Analysing a game: Binary Domain

Binary Domain is a third person shooter by SEGA, which was originally released for Play Station 3 and XBox 360 on beginning of 2012 and later on that same year for Windows. Storywise the game has been really good and I’m trying to avoid spoiling it for those of you who haven’t played it.

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For some reason part of the settings can only be changed with a separate program. I understand that the game was developed to be played with both consoles and PC, but settings like selection between keyboard or controller aren’t relevant to every player. But it wouldn’t have hurted to have those settings present in-game for PC players, instead of forcing them to launch a separate program. Moreover, for some odd reason, designers of the game decided that there needs to be an option for selecting either keyboard and mouse or controller and exactly same selection for on-screen prompts. How many players they think will be playing with controller and wanting keyboard prompts or vice-versa? One setting would have sufficed here, made the configuration simple and less error prone (I had this setting originally wrong).

But after those settings are correct, game is really good at providing hints to player when to press and what. Even in the middle of combat little icons are shown telling the player what they need to press in order to take cover, climb over obstacles or use some fancy gadgets. This is really good, since it minimizes the amount player has to spend memorizing every little button and their actions in different situations. It’s enough to know the basics and everything else is told to you. When you learn the buttons by heart, symbols are small enough that they don’t distract from the game. There are also some actions that are performed really rarely (like, once in the few hours of game play). Having to memorize those would be a nightmare.

Where the game falls flat is timing of some of the cut scenes and save point that is placed before them. If player fails after the cut scene, they are thrown back at the beginning of the cut scene. It is possible to skip them, but placing a save point after one wouldn’t have been too much to ask. One could argue that having save point before cut scene gives player opportunity to quit and return back to game at later point and get a brief update what was going on when they quit. However, I don’t see that many players stopping playing for extended periods of time in the middle of action.

Icons also serve as a cue that there’s an action available to player at the current location. If you’re close an ammo box, little symbol will show up and tell you that there’s ammo for you to pick up. Normally you don’t miss those boxes so easily, but in the heat of the battle (which is also when you need the ammo most) it would be easy to overlook them. Same thing as you find a crew mounted gun. No need for long tutorial or distracting pop-up. Just a little icon saying what you need to do in order to lay down some serious damage. Nice little touch is presenting an icon whenever somebody is speaking. Activating that makes player face the character and camera focuses on their face. Nice little addition that makes following conversation easier. Same works when somebody is talking about the next objective. Instead of focusing on the character speaking, the camera focuses on objective, making navigating three dimensional space much easier.

The game does the common in-game tutorial-which-is-part-of-the-game, but fails to really integrate it with the story. The good part is that not everything is front-loaded and presented in one go. Instead of this, player is first taught how to use their radio and weapons (the essential skills). Tactical commands are taught later, when the player has had chance to get accustomed to the game and its controls.

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Special operatives, learning to use their gear, while in mission (also notice which controller button I need to press to activate voice commands).

Where game fails is the integrating tutorial as part of the gameplay and story part. If you’re special operative, you don’t learn to use your stuff while in a mission. You learn it before hand. This would mean presenting everything in a single go like Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis does (albeit they still manage to split basic infantry, squad leader and tank commander trainings, without making it silly from point of view of gameworld) it. Maybe they could have had a single scene before the actual mission, where characters check their gear and test it, before starting the infiltration? I don’t know how to have tactical commands taught to player later in the game in a sensible way though.

The game is trying to flesh out and give personality to each member of the crew. They’re talking with the player and with each other during the mission and cut scenes. Player is even given possibility to interact with them (albeit in a very limited manner, understandable when you remember that each character has a voice actor behind them). Choices the player makes make their squad members to trust them more or less, depending how they react to player’s choice. This is really nice idea and I would like it to be fleshed out even more. Story doesn’t dwell much in their backstory or personality beyond “big, muscular, fun-loving tank” or “deadly, yet beautiful sniper with tragic circumstances”. However, there are enough hints about their backstory, so that the player can start filling in the blanks by themselves, if they so choose. I like this approach better than presenting player with a huge wall of text or tons and tons of cut-scenes and cinematics about their past lives.

Game features real voice command system. It can detect simple spoken commands (mainly responses to interactive elements of the story). I tried it, but didn’t get it to work reliably. It might have been my funny accent, although quite many people have had the same problem. It would probably get annoying really quickly (at least for the people around me), if I were to play with it though.

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