Interview Rewind–Talking Crackdown 2 With Ruffian Games

Crackdown is one of my favorite franchises of all time, and I was ecstatic to finally don my Agency uniform once again when Crackdown 3 released on February 15th. It’s been interesting to see the mixed reviews that Crackdown 3 is getting so far, because its reception reminds me so much of the one that Crackdown 2 received eight and half years earlier. At the time, the expectations for the franchise were sky high, and some fans and critics didn’t feel Crackdown 2 did enough to differentiate itself from its predecessor. I actually felt it did a great job of taking the core Crackdown gameplay and adding in a new day/night cycle that brought a whole new enemy into the game–the Freaks.

I had a blast with Crackdown 2, but you don’t have to take my word for it, as Microsoft just added Crackdown 2 to Game Pass this week! You can download it now and play it yourself.

Anyway, I was a freelance games journalist when Crackdown 2 was released in July of 2010, and I had the chance to interview co-founder of Ruffian Games and Crackdown 2 Creative Director Billy Thomson. Here is what he had to say about Crackdown 2 just before the game’s launch in 2010:

Brian: As you approached the development of Crackdown 2, what were the elements of the first game that you wanted to build on for the sequel?
Billy Thomson: There were a few things we felt were lacking in the first game that we should improve on. The big ones were the number of players available in co-op–admittedly this wasn’t a failing in the first game, more of an area we wanted to expand–we also had no online competitive game modes, the hand to hand combat didn’t work very well at all and we didn’t have enough variation in the type of objectives the player could take on. These were the key areas we focused on right at the start of development of Crackdown 2.


The visuals in Crackdown 2 seem to have evolved a bit from the first game. How would you describe the changes to the look of Pacific City?
The visual style has remained the same, but we’ve increased the resolution on the characters, equipment and vehicles and also did a lot more work on the shaders applied to the entire game world. There’s a visible layer of grit and deterioration covering most of the game world, which accounts for the ten year period of neglect and abuse the city has been through. We’ve also done more work on our lighting, shadows and ambient occlusion to make the city feel more solid and believable. Overall, the artistic style hasn’t changed; it’s just the setting of the city has required the visuals to take on a slightly grittier appearance.

Speaking of which, the strongest character in the first Crackdown was Pacific City itself. How much has that character changed in Crackdown 2, and what will still be familiar to players of the first game?
The environment certainly played a big role in the first game and we’ve done everything we can to keep the right things familiar and mix up the rest as much as possible. Key landmarks remain in the same place as they were before, allowing players to use them as navigation aids, but most of them have been completely replaced with new structures, or the original structure has been drastically altered–normally partially destroyed. We’ve kept the same road layout–albeit blocked at certain points with the quarantine walls that were built around the city during the first few years of the Freak virus outbreak–as we didn’t want players to need to learn their way around all of the streets of Pacific City again. What we really wanted players to need to explore and relearn was the rooftops, and that’s where we’ve spent most of our time. There are also nine large subterranean Freak Lairs dotted around the city that will give the player another level of verticality to deal with too.

How did you deal with the challenge of creating a narrative in an open world game like Crackdown 2?
Creating a fully unfolding story in a truly freeform game is pretty much impossible. The amount of branches you would need to deal with if the player came at the many different objectives in different orders is simply too many to imagine. So we’ve focused our story around discovering the truth about what happened during the ten years in between Crackdown and Crackdown 2. How did the Freak virus reappear? Who are Cell, why did they form and why do they hate the Agency? What happened to the Agents during the ten years that had passed? Are the Agency withholding an antidote to the Freak virus? What is Project Sunburst and what is it ultimately capable of? These are the kind of questions the player can try to find answers to during their exploration of Pacific City.


