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The first thing I remember about Binary Domain, weirdly, is how it sounds. It has, as the best shooters must, a truly great shotgun; this one lets off a properly thunderous boom. Its SMG - god, I love its SMG - makes just the most fantastic racket, like someone dropping a box of nails on a corrugated roof. And amid all those crashes and bangs, I hear voices. Listen! There's loveable wingman Big Bo roaring his encouragement. And there's Cain, a flamboyant French robot wearing a red neckerchief, briefly pausing between volleys of machine-gun fire to praise my leadership.
That bears repeating, doesn't it. A flamboyant French robot wearing a red neckerchief. Binary Domain is full of things like that: the kind of characterful silliness that reminds you this is from the team that makes the Yakuza games. That fact alone would seem to disqualify it from double-A status, but back in 2012 Japan was still something of a plucky underdog when it came to third-person shooters. By the time it showed up, with its "and now on ITV2..." title and slightly naff box art, we'd already had three Gears of Wars and three Uncharteds, and it was hastily dismissed as an also-ran.
Yet its brilliance seems to have earned some recognition in the intervening years - thanks partly to a belated PC port. So when Gears 4 arrived, I certainly wasn't the only one suggesting its opening chapters of COG-vs-robot combat were basically a poor man's Binary Domain. Where were the rest of you seven years ago, eh?
Maybe back then everyone had grown too accustomed to fighting humans and monsters. To its credit, Binary Domain recognises that its enemies lack the satisfying squishiness of shooting a flesh-and-blood enemy, and actively leans into what makes robots so different - which is kind of ironic when you think about the story's central themes. These bots just keep coming: blast off their gun arm and they'll bend down and pick up their weapon with the other: a fantastically shivery moment the first time it happens. Remove their legs and they'll crawl towards you. Relentless! Their unblinking persistence makes them equal parts fun and frightening, if you ask me, and I sometimes find myself imagining an alternate timeline where this is widely considered the best Terminator game ever made and Sega is now swimming in money. (It also means we never get Yakuza 0, so, y'know, swings and roundabouts.)
They're worthy opponents, in other words, and so it really feels like you're earningthe positive reinforcement you get. And sure, that's partly because you have to wrestle a bit with the slightly spotty squad commands - I didn't persevere with the voice controls, I'm afraid, and I say this as a fan of Yoot Saito's Odama - and the kamikaze AI, which occasionally sees squadmates sprint headlong into your own fire. More often than not, this prompts a sarky putdown from the wonderfully withering Charlie - who, incidentally, and I was today years old when I discovered this, was played by Troy Baker.
But it wouldn't be a double-A game without a bit of jank, would it? Binary Domain positively embraces its B-movieness, with a story that touches upon a whole bunch of themes familiar to speculative fiction - what it means to be human, the divide between the haves and the have-nots, and so on - plonked into a game that asks you to hold off waves of enemies while one of your number takes a dump. It doesn't carry the whiff of self-importance of a more prestige production. It's not the kind of game where people bang on about how cinematic it is. It does not have a mournful soundtrack by an Oscar-nominated composer.
I don't remember the score much at all, in fact. But then when I think of Binary Domain I am too busy listening out for other things. Over the waspish clatter of my SMG, I am anticipating Big Bo gleefully yelling out "that was sweeeeet!" As I hunker down to reload, I am waiting for a Gallic robot to compliment me on the accuracy of my shooting. Binary Domain - c'est magnifique!