Thoughts on why Binary Domain is "Surprisingly" Good


#1

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.


#2

I think I agree with your assertions here. Hopefully I don’t get too spoiler adjacent, but the times where you are in an area and just talk to random citizens are some of the best parts to me. The incidental dialogue adds alot of character to the world that I wish I could have spent more time in. The setting and state of the world are some of the most interesting parts to me, but these don’t get explored very much regrettably.

My general opinion on the game is that it was a great introduction and first game in what should have been an expansive series, perhaps something that had an open world or structure more like Nier did in its second or third game.

It has alot of cool ideas that I would have loved to see expanded. This is why I think people see it as “surprisingly” good.


#3

When I first looked at it the game seemed to be a GoW formula shooter with a more militaristic take on a Blade Runner/Snatcher style story, and it ended up outgrowing both of those first impressions greatly, which was what made it a surprise for me. But whenever I talk about it other people I usually skip the “surprisingly” in “surprisingly good”, since, like you said in the OP, it’s kind of backhanded, which I don’t really see the reason for with this game.


#4

So I recently played Binary Domain in a few days preparing for the book club. I kind of also have this “surprisingly good” take on it. I had a copy of this game for quite a while on my PS3 because of Playstation Plus, and I had friends telling me to play it. The main reason I didn’t is that I looked at it and thought “is this just going to be the action of putting a crosshair over samey-looking robot heads from behind cover for hours and hours”? I wouldn’t say that it looked as drab as Gears of War does–it was pretty colorful even in preview images–but I wasn’t expecting the cool areas you do eventually get with this game.

IT’S A THIRD-PERSON COVER SHOOTER WITH SOCIAL LINKS. All these characters are great (except I feel like Rachel was not given as much of a personality as others, maybe because they didn’t want to risk you feeling like pursuing a romance with anyone but Faye? By the end of the second chapter, I felt more for them than I ever did for the protagonists of Gears of War, a game that Binary Domain unashamedly rips its gameplay from. The way these robots shred up when you shoot them is gorgeous; I don’t think I’ve ever seen robots get destroyed this good in any game. They took one basic enemy class and really made it shine. The places the story goes are very impressive and do actually kind of beg for a sequel.

Edit: Oh, and there’s also a dream version of this game where the microphone stuff actually works and I can just yell “BIG BO!” to get him to talk whenever I want.


#5

I seem to remember it was a perfectly decent shooter, and it was surprising how many cool characters you could have as your squadmates. Big Bo will always take the cake, but I remember the French robot being really cool as well. Some of the boss fights were insane to.

The voice recognition, didn’t work at the best of times, but when it did it was awesome. It felt like you were having a dialogue with the game.


#6

I really liked the story, and I though it was interesting that by the end there was never really an audience perspective character.

Super Spoilers and Shit

[spoiler]I forget names because I’m bad at that in general, but the dude you play as is a real prick. The game’ll have you watch a genuinely harrowing scene with a dude finding out that he’s one of the “hollow children”(I think that was the name), and subsequently being treated like shit to the point where he pulls a gun and kills himself, but the dude you play as doesn’t sympathise with the guy AT ALL. He jumps headfirst at the opportunity to kill the guy and acts a bit disappointed when he kills himself.

Like, towards the end he ALMOST has a revelation and realises that everyone is being insanely stupid and/or Future Racist against robots, “Why are we doing this? They aren’t even doing anything?” but then just sort of forgets he was on that train of thought. The ending I liked because it was basically him realising that he’s been a moron, but not realising how, and dedicating himself to the side he knows is right with the intention of learning along the way. That’s probably the most relatable thing he does in the lead up to the final moments honestly, made him seem like he MIGHT be alright. [/spoiler]

So that’s one of the things I thought was interesting, though it wasn’t perfectly done and who knows weather it was intentional or not. There’s a LOT of stuff to walk about in the story.

GOOD GAME.


#7

The ending, where the game reveals that most of those characters that were really charming and funny are unashamedly racists, soured me a little on Big Bo & co.

I played through Binary Domain last year, and to me it is “surprisingly” good because I’m not fond of shooters. I didn’t know how I got this game (a bundle? a gift? did I really buy it?), but it was on my Steam library and I gave it a shot, on a mission to clear my backlog.

And I went past the first mission satisfied. Moving my dude, shooting, it all felt quick and easy. And as I played it, I was becoming more intimate with my other dudes? It’s like they’re characters, not Grunt 1, Grunt 2, etc. It had enough tense moments to keep me down and push me forward.

After I was done with it, I only had two problems. One was mentioned above, the way it handles its ending, and the other is that it had many corridors with sponge-y enemies for you to escape through. Here and there it got me thinking “I’ve been running for almost 15 minutes. Either let me catch my breath and slow the pace or put me in front of the boss already”. The game could have been 30 or 60 minutes shorter, maybe.
These two, though, aren’t enough to outweigh the good bits.