One of the central concepts of Crackdown 2 is the difference between day and night. Just how different will the experience be for players depending on what time of day they venture out into Pacific City?
The difference from a visual and gameplay point of view is drastic. During daylight hours, the streets are patrolled by Agency Peacekeeper vehicles and the odd Cell vehicle. The few civilians who have avoided infection wander the streets looking for anything they can get their hands on to survive–food, water, fuel, weapons. Some people who have managed to get their hands on these valuable resources will be found selling them on at extortionate prices. It’s a bleak place, but it’s as close to normality as you’ll get in Pacific City during daylight hours.

When night starts to fall, the civilians begin to scatter, running into the buildings around the city to hide from the Freaks. When night actually falls, Freaks begin pouring from every nook and cranny in the city. Slowly at first, then, gathering in number and frequency, they pour out onto the city streets. Soon enough, the streets are packed with the shambling infected masses. Thousands and thousands of them fill the streets and they will attack any uninfected person they find, especially Agents.

How are the Freaks in Crackdown 2 different from other zombie-style creatures we’ve seen in games over the past few years?
The Scroungers – lowest level Freaks – move like the infected in 28 Days Later; they shamble around then spring to life when they detect a target. None of the Freaks eat flesh, they are just mindlessly violent, they find their target and kill them, then move on to the next one. Normally during the frenzied attacks, their victims are infected and become Freaks themselves. We also have some really nasty Freaks, some that are more agile than a top level Agent, allowing them to run faster, jump higher and further than any Agent, stopping the rooftops from being the safe haven they once were for Agents. There are others who are stronger than top level Agents, too, allowing them to lift any object they find in the city and use it as a weapon against their target, throwing vehicles at the player when they least expect it. We also have some other Freaks that the player will come across later in the game, but I’ll leave the players to find out about those themselves.

Collecting orbs and leveling up was a huge part of the game in the first Crackdown. How does Crackdown 2 approach leveling?
Pretty much the same way. Basically, as you use one of the five key skills to progress in the game, we will award skills points for that skill. Most of the time that takes the form of killing bad guys, which is where the “skills for kills” line comes from. We’ve also added more ways to progress each of the skills on top of simply killing enemies, though. We now have more vehicle maneuvers that players can perform to increase their driving skill, we have more Orb types, like Renegade Orbs and Online Orbs, to progress your all of your skills and we’ve also created more abilities, vehicles, weapons and gadgets that the player can unlock through skill progression. As you play the game, you will become stronger, more agile and have access to ever more powerful equipment to help you complete the challenges that lie ahead. Crackdown 2 keeps on giving, long into the gameplay experience. There are many great reasons to keep leveling each of the five skills.

With the four-player co-op system, will players be able to gain experience in someone else’s game and take it back into their single player game?
Yes, all of the skills you improve will come back with you, as well as all the orbs you collect, any Achievements you were rewarded and any leaderboard scores you posted. The only thing that doesn’t come back with you is the objectives you completed in another player’s game. We avoided this due to the difficulty of truly knowing which objectives you actually had a hand in completing. It’s incredibly difficult to get this right in a game that is so open ended. You essentially end up trying to second guess whether or not the player would deem themselves part of the completion or not–they may have simply driven past or jumped over the location of the objective and killed one enemy on their way, it’s so hard to tell.


What have you done with the competitive multiplayer modes in Crackdown 2 that sets the game apart from everything else out there?
The approach we took with our competitive online game modes is quite old school. The way the player moves and the type of over the top abilities, weaponry and vehicles that we have to play with meant that we would never fit into the kind of tactical gameplay experience that games like COD4 or Counter Strike do so well. We knew we would need to move towards a slightly more chaotic, energized gameplay experience. We’re essentially more like a steroid induced, balls out game of Quake, albeit with the ability to fly helicopters, leap up and over buildings and hurl large vehicles around as if they were toys. I don’t think there’s anything out there right now that plays like Crackdown 2 in an online competitive game mode. It’s completely insane.

