SEGA's upcoming Binary Domain was one of the more memorable surprises of E3 this year; the squad-based third-person shooter is currently set for a February 2012 release.
The plot and aesthetic is pure popular science fiction, conjuring up images of Will Smith's star vehicle I, Robot, as well as Spielberg & Kubrick's AI. However, this is merely the foundation. Although the white armoured robots are familiar staples of this genre, they actually look exceptionally detailed.
Set in 2080 in Tokyo, the plot clearly doesn't take itself too seriously; this is illustrated by buying ammunition from Japanese vending machines branded "Ammunition Transport Japan", the logo being a stork holding a box of weapons.
Binary Domain may appear similar to Gears of War, but it does sport a faster paced arcade twist on otherwise familiar gameplay. The controls are intuitive and simple. To add some variables to this established gameplay style, players can select from an international coalition of military operatives, each with their own classes, which include but are not limited to Heavy Gunner, Sniper, Spec Ops and Demolition.
Party members can be levelled up, as well as customised with various different skills. A key element in the team dynamic is the "trust level", whereby treating members of the party in different ways results in their behaviour towards the player changing. By following their directions, fulfilling team-based tactical manoeuvres and speaking to them with respect, they will then follow instructions more closely. When trust level peaks, the other team members will execute risky manoeuvres on the behalf of the player.
By contrast, if continually placed in danger, they will start cursing out whatever commands are issued to them. Although this glory was stolen by early announcements revealing that Mass Effect 3 would have party voice commands, those integrated into Binary Domain worked incredibly well in the demo. It's an unobtrusive gimmick that can speed up gameplay if the player is equipped with a headset or Kinect.
The AI on show was exceptional, the team is unobtrusive and the enemies are fascinating. Blasting off both robot's legs means it will crawl towards the player, grabbing on to them. Blasting off one leg makes it hop around, and shooting off its gun arm results in it dropping its weapon and attempting to pick it up. Blasting their head off was of great amusement to the developers at E3, as the robots wander about aimlessly. However, other robots see these out of control robots as a threat and neutralize them.
The game looks fantastic, and manages to juxtapose detailed high-end city-scapes with a Japanese arcade character style. The camera is unobtrusive and the lighting is very cinematic. The game at times can seem quite claustrophobic, but then the setting can break out into giant open combat areas for boss fights. The boss shown was Arachne, a spider robot the size of nearby buildings, which required close co-ordination to attack weak joints and eventually bring it down.
Binary Domain is a huge step in the right direction for SEGA as it works towards having a AAA console title that completely exploits the graphical and gameplay opportunities of current generation consoles. The game has a solid foundation, but it remains to be seen if SEGA can find a way for it to break out in a genre already dominated by big budget franchises.