Something I thought about a few years ago that has come back up with the book club, I’ve noticed that people (myself included) tend to praise Binary Domain with backhanded compliments. It’s hardly ever an unqualified “Binary Domain is a really good game.” It’s usually “Binary Domain is way better than it has any right to be” or “Binary Domain is surprisingly good.”
Where do you think that urge to lead with “no, seriously, I thought it was going to suck too, but it’s actually great” comes from? What about this game makes everyone assume it’s going to be bad (or at most mediocre)? Like I said, I’ve done this myself, but I don’t really know why. I have come up with a few ideas though.
My thoughts are that it has to do with what Binary Domain’s specific strengths are and how they (arguably) defy genre expectations.
Binary Domain’s biggest strengths (in my opinion) are:
- Character performance: (Some of) The voice acting and animation is natural and nuanced in a way that you rarely see. There are jokes* in the game that could have easily come off as crass or overly cheesy if not delivered and timed just right, but Binary Domain often threads that needle.
- Unique mechanics: I’m not saying they all work great, but game has a lot of clever, sometimes unconventional systems. The dialog mechanic, the trust system, the nanomachine slots, the shop/upgrade points, the limb damage system, etc.
- Plot: It might not seem as impactful if you’ve just come off from playing Nier: Automata, but Binary Domain takes the worn “can robots be people?” trope in some unexpected directions.
I think these specific strengths defy expectations set by game genre, performance style, and initial quality.
- Game genre: At first blush, this is a by-the-numbers gray and brown cover-based third person shooter. It looks like “we made Gears of War but this time it’s robots”. And I feel like that sort of game doesn’t generally scream “dialog delivered with subtlety and emotion.”
- Performance style: Obviously this is a sci-fi setting, but the first main characters you meet are Dan and Big Bo. And when it’s just Dan and Big Bo (and the commander guy on the radio), it’s straight up cop buddy comedy territory. It’s Lethal Weapon. This Rush Hour dynamic maintains throughout the game, which makes the way it leans hard into Blade Runner that much more unexpected.
- Inital quality: The game doesn’t start off on the best foot. The controls are ultimately fine, but they take some getting used to. There is some terrible voice acting in a few early scenes (specifically the scene where the president is being briefed by military dudes). Dan and Big Bo are almost abrasively bro-y early on. So the bar is set kind of low by the first 20 minutes.
What do you all think?
*I can provide some examples if anyone wants, but this is getting long enough for one post as it is.