You’ve created a series of animated comics that fill in some of the gaps between the Crackdown 1 and 2. Given that Crackdown has such a comic book feel to it, have you considered fully extending the franchise into comics, in either a limited or ongoing series?
Ruffian Games would love to see the franchise branch out into these kind of areas, but we don’t own the IP, Microsoft do, so any plans to expand the franchise would be entirely up to them. Personally, I’d love to see more stories of the Crackdown world told in comic book form. You’ll just have to wait and see what Microsoft have planned for the franchise in the future.

Finally, as Crackdown 2 releases this week, what is the one aspect of the game you are most excited about players experiencing?
I think it’s got to be four player co-op in the full city with four fully leveled up Agents once you have maxed out your skills you have access to everything the game has to offer. At this stage, the game turns into a huge playground where you and your three friends can play with all the toys and do anything you want to with absolutely no restrictions. There is so much depth in the range of abilities, weapons, gadgets, vehicles and objectives that players can have a truly endless supply of fun experiences. It’s so hard to describe, I can’t ever remember playing a game that made me laugh so often and so hard. Even after spending thousands of hours in this game world, I still see something new each time I play with a group of people. It’s chaotic, emergent, mindless, piss yourself laughing, unadulterated fun.


Xbox One Backward Compatibility Super Sale Is On Through 5/22

If wanted to either catch up on some Xbox 360 classics or just grab some of your old favorites for your digital collection, now is the time. Microsoft is having a backward compatibility sale through May 22nd, and a ton of titles are discounted up to 75%.

Check Out The Xbox One Backward Compatibility Super Sale Here

If the list is a bit overwhelming, then allow us to recommend some titles for you:

Dead Space 1&2
Red Dead Redemption
Bioshock 1&2
Burnout Paradise
Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Deux Ex: Human Revolution
Dragon Age: Origins
Fable II
Fallout 3
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Geometry Wars
Left 4 Dead 2
Mass Effect 1-3
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Portal 1&2
Saints Row IV
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas
The Orange Box (Half-Life 2 + Eps 1&2)
Witcher 2

OcTerrorFest: Brian Plays Dead Space (EP. 5)

It’s October, and that means it’s time for horror! We’re holding our own OcTerrorFest, and as part of that, Brian is playing through the original Dead Space. In this episode, Isaac and his crew are already stranded on the USG Ishimura, and Isaac is trying to get the fuel tanks back online so they can get the ship moving again. But the necromorphs have other ideas.

If you enjoy this series, please leave a LIKE or comment on the video. Don’t forget to subscribe!

365 Days of Rocksmithing: Day 1

In 2012, I bought a copy of Rocksmith and a pretty kickass electric guitar. I also bought all the accouterments for the guitar, including a set of picks, a guitar tuner, and a nice strap bag. I even bought an adapter so I could connect the guitar to my iPad so I could use the iPad as a substitute amp. I had high ambitions: I would finally learn to play the guitar after on-and-off efforts since junior high school.

As before, I failed to keep at consistently practicing, and what little I learned over a couple of weeks of playing Rocksmith faded away fairly quickly.

This year, I’m forging ahead once again on my quest to learn how to play at least one song on the guitar. My wife kindly bought me an actual guitar instruction book, but I know that I learn more efficiently by actually applying theory to practice. So, the goal is to play the guitar for at least 30 minutes a day, which will equal at least 10,950 minutes played over the course of a year. If I can’t learn something after spending 10,000 minutes practicing it, I might never learn, even if popular wisdom says that we need to practice a skill for at least 10,000 hours to achieve mastery.

To hold myself accountable, I’m also documenting my progress every day, even if the post is just a simple paragraph. So, here we go.

Day 1
I wish the living room were a little warmer in the morning, but I suppose the cold will wake me up better than anything else. I thought the blank screen before me was an inauspicious start to this quest; I checked the connections, which seemed fine, so I restarted the Xbox and hoped for the best. Thankfully, everything seemed to boot and connect correctly this time.

I had forgotten how long and how many loading in Rocksmith took. Not for the first time, I thought about trading in this copy of Rocksmith for a copy of Rocksmith 2014. I wonder if the loading times are any better in that version.

