Waypoint 101 is our new, semi-regular podcast where Waypoint editors play through an old game, maybe one we've always wanted to get around to, and discuss it. Unlike Waypoint Radio, this is meant to be a deep dive, with everyone participating having spent time with the game. To kick things off, we're playing through Binary Domain, a Gears of War-style sci-fi shooter from Sega in 2012.
The first podcast covers the game's first three chapters. The second will cover the remaining three. (E3 planning is throwing off our schedule. We'll figure out the kinks for the second installment. And, yes, you'll help us pick the next game!)
Our thanks to Waypoint reader Xiim for coming up with the great name.
The first few hours of Binary Domain are rough—rough enough that you might be thinking that playing Binary Domain is an elaborate ruse. There's a reason Rob, who'd only played through the game's first chapter, quickly asked Austin and myself: Why are we spending time with this, when we could play anything?
At first blush, Binary Domain doesn't seem worth exploring. It was released when Japanese developers were finding their footing in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 era. Though 2017 has been a banner year for Japan, Binary Domain plays like a Japanese studio trying desperately to riff on Gears of War without nailing what made those games work. It even has an over-the-top black character—this time, Big Bo—whose racial caricatures have you feeling uncomfortable when you catch yourself sometimes laughing at his antics. He can be legitimately funny, but…yeah.
Side note: longtime Yakuza designer Toshihiro Nagoshi is the creative force behind this, and if you've played any Yakuza, Binary Domain's more eccentric touches—for better and worse—suddenly make a lot more sense. Nagoshi often leaves you curious and shaking your head.
Binary Domain opens with a (computer generated) bang, presenting a near-future world where the characters usually presented as villains—the robots—demand real levels of sympathy, as it becomes clear the humans have been building robots that don't even know they're robots. It's an unusually cruel move that transforms the automated into victims.
But that strong opening is immediately followed by a bunch of mediocre shooting. Granted, it is cool that if you nail a head shot, it turns an enemy into a friend for few seconds. Binary Domain is a game of little touches that leave a lasting mark, but many aren't apparent until later, and sometimes, you have to dig around.
You need a little time, for example, to discover the two characters—Big Bo and Dan—aren't the happy-go-lucky jokers often at the center of games like this. They're misogynistic assholes. The game goes out of its way to make sure you're aware of their attitudes and unable to subvert this interpretation. (A more cynical interpretation would be that the game isn't aware they're that bad.)
A little ways into the game, you meet Fay, a tough-as-nails Chinese sniper whom Big Bo and Dan immediately begin sexualizing:
You're able to communicate with the other characters via simple dialogue, which feeds into a relationship system. The "deeper" relationship you have with a character, the more likely they are to come up help you if you get into trouble. If Big Bo asks you to engage in something sexist and you try to push back, your relationship with him goes down. And even if you try to present Dan as A Reformed Man, Big Bo often reminds you that, no, you're actually a sexist jerk.
It's not often that games depict the ostensible heroes as complete dicks.
And that's to say nothing of the game's fascinating, if flawed, voice mechanic, which allows you to connect a microphone and communicate with your squad. It's also, apparently, really good at getting people to be real-life sexist in the pursuit of awful YouTube humor?
Let's, uh, forget that by remembering Binary Domain's got a cool French robot!
One of the reasons I'm interested in playing Binary Domain again is to find out whether my intensely positive reaction in 2012 was a product of its time or something lasting. In the back of my mind, I remember the ending being something memorable, an emotional conclusion in the vein of Nier: Automata, but if I can't recall any details about what happened, maybe I'm just desperate to justify the hours I spent with it. That's the double-edged risk in revisiting what you've etched into your mind.
Case in point: my attitudes and understanding of racial representation in games have changed between 2012 and 2017. In retrospect, I'm embarrassed at my championing of Big Bo as a great character, when he seems little more than a hollow exploitation. Maybe there's additional characterization in the second half of the game that will rescue 2012 Patrick Klepek's desire to yell BIG BO! over and over again. Maybe not. Whatever the outcome, that's also a reason to revisit the past; it can be instructive in helping you understand just how far you've come, too.
We'll be back with the second (and final) episode of Waypoint 101's analysis of Binary Domain soon. Stay tuned for details, but it's safe to start playing through the second half of the game. You can join the discussion on the forums, too.