#8

I know Big Bo gets a lot of the love when we talk BiDo, but man, there’s so much else to love about this game. When I think about it now, I still have the visions of the tiny parts of metal flying off robots - I still can’t think of a game that did localised damage and destruction better.
Whilst the opening is a bit of a slog, the later environments are amazing - I think Cain is introduced in a bright future city (mais oui Monsieur!) and the final choices are brutal, and in some cases heartbreaking.
It felt like the Japanese looked at Mass Effect and went and Vanquish’d it (if Vanquish is Japanese Gears).

COOL GAME


#9

I really appreciate how there’s basically two models worth of polygons for every enemy due to the amount of bits that can get blasted off of everyone.

The “surprisingly good” reactions from people don’t surprise me, the debut trailer for the game was extremely stupid and made the game look awful. I had faith because of the great demo and Team Yakuza has yet to let me down. This is definitely my favorite Gears of War kind of game.


#10

Oh, are we just… pulling the trigger on the book club thing? Is that… what we’re doing?


#11

I was just thinking the same haha I’ve been refreshing this forum and podcast feed all day looking for the official staffer opinions. Guess we are just getting impatient.


#12

Just a heads up if you weren’t aware already. The podcast got pushed to next week because Austin is out of town. Don’t want you to wait all day just to be disappointed.


#13

Boo!!! Thanks for the heads up!


#14

Thanks, I must have missed that tweet.


#15

Anyone trying to play this on PC with a PS4 controller plugged in? It seems like you can edit the controller config but I’ve had trouble finding configurations for this controller.


#16

Did you try the HID Compliant Game Controller thing I mentioned earlier. (Might have been different thread). Regardless here it is again, if you disable the windows driver for HID Compliant Game Controller, the game should pick up the PS4 controller when next you boot it up. At least that works for the Xbox controller.


#17

Thanks man. For me the controller responds, but I can’t find where to remap buttons. It has the Xbox controller setup in the config area but I haven’t been able to find a way to remap anything. Will keep searchin’ but any help is appreciated!


#18

For your consideration:

Bignary Bomain

Thank you.


#19

I’m half way through chapter 4. In general, I don’t like TPS (and really, getting cooler on FPS as well)

I think that as a game BD is actually pretty bad. Most things it’s getting praise for in this topic are things I enjoy as well: characters, aesthetics, setting, story, etc. However, the way that you interact with those things, the gameplay part is not very fun. I’m playing on PC. I have a host of issues.

User experience The buttons are all messed up. F is back? Click mouse wheel to reload? Press space to access character status, but the only thing you can do there (change nano bots) requires a Q press? There’s no logic or continuity in the mapping, let alone the fact that that mapping is poorly communicated to the player. The setting screen is another exe, you can’t access most settings (including mouse sensitivity) within the game. It’s a terrible user experience.

Voice controls This is part of the user experience, but deserves its own shoutout. How the hell could they get this so wrong? My mic is great, never had any issues with it at all, it gets picked up fine by the game, but the game has recognized a total of maybe 3 phrases out of 50 I tried. It’s a cool idea, but man, they just fucked up the coding on this.

Controls The way you control Dan is awful. Running physics are all messed up. There’s too much momentum on small forward movements, and the strafing and backwards walking are too slow (and the animations for those just look silly). Running around in the world is not fun, it feels bad (s/o Jeff G). Having vault, ladder climb, duck, and sprint all bound to space means that a lot of the time (usually when I’m getting shot), I stick to walls, or don’t disengage. Getting to a ladder, if you press space too early (even when the prompt is up) means that you just evade forward instead. Controlling your character is not fun, and actively works against player enjoyment.

Context ignorant gameplay I presume that an international team made up of former specialists would have tech (weapon and nano) that would not be outmatched by vending machines in Japanese sewers. Maybe I’m just crazy. Writers should have talked to designers a bit more. Also, as a note, Amada better have everything deleted by the time I get there, because even a random cop figured out what’s going on (Rust Crew coming for Amada).

Despite all this, I’m still enjoying the experience. The world and the story is up my alley. I love the questions that are being set up, and some of the set pieces to ask those questions are very engaging. Bosses are very cool, and varied, and probably the best gameplay parts of BD. I’m looking forward to see how this wraps up, and truly wish that more media was based in this world/asked these questions. (if somebody has recs for things similar to BD’s world and story, I’m all ears; this is regardless of vg, book, comic, movie, etc)


#20

I’m looking forward to playing this along with the Waypoint crew! I was wondering, I own it on both PC and PS3, but only have a headset for PC. Any opinions on the PC port?