C.E.J. Pacian presents the world's first liquid-fuelled rocket-blog: trapped in a hyperbolic orbit to nowhere in particular.
Played it: Binary Domain
When it comes to Japanese studios attempting to pander to occidental audiences with their own limp take on over-saturated, traditionally Western genres, Binary Domain seems like it should be exhibit A. We have here a cover shooter in which a shaven-headed American soldier blasts his way through a futuristic city supported by a cast of national stereotypes. It's rather unsurprising that this game has largely sunk without a trace - and considerably more surprising that this is actually a bit of a shame.
The basic gameplay mechanics are extremely solid. The cover system - which is both the defining trait of the cover shooter genre and the part that's most frequently implemented poorly - works smoothly. The enemies are a variety of robots which are great fun to blow to bits, capable of adapting to damage (at one point one still came at me after I blew both its arms off) and understandably prepared to risk their metal necks. This is not a game where you can pick a good piece of cover and spend the whole battle popping in and out of it. Enemies will flank and rush you. Pushing forwards is often safer than hunkering down and being outmanoeuvred.
Pulling your weight is also important to the game's trust mechanic, where if the other characters think you're rubbish (or possibly even a secret robot), the story will take a turn for the worse at key points. And although the dialogue is predictably cheesy and the characters are well-worn stereotypes, Binary Domain does actually have a surprisingly cool story and setting.
This is a future where rising sea levels have all but wiped out the world's major cities. Advanced robot workers have enabled the rich to build gleaming new metropolises on top of the old ruins, while the poor still languish below. When it's discovered that advanced robots are impersonating humans, that aforementioned team of national stereotypes is dispatched to the once more isolationist Japan, infiltrating the lower levels of Tokyo and ascending to its high tech heights with the help of the criminal underclass - all while under attack from the local robot militia.
Naturally there's some attempt to cover Blade Runner style themes, with a sprinkling of Alex Proyas' I Robot and Hideo Kojima's Snatcher, and at times it manages to be very effective. One scene in which some yakuza brutalise a man who hadn't realised he was a robot, for example, really stuck with me. The architecture of the city, both above and below, is also properly awesome, and gorgeously depicted.
For all that, though, this is still Yet Another Cover Shooter. The developers show that they've learned well from Western games, and in the case of the boss fights demonstrate a subject where they should probably be giving the lessons, but this is a refinement of the genre - not a reinvention or even reinvigoration. If you're bored with this kind of game by now, Binary Domain probably won't be able to revitalise your interest. Familiarity aside, if you like action games and science fiction, do give this some consideration.