I had also forgotten that I had to tune the guitar every time I loaded a song. This is the kind of thing that saps my enthusiasm.

I first tried the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ version of “Higher Ground,” and the game remembered my previous progress, so it tried to throw me into the deep end with chord switches. The program interpreted my flailing along the guitar neck as a plea for help and took the difficulty back down to simple one-string notes with a minimum of chord changes. I felt humbled.

I then tried to play my favorite song on Rocksmith’s soundtrack, the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” This was probably the song I practiced most the first time I tried to learn to play the guitar with Rocksmith, and the note placement is so distinctive that I could hear when my fingers weren’t in the right place. I played through the song twice, and my brain and fingers still struggled to remember where my fingers needed to go. This is going to take longer than I had thought.


Saints Row IV is Crackdown 3

Perhaps me spending a lot of time re-playing Crackdown 2 recently was just a happy coincidence. but, when I started Saints Row IV this week, the similarities between it and the Crackdown franchise were immediately apparent. In fact, Saints Row IV may just be the Crackdown sequel gamers have been waiting for.

Maybe the biggest addition to the franchise in Saints Row IV is the introduction of super powers. Early on in the game, you get super sprint and super jump abilities, which make navigating the world feel very similar to a powered up agent in Crackdown. Saints Row IV also features golden orb-shaped robots that you have to chase down . In Crackdown 2, these were known as “Renegade Orbs,” but Saints Row IV refers to them as “CID Command Orbs.” They function pretty much the same though, granting rewards for tracking them down.

Using your jump powers to bound from building to building like the Hulk feels very much like jumping around in Crackdown. As you get further into the game, you get a wider variety of powers than what Crackdown offers, but the moment to moment gameplay still feels very much like Crackdown, as you’re often using a combination of your powers as well as firearms to deal with large crowds of enemies.

I was already a huge fan of the Saints Row series, but by sprinkling in a dose of one of my other favorite franchises, Volition may have created my favorite open world action game yet.


Dead Space 3 Is Not The Experience in Terror I was Looking For

Man, I hate to be that guy.

You know, the guy who’s all like “They changed my beloved franchise into something I don’t recognize anymore just to sell more copies to the mainstream!” That guy.

But, as much as I hate to say it, they changed my beloved franchise into something I don’t recognize anymore just to sell more copies to the mainstream.

And by my beloved franchise, I mean the Dead Space franchise. Because Dead Space 3, to me, is a stark contrast to the survival horror game that was the original, and it took the worst parts of Dead Space 2 and used them as building blocks for the third game.

Have I mentioned I love the Dead Space franchise? Because I do. I covered the hell out of the original game during my days at CBR. My pal Antony Johnston worked on the first game, wrote all of Dead Space Extraction and wrote some great tie-in comics as well. I interviewed the writer of Dead Space 2 on Secret Identity. I’ve read all the comics, and the tie-in novel. I’ve watched all the animated films (the first of which was written by comic superstars Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray).

I tell you all that because I really do love the Dead Space world. And both the world, and the games themselves, are firmly rooted in horror. The first game was a genuinely scary survival horror game that helped keep a failing genre afloat for a few years until other games started picking up the slack. Dead Space Extraction featured simplified mechanics but retained the great story and tension of the first game. Dead Space 2 was the equivalent of Aliens to the first game’s Alien, taking the action up a notch but keeping the scares and expanding the world at the same time. There were some questionable design decisions in Dead Space 2, but the whole of the game overshadowed any of the stumbles.

With Dead Space 3, the pendulum has swung completely to the action side, at the expense of both the storytelling and the horror of the first two games. The two places where this is most evident is in the pacing and in the way combat is approached.

What made the first two games so scary was the methodical pace they had. You would frequently find yourself introduced to an area and then be forced to explore it before any real combat began. Tension would continue to build, as there could be several minutes where you did not see an enemy, or perhaps just caught a glimpse on one off in the distance. When combat did occur, it was less about dealing with hordes of enemies and more about using your skills to take on small numbers of dangerous enemies at a time.

