Of the many, many violent shooters on hand at E3 2011, one of the few I chose to play was Sega's Binary Domain. It is not as awe-inspiring as BioShock Infinite or Battlefield 3, but it did at least two things that made it memorable.
If Binary Domain is not on your radar, that's perfectly understandable. It's a dreary looking sci-fi shooter that pits a human squad of forgettable characters against an army of rebellious robots. I didn't think much of the game when Sega first revealed it, despite developer Toshihiro Nagoshi's pedigree (Super Monkey Ball, Yakuza). At E3, I played it mostly out of morbid curiosity.
I can't say that mind has changed much about Binary Domain after playing one of its levels set in a crumbling Shibuya. But it has at least two things I found, if not opinion-changing, potentially interesting.
Binary Domain is a third-person shooter, putting the player in direct control of a Shooting Game Dude named Dan Marshall, member of the International Robotics and Technology Agency's military arm. Joining Dan is a group of specialised teammates, including the massive Big Bo, a heavy machine gunner; Charlie a British spec ops agent; Faye, a Chinese sniper in snug futuristic fatigues; and Rachel, another Brit who specialises in close quarters combat.
Working with that squad is where Binary Domain borders on compelling. In my E3 demo experience, I could choose two teammates. I went with Big Bo and Charlie, informed by a Sega rep nearby that those two had the highest "Trust" score at the time. We fought together in a familiar cover-based assault on teams of enemy robots.
Occasionally, Bo and Charlie would ask me questions, prod me for orders, and take direction. I could respond with a pull of the PlayStation 3 controller's L2 trigger, giving them my response. My responses would engender their trust in me (or whittle it away), as would my actions. Friendly fire would cause them to lose trust in me. Coming to their aid while pinned down by robotic gunfire would increase their trust in me.
Even without fully understanding the maths of this particular mechanic, nor believing it to be revolutionary in any way, I wanted to explore it more, to see how my teammates would react to my orders without having faith in my decisions.
The other thing I like about Binary Domain was the way its enemies reacted to gunfire. I don't care for Binary Domain's aesthetic, but Sega made these robots interesting targets. Shooting robotic enemies in the arm, for example, might make it defenseless. Or that robot may simply pick up its destroyed arm and reclaim its weapon. Shooting off its head would cause it walk aimlessly, comically with arm outstretched firing blindly at friend and foe.
Less goofy was the result of shooting off a robot's legs. Then it would crawl and scratch its way either to cover or at my team, a last ditch effort to kill its human enemy.
Gameplay-wise, Binary Domain did little else compelling. I fought robot enemies of varying shapes and sizes, including one massive robot that required climbing to the roof of a multistory Shibuya building, then jumping onto its back. I attempted to buy and upgrade new weapons at a military vending machine that unfolded like a Dead Space work bench. I interacted with my environment, shooting down powerlines to take down robot bad guys. My team and I worked together, me rescuing them, them rescuing me, when robots overwhelmed us.
There wasn't much to Binary Domain that made me rethink it or rabidly anticipate its 2012 release on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, but it has some hooks. We'll see how deeply they hold us next year.