Stop reading if you’ve heard this one: A jock, Roadblock from G.I. Joe, a Chinese sniper, a British demolitions expert, and a French robot walk into a café in 2080 Tokyo on their way to kidnap a Japanese technician making perfectly humanoid androids. Binary Domain, from the people behind Yakuza, is the unpredictable, excellent punchline. It’s funny, too, not to mention unusual, exciting, and sometimes even moving.
By 2080, humanity has come to rely on robotic labor. The world crumbled in the early 21st century, due to economic hardship and disastrous climate change. Robots were needed to rebuild society. The New Geneva Treaty was signed in 2040, barring people from making robots too lifelike. Then “Hollow Children,” robots indistinguishable from people, start appearing. A Rust Crew, an international team of military specialists tasked with policing robots, is sent to isolationist Japan to apprehend Yohji Amada, who is suspected of creating the Children. You play cocky American white boy Dan Marshall.
Domain is familiar in more ways than one. It’s Blade Runner by way of Gears Of War. You and the rest of the Rust Crew spend your time ducking behind waist-high walls, shooting robots that are trying to kill you as you fight your way to Amada’s Tokyo headquarters along a single, changing path. On this level alone, Domain distinguishes itself, with a rich, evolving future Tokyo that takes you through the underground Shibuya slums of the future to the glistening city of privilege above, and manages to make even a token sewer level gripping. What makes it truly rare, though, is how you interact with your teammates.
Trust is the central focus in Domain. At almost any point in the game, you can speak to your teammates, whether by selecting a phrase through your controller or speaking one of 75 different recognized phrases into a headset. These range from commands (“Regroup”) to simple affirmations and denials, but it even branches into the colloquial (“Sweet!”) and complex (“I love you.”) Depending on how you perform in fights or how you respond during brief conversations, your teammates will come to trust you more, meaning they’re more likely to follow commands.
Considering Domain is just a game, it’s surprisingly human. Congratulate old friend Big Bo on a good kill, and he’ll celebrate with you, but offer praise to gruff Brit Charlie, and he’ll accuse you of brown-nosing. These are real personalities, and understanding them is the key to surviving the game’s tense firefights. Good vs. evil, that well-trodden binary most games about choice limply hang upon, isn’t the point here. The game is about what it means to be alive, and what rights the living can claim as entitlements. Domain trusts you to try to answer those questions.