Dead Space 3 still uses pretty much the same mechanics as the first two games, but they don’t hold up as well because the nature of combat has changed significantly. Most encounters are with multiple enemies of different kinds, so I constantly have to use my stasis (slow things down) and kinesis (throw things around) abilities in conjunction with my weapons. And this is where things break down. Isaac moves pretty slowly, and aiming is imprecise. Which often means that I’m either wasting precious stasis blasts by missing enemies completely, or I’m waiting until they get in close enough to guarantee a hit, which defeats the purpose. So, combat often devolves into me firing wildly at the three enemies that are now on top of me, and trying to stasis them long enough to stomp them to death. Elegant it is not.

And that for me is the most glaring inconsistency in the design of Dead Space 3. The world itself, the atmosphere of the game and the mechanical systems seem designed for a methodical survival horror game, but the combat feels designed for a much faster action shooter. The result is a game where I actually dread combat, and as soon as I run into a frustrating encounter, I end my play session.

I could not stop playing Dead Space 1, 2 and Extraction. I have to force myself to spend time with Dead Space 3. That’s a real bummer. In many ways, I just wish someone would novelize the events of Dead Space 3 so that I could keep up with the story, but not have to play the game.


The Year of B-Games–Walking Dead: Survival Instinct

What is It? 
The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is a new first person survival game set in the world of The Walking Dead television series. Players take on the role of Daryl Dixon as he and his brother Merle travel the Georgia countryside trying to survive the initial stages of the zombie outbreak.

Why Does it Make the B-Game List?
Survival Instinct is a licensed game, made on a modest budget and an accelerated development cycle. The game retailed at $50, as opposed to the usual $60 price point. Its current metascore is 32 out of 100 for the XBox 360 platform, which is what I played it on. Since its release, the game has sold about 420,000 copies on all platforms combined.

Why It’s Worth Playing 
Because there are some really interesting ideas at play in Survival Instinct, especially for a first-person zombie game. For starters, the emphasis on stealth as opposed to combat give the game a great sense of atmosphere. Zombies are deadly in this game, particularly if you encounter more than one or two at a time. And ammo is scarce enough that a ‘run and gun’ approach won’t get you very far.

Survival Instinct also features a party management system, where you can send members of your group off on their own side missions to collect gas or supplies. Granted, it’s not very fleshed out, but it adds another layer to the game and it’s simple enough to manage.

The graphics aren’t amazing, but honestly I could care less about that–they do an adequate job of depicting the world, the story and a creepy atmosphere. A lot of the action happens in broad daylight, and there is some nice lighting throughout the game. And the sound design is pretty great in places.

Where Does It Stumble? 
Survival Instinct definitely stumbles in the technical category. There are a lot of invisible walls, the quicktime melee events are frustrating, and the zombie AI is inconsistent, which makes the stealth portions of the game inconsistent. I could never get a good feel for the aggro range of zombies. Weapons don’t have a lot of heft to them, and melee combat is clumsy, as you get into a pattern of shoving a zombie and then trying to gauge when it’s close enough to connect with your weapon. Having played ZombiU and loved it, I was hoping for more from the melee combat in this game.

There are some truly frustrating moments where you get attacked by a horde and the mechanics just don’t hold up to that kind of situation. Your character is not meant to fight a horde, as the zombies are too deadly, yet there are times where it’s unavoidable and leads to death after death. Worse still, the checkpointing system sometimes puts you in a worse situation when you do respawn.

Closing Thoughts
I’m really torn about this game, because while it isn’t a great game, it’s nowhere near as bad as many mainstream gaming sites are making it out to be. I feel like this is a classic case of the game being doomed by critics before it even came out. It also highlights the problems that B-Games face, and one of the reasons that I started this series in the first place. There is simply no place in today’s gaming market for a game like this.

