E3 2011 Preview: Binary Domain

In the near future, man and machine will coexist in society — that is, according to Sega’s upcoming third-person shooter Binary Domain. Set in the year 2080, Japan and the United States are the leading nations in manufacturing robot technology. Following the appearance of robots resembling humans, which breaks international law, the leading robotics firm in Japan is pinned down as the number one suspect, causing Japan to go under complete isolation.

Enter Dan Marshall and his crew, a group of soldiers sent by the IRTA (an agency that regulates laws surrounding robotics and technology) to illegally invade Japan. The crew consists of members from countries far and wide. In the demo, we had Big Bro (United States), Fate (China), Charles (Britain), and Rachael (Britain). Only two of these crew members can be taken into battle, and players must choose wisely as each soldier has different traits and combat styles (preferred weapon, etc.). As you play through the game, you’ll obtain skill modules, allowing you to fully customize a skill set and further tweak your characters.

Unique to the game is the trust level system, which can fluctuate as you play. For example, if Charlie is shot accidentally by the player, his trust level may drop. This is then reflected in-game and during cut scenes, be it by the character disagreeing with you more often, not following orders, or simply displaying different reactions. You might give them an order, and they might choose not to obey it.

In a hurry to move past the character selection screen, we picked out Charles and Rachael, the two Brits, and jumped into the game. Immediately, we got a look at the game’s voice command system. Similar to Mass Effect 3‘s Kinect functionality, Binary Domain allows you to give orders to your crew with a standard headset. Tapping one of the shoulder buttons brings up a menu of recognizable commands. When we were downed, for example, we yelled out “Help!” for a teammate to come revive us. Following, we wanted to send Rachael into the front lines to do head-to-head battle with the enemy — robot forces the Japanese government has sent out to kill you. “Charge!” we yelled, however, Rachael responded to us with an angry “you’re mental!” This was because her trust level with Dan wasn’t very high. Other commands you can yell include: “Cover me,” “Regroup,” and “Fire!”

Fighting through the futuristic environment, we were downed once more. Players can either call on and wait for help, or use a health kit, which comes in the form of a needle. While downed, players can shoot oncoming enemies with a single-handed pistol, which is good for times when you’re low on needles. Up and alive again, we took to the robot threat coming our way, dropping in by jet packs, helicopters, and all the more. Your basic features are there: cover, blind fire, duck, run, aim, and shoot. Fighting the bots, we had to knock off their armor to do real damage. It was our first look at procedural damage in Binary Domain. If you shoot an arm off, and they drop their rifle, they’ll pick up the rifle up again with the other arm and keep firing. If you shoot off their head, the robot may not be able to differentiate between friend and enemy, causing it to attack surrounding robots, as well as you. It’s a very cool feature.

Shop terminals, which are scattered throughout the game, allow you to spend credits earned by kills (given to you by the organization) to buy more health kits, ammo, upgrades, and various different weapons and grenades. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a taste of any upgrades, as they were disabled in the demo. For some reason, the Japanese government — even though they don’t want you in their country — will still allow you to shop at their terminals for weapons that, in the long run, only help your cause against them.

Spider mech in the flesh

Running along an overpass, the Earth shook and the platform collapsed. It was then that we were thrust into our first boss battle — a huge spider mech. There will be three or four of these bad boys, all in different forms, every chapter. These boss enemies usually have armor that can’t be penetrated with normal bullets. Luckily, rocket launchers and rocket launcher ammo were scattered about the area. Running around, we picked them up and fired at the armor covering its weak spot: its legs. Shooting its legs, its armor slowly began to peel off and its weak spots were revealed. Shooting the weak spot on each leg broke off that leg, the robot getting more and more aggressive as it weakened. After a bit of work and a lot of circling, we took it down. Its worth noting that if you don’t know how to take down a bot, you’ll get various hints from your allies.

According to Sega, the main code of the game is being developed in Japan, with certain members of Sega West providing feedback to the team. Anthony Johnson, who wrote Dead Space: Extraction, is the western writer for the game. Playing through the entire game should take about 10 hours, however, we were told that players won’t see everything in a single go.  Binary Domain didn’t originally set out to be a third-person shooter. The team had only wanted to create a game set in the near future — the game type just latched on eventually.

Co-op, not just single-player, fans should have something to look forward to in Binary Domain, as we were told the team is developing specific missions for co-operative play.

Binary Domain launches in February 2012 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

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