Versus Mode: Vanquish Vs Binary Domain
- Platinum Games
- Binary Domain
- Versus Mode
There are two things that we really enjoy here at Made 2 Game. The first is a good old fashioned knees-up (but the less we reflect on those the better), and the second is pitting two superficially similar games mano a mano in a series of 5 rounds (with the last round, gameplay, worth double points) to see which is most worthy of your time and money.
So please welcome today’s contestants: in the red corner, it’s the bullet hell shooter with jetpacks on its feet, Vanquish! And in the blue corner, the squad based future-tech bio-robot hunter Binary Domain! Let the battle commence!
Formats: Xbox 360, PS3
Developer: Platinum Games
Released: October 26th 2010
Metacritic Score: 84/100 (based on PS3 score)
Formats: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Released: February 24th 2012
Metacritic Score: 72/100 (based on PS3 score)
ROUND 1 - PEDIGREE
As old Etonians probably say, it’s not just who you are, it’s where you come from. This is true in the world of videogames too, as a promising game in the wrong hands can spell catastrophe, whereas an underwhelming concept can be turned to gold in more capable hands. Luckily then, both games here come from esteemed design teams.
Binary Domain was developed by the team behind the popular Yakuza series. However, Vanquish boasts gaming superstar Shinji Mikami in the director’s seat, designer of classics such as the Resident Evil series and cult favourite God Hand. As if that weren’t enough, backing up Mikami’s ideas is Platinum Games, creators of the Devil May Cry-toppling Bayonetta and the forthcoming Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. The Yakuza series may be the nearest we’ll ever get to Shenmue 3, but Vanquish wins this round hands down due to the sheer amount of talent behind the development.
Vanquish-1 – Binary Domain-0
ROUND 2 - GRAPHICS
Beauty may only be skin deep, but here at Made 2 Game we are very easily distracted by lovely sparkly things that shimmer in perfectly realised skyboxes. Though it’s fair to say that there’s rarely such thing as an ugly game anymore, art style and character & world design are integral to creating an interesting context for the action to unfold in. In this case, each game goes in very different directions.
Vanquish likes to wow the player with huge amounts of excellent effects and visual filters to accentuate the action. Some nice design touches include the game being set within a cylindrical space station that allows the player to see the world stretching out in front and indeed above them in more than a slight nod to Halo, along with some excellent enemy design - the transformer-style movements that some of the larger bosses use to transition between different phases of attack patterns in particular can be quite spectacular to witness.
In contrast, Binary Domain lacks much of the in-your-face flashiness of Vanquish; indeed, on the surface it actually comes across as quite a sterile looking game. Happily though, this style actually complements the tone of the game well, with huge corporate blandness engulfing the super clean and passionless world of future Tokyo. Also, the way that the body armour of the many robo-foes you face falls off as you shoot it looks fantastic as well as giving good visual clues as to the damage you are dealing. The facial animation, seemingly taken wholesale from Yakuza, is excellent, and the way the metal structure of the ‘hollow children’ (what the game calls robots that look no different to humans - think Blade Runner’s replicants) shows through and melds into flesh looks fittingly horrifying.
There’s little to choose from between the two games in this instance as both so successfully achieve what they set out to do, so I’m calling this round a draw.
Vanquish-1.5 – Binary Domain-0.5
ROUND 3 - SOUND
Audio is often overlooked in games in favour of visual finesse, but it is often integral to pulling us into the experience.
In many ways, Vanquish is a fairly typical example of the genre, with satisfying explosions, adrenaline-pumping music and somewhat ropey voice acting. The only real piece of standout sound design is when the action slows down and each individual bullet and explosive crackle can be heard - however, this has been heard in countless titles since Max Payne introduced bullet-time so successfully a dozen years ago.
Much of the above can also be said for Binary Domain, albeit with slightly better voice acting. However, what is most noticeable is that for many parts of the game there is no music pumping away in the background. Whilst this sounds like an oversight on the developers’ behalf, it actually allows the player to focus upon the noise of the battlefield and listen to orders and teammate banter. It’s a brave move that really pays off and lends a much more realistic intensity to proceedings, so for that reason the points for this round go to Binary Domain.
Vanquish-1.5 – Binary Domain-1.5
ROUND 4 - STORY
Whilst it would be silly to expect Dickens-quality narratives in videogames, a well-told story can give some often needed context and drive to a game. It’s also important how the story is told, as too many cutscenes can break the flow of the gameplay.
Binary Domain made a bit of a thing about its story prior to release, and it certainly sounded different. Whilst it clearly riffs on themes from Blade Runner, playing with the idea of having robots that are able think autonomously to the point where they no longer realise they are machines, it manages to add some of its own ideas and tie it together in a satisfying way through use of cutscenes and interaction between team members. While it's prone to some horrifically clunky dialogue and somewhat jarring changes in narrative tone (one minute it’s examining what it means to be human, the next it’s wooping and hollering like an episode of Keenan & Kel) it manages to hold interest well, and even incite discussion and make you consider the moral choices it raises.
Vanquish, on the other hand, is a mess - a half-arsed mish-mash of pulp culture and clichés, the game bookended by a couple of interminably tedious and nonsensical cutscenes, both of which are far too long. Some of the cutscenes in the game can be quite amusing at times, but whether this is intentional or not we honestly couldn’t say - it’s as though it was written as a piss-take of western clichés, but it ends up falling into all the same pratfalls as those it attempts to mock.
Vanquish-1.5 – Binary Domain-2.5
ROUND 5 - GAMEPLAY
Whilst all of the above tests are signs of quality, a game is worthless if it hasn’t got the gameplay to back it up -which is why this last round is worth double points.
Both games take their cues from western-developed 3rd person cover-based shooters as pioneered by Gears of War and its ilk (although I’m sure some readers would rather accredit this style of gaming to last generation's Kill.Switch) before putting their own spin on proceedings. But whereas Vanquish decided to up the intensity and attach rockets to our feet, Binary Domain took a more realistic approach that involved plenty of teamwork and a purposely slow main character to force the player to plan ahead as much as possible. Both have you fighting huge enemies and ridiculous boss battles that can take up to half an hour to complete, and both are a lot of fun in their own individual styles.
Personally, I would say that Binary Domain is perhaps the more derivative of the two in its approach to action, happily funnelling you down a linear path and handily providing you with the tools needed for each encounter. The squad mechanic is pleasantly realised though, allowing you to bark orders to your AI controlled friends via a headset. It’s a lot of fun shouting orders to your team mates and for the most part the input works well. The option to still give basic orders via hotkeys on the controller is a welcome addition to those without a headset too. The option to choose your 3-person squad at various points of the game is also a nice touch, allowing you to formulate a specific approach to the action according to your choices. Whilst the differences between squad members is perhaps negligible at times, the way the dialogue changes depending on the characters chosen allows you to empathise with your team mates. Or just pick your favourites.
However, Vanquish wins this round if for nothing more than the purity of its design. Whilst it remains an obvious reference point, the boost-slide mechanic used in Vanquish is reminiscent of Bullet Time in Max Payne, in that the game often relies on this single simple skill, yet ends up using it in such a myriad of ways that constantly tests the player and keeps the game fresh. In the current market, there appears to be a tendency to throw lots of ideas against the wall and see what sticks - it takes balls to base an entire full-priced release primarily around one function and make it work, and that’s exactly what Vanquish does. Twinned with a refreshingly tough difficultly level and a healthy disregard to gaming’s modern penchant of aping the