Survival Instinct actually reminds me a lot of Deadly Premonition, as both were very ambitious in a lot of ways, but fell short because they didn’t have the resources to fully realize those ambitions. The big difference is that Deadly Premonition was released at a $20 price point in the US, and it became a cult hit, with people embracing many of its flaws because it offered a unique experience at a very reasonable price. The biggest misfire of Survival Instinct was the $50 price point in my opinion, because it signaled that the game was a budget title, but didn’t offer a low enough price point to justify overlooking its technical failures. If you can find it for under $30, it’s definitely worth checking out.

If you want to hear some behind the scenes about the development of this game, I interviewed Glenn Gamble from Terminal Reality about Survival Instinct right before the game came out. You can check that out here.


The Year of B-Games–Fracture

What is It?
Fracture is a third-person shooter that takes place in a future where the Untied States are no longer united. The country has fractured (get it?) into two groups–the Atlantic Alliance and the Republic of Pacifica

Why Does it Make the B-Game List? 
This game received mixed reviews when it came out, and its current Metascore is 63. It also sold poorly, finishing with about 430,000 units worldwide on PS3 and Xbox 360 combined.

Why It’s Worth Playing
The basic terrain deformation mechanics are pretty cool, as you can raise and lower much of the ground around around you. The most obvious use of this is to create and remove cover, but you can also smash object and people into ceilings, pull the ground out from underneath things, and so on. The best part of this functionality is that it’s built into your suit, so no matter what weapon you’re using, those basic abilities are available to you.

The game actually has a cool opening sequence as well, which feels very inspired by Starship Troopers in its presentation.

Where Does it Stumble?
Fracture feels like a classic case of a game built around one interesting idea, and not much else. It’s also a game where many ideas really don’t go past the premise stage. The idea of the country being divided is interesting, but once the game starts, it’s just a generic “us vs. them” storyline, and none of the enemies are particularly interesting.

I mentioned that the core terrain deformation mechanic was cool, but the rest of them are mapped to grenades, which means that you are constantly needing a particular type of grenade for a particular situation. This masquerades as puzzle solving, when it really isn’t as you are handheld the entire time. For example, I needed to get into a sewer system at one point, but there was a great covering it. instead of just being able to blow it up, I needed to use a special grenade that would cause a pillar to rise out of the ground, catching the lip of the grate and opening it so I could go through. That type of gimmicky stuff is present throughout.

Closing Thoughts
Fracture is the first of the B-games I did not finish. While it’s definitely worth spending a little time with to check out the terrain deformation, there’s not a compelling reason to stick with it after a few hours. The good news is, you can grab a copy used for $3 like I did, and at that price, I got plenty of enjoyment per dollar.


The Year of B-Games–Blacksite: Area 51

What is It? 
Blacksite: Area 51 is a sci-fi/horror first-person shooter from Midway. The game is a spiritual successor to the old Area 51 Atari arcade shooter and the 2005 FPS of the same name. The storyline starts with a Delta Force squad looking for WMDs in Iraq and finding alien technology instead. One of the squad members is left for dead as the rest of the team escapes an alien (Xeno) attack. A few years later, the remaining squad gets brought back together, and they find out the government was trying to harness the technology to create super soldiers. As you might imagine, that plan went awry.

Why Does It Make the B-Game List?
Aside from its light gun arcade legacy, Blacksite has a Metascore of 60 and received pretty mediocre reviews across the board. The designer of the game later admitted that the game had a troubled development, and had almost no playtesting before release.

Why it’s Worth Playing
It’s actually pretty fun. The basic shooting mechanics are fine, and there is some rudimentary squad management, where you can tell squadmates where to go during encounters. It’s not very deep, but it’s enough, as you can use squadmates to trigger encounters, which gives you an advantage in terms of positioning, cover, etc.

And while the level design is plain at times, there were a few times that we went through residential neighborhoods that was cool.

The boss fights aren’t particularly interesting, but I had fun with all of them, and the game was rarely frustrating (save for one boss fight–see below).

