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Binary Domain Review

Binary Domain Review

From the boys who brought us the Yakuza games comes Binary Domain; a cyberpunk cover shooter. Cover shooters from the seventh console gen are very much a product of their time. This was when action games began to become more streamlined, slower paced, and emphasized a cinematic experience to cater to the masses.

Despite its pedigree, Binary Domain sadly fell by the wayside. This was probably due to the unbearable competition at the time that made titles like this and Vanquish get lost in the ocean of third-person shooters that were drowning gamers annually. As time passed, the Yakuza game series gained notoriety and fans began to look deeper into their past titles.

Binary Domain became a cult game and its release on PC revitalized the game as new gamers discovered it. Almost ten years later, Microsoft makes Xbox 360 version backwards compatible with their Xbox One and Series X|S console. As if that wasn’t enough, the backwards compatibility engineers took the liberty to enhance the Binary Domain experience with a huge frame rate boost.

Binary Domain
Developer: Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios
Publisher: SEGA
Platforms: Windows PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 (reviewed via Xbox Series X|S backwards compatibility)
Release Date: February 28, 2012
Players: 1 (2-10 online)
Price: $14.99 USD 

When Binary Domain was originally released on seventh gen consoles, it pushed those machines to their limits. Compounded with Ryu Ga Gotoku’s panache for highly detailed character models, lavishly produced environments, and an emphasis on meticulous robots that explode into a flurry of metallic shards – it was no wonder the framerate barely held together.

The instability was always a frustrating reality when playing this awesome shooter. The boys at Xbox have made Binary Domain backwards compatible and sought to give it a huge FPS boost so now console warriors can experience a similar experience that the PC gamers have enjoyed.

When running on a Series X or S, Binary Domain runs a clean and smooth 60 frames per second. This was an action game where lots of enemies of varying sizes would swarm the heroes and some bosses would cause smokey alpha effects to fill the screen; crippling the poor GPUs of a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360.

Binary Domain Review

The FPS boost on this backwards compatible version of Binary Domain looks and feels so much better than it ever did on seventh generation machines. When the explosions blanket the field and robot parts are flying, control stays fluid and responsive as we noted during this Binary Domain review.

Even when walking around the luridly colored red light district, the framerate would be erratic in the vanilla console release. On Series X|S, Binary Domain is almost like a remaster with how rock solid its stability has become. With every animation moving cleanly, it is easy to appreciate the craftsmanship from the boys at Ryu Ga Gotoku Studios.

Image quality is also very sharp and while it is still the same exact version that is from the Xbox 360; the high specs of the Xbox Series console prevents any screen tearing or erratic resolution drops. Don’t expect enhanced lighting or textures; this is the same exact game code that was on the Xbox 360. Despite that, Binary Domain looks like a eighth gen console release.

Binary Domain Review

Character models and animation are very polished and natural. The entire game looks like money – as if Binary Domain had a larger budget than the team usually had for their usual Yakuza game development cycles. Every face is meticulously detailed and looks like a real person and are designed with a lot of humanity within them.

The robots are bursting with personality and unique designs that make them distinct from one another. Even the sole friendly robot party member, CN-7 (aka, Cain), sports a sophisticated and futuristic, sleek look that is undeniably military like.

The arena-style environments where most of the shoot-outs happen are equally beautiful. From the scummy and grungy red-light district, to the clean cyber Tokyo above ground – Binary Domain manages to have every vision of a sci-fi urban setting in the book. At times, utopian and dystopian at other instances; the breadth of variety promises sweeping vistas.

Binary Domain‘s premise revolves around a futuristic world where artificial humans are nigh indistinguishable from actual humans. These “hollow children”, become insane when they realize they are machines and generally become a danger to humanity at large.

The only man who could have engineered such advanced androids is the reclusive Yoji Amada. Having broken several Geneva Convention laws by playing God, the “rust crew” is sent in to find and arrest him. The only problem is Japan has become an isolationist nation in the 2080s and the rust crew will have to not only infiltrate, but also shoot their way through hordes of homicidal androids.

Binary Domain may be a team-based shooter, but it still has the RPG DNA that is the foundation of the Yakuza games. Dan Marshall, the player character, is packed with stats to tweak with stuff to buy from vending machines. Gamers can also control the growth of the other rust crew party members by modifying their distinct weapons.

Dan gets dialogue options during cutscenes like in many RPGs and this mechanic is worked into the combat by giving the squadmates commands. Big Bo or Charlie will do their own thing, but in Binary Domain, a commanding party leader earns the most and gets to spend the most.

The range of customization is varied and players can specialize in different weapons and build stats. The only problem we found during our Binary Domain review is that there is no new game plus. This is a huge strike against what is otherwise a very enthralling action game with endearing characters.

When the game begins, options on how to build Dan are limited and saving up means forgoing the early available upgrades. There are a lot of options that open up as the story unfurls and there is no way to try them all out or to experiment with novelty builds because nobody would ever want to waste all the points they put into a specific field.

There are also a lot of party members for a third person shooter and there is no way to fully max them all in a single playthrough. Unfortunately, without new game plus, players are forced to begin from the start with a clean slate every time. This was a huge disappointment in 2012 and it still stings in 2022.

The core of Binary Domain is very repayable. The dialogue choices, the choices of rust crew party members to take, and the various upgrades all point to a foundation where replaying this frantic and crunchy shooter would be obvious. It is far too inconvenient to start totally fresh and have nothing carry over.

There are a lot of big names in the video game voice acting industry who were not so big when this title initially launched. Troy Baker shows that he could never do a convincing British accent and Laura Bailey makes one up that is completely incoherent. Outside of these two actors, everyone else is electric and is very believable in their respective roles.

For something that resembles a big dumb American cover shooter, Binary Domain has a lot more heart than the average 2010s cover shooter. The story is emotional with some twists that are admittedly predictable, but what makes everything come to together are the characters.

Since this was a big AAA cover shooter from the 2010s, it had to include an online multiplayer mode. Anybody who is a fan of Binary Domain probably never touched this mode, because it was never the appeal of the game. Despite the framerate boost and second life due to the backwards compatibility, nobody still touches the multiplayer.

It is too bad Binary Domain flew under the radar when it came out and bombed. It has found its audience like all good games eventually do, but the story is likely never to continue. There may never be a proper remaster that fixes the issue with new game plus and enhances the lighting or shaders, but the enhanced backwards compatibility is a worthy consolation.

Binary Domain was reviewed on Xbox Series S using a copy purchased by Nichegamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Binary Domain has been available for Windows PC (via Steam), Xbox 360 (also Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S via backwards compatibility), and PlayStation 3.

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The Verdict: 8

The Good

  • Fluid and and tight controls with snappy animation make combat feel satisfying
  • The destruction of robots, erupting into a flurry of metallic shards
  • Robust RPG elements that allows customization
  • Tactical commands with responsive partner AI
  • Unbelievable production values, high quality cutscene animations and voice acting

The Bad

  • No new game plus and lacks replay value
  • Laura Bailey and Troy Baker can't do accents to save their lives

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A youth destined for damnation.