the second floor of one of the buildings that flanked it, I jumped onto the robot's back to empty my gun into a freshly-exposed weak spot. Whereas most games would turn this last bit of action into a quick-time event, Binary Domain made me aim and fire into the robot's neck, all while trying to maintain my balance with the left thumbstick. Because I was in much greater control of the climactic events, success was more rewarding. Based on what I played, Binary Domain has a good foundation and adds some interesting new mechanics to third-person shooters. It still remains to be seen if things like the squad customization and dialog choices are meaningful additions, or simply gimmicks. That said, strategically dismembering robots is already fun, and the mini-boss battle I played proved quite refreshing at a show where many games still rely on quick-time-events as a crutch to resolve big battles. I can't confirm whether QTEs will factor in to the full game, but I appreciated their absence during the my demo. Binary Domain is slated for release on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in February 2012. Watch the Shacknews E3 2011 page to follow all our coverage of this year's show. You can also subscribe to it with your favorite RSS reader.