Where does it stumble?
The vehicle mechanics are pretty bad, and I never really had fun driving. Most of the time, I would be driving while a squadmate used the turret on top of a vehicle. There was never an opportunity for me to take the turret and assign a teammate to drive. (like you can do in Halo, for example). It wasn’t a huge deal, as there weren’t a ton of driving segments.

There was one frustrating boss fight where you’re the gunner on a helicopter and are taking on a giant alien on a bridge. The controls are clunky, and it’s really easy to get hit by projectiles you don’t even see. I died several times during this sequence, and it was easily the most frustrating in the game.

Closing Thoughts 
A fun sci-fi shooter with light squad based elements, Blacksite: Area 51 is a solid B-game that you could blow through in a day or two. if you see it in the bargain bin, grab it. You can get it for $10 on PC and $20 on consoles brand new, but I grabbed a used copy for five bucks.


The Year of B-Games–Binary Domain

I’m kicking off the Year of B-Games with a game that should not be on this list, because it’s too damn good–Binary Domain.

What is it?
Binary Domain is a third-person sci-fi shooter developed by the Yakuza team and published by SEGA. It debuted on the XBox 360 and PS3 in February of 2012, and made its way to PC in April of 2012. The game takes place in a future where robotics have advanced to the point of being able to pass for human beings. You play as part of a “Rust Crew,” a team that is sent into Japan to investigate a corporation thought to have breached international laws regarding the creation of human-like robots. Things go downhill from there.

Why Does It Make the B-Game List?
While it has a Metacritic score of 72 (considered “good” on most review scales), Binary Domain is primarily on this list because it sold very poorly when it came out. In the month it debuted in the US, Binary Domain sold a total of 20,000 copies on the XBox 360 and PS3 combined. This game was completely overshadowed by the juggernaut that was Mass Effect 3, and it didn’t help that SEGA did very little in the way of marketing for it. This game came and went very the US, although it fared better in Japan. On a slightly positive note, it does look like lifetime sales of the game are around 360,000 (according to VGChartz), which doesn’t seen too bad, but what do I know?

Why It’s Worth Playing 
Let’s start with the story. Granted, I’m biased, as I know writer Antony Johnston, who worked on the story. But the story is a lot of fun, with nods to classics like Blade Runner as well as a few of John Carpenter’s movies (They Live, Big Trouble in Little China) along the way. The dialogue is well written and genuinely funny in a places. There’s an interesting love story woven into the game as well, and in general, all the characters are pretty well defined, if archetypal.

That leads me to the second reason this game is worth playing–the squad dynamic. On a basic level, you usually move through the game with a squad of three characters, which you can choose from a roster of several as the game goes on. In combat, you can either use voice or button commands to give order like “Charge,” “Fire,” “Retreat” and a bunch more. I found the voice controls to work surprisingly well, and because you can use them in dialogue as well, there are times where the interaction between you and the characters has a great flow to it.

You also get to manage your squad in terms of gear upgrades, improving both weapon performance as well s offensive and defensive capabilities. It’s not very deep, but it adds another layer to the squad management.

Finally, there’s a trust system with the other characters on your roster, and it’s based on how you respond to dialogue as well as your actions in combat. As you progress through the game, you can build trust with your teammates, which can alter how parts of the game play out, especially near the end.

Where does it stumble?
My only major knock against the game is that the squad AI is not great at times. Because the trust system is affected by how well you do in combat, when a squad member walks across your line of fire in the middle of a fight, they get upset at you and you actually lose trust. Granted, it’s not hard to get it back, but there were times that I had to work to get teammates back on my side because I accidentally shot them when they blindly ran in between me and an enemy. It happened enough times over the course of the game to be mildly annoying.

Other than that though, I really have no knocks against this game, It’s well put together all around.

Closing Thoughts
Just one: This game was criminally overlooked. It’s a blast from start to finish.

You can grab Binary Domain for $20 brand new on XBox 360 and PS3, and for $25 on Steam right now. It’s well worth your time and money.

NOTE: If you’re interested, check out this interview I did with Antony Johnston about the game when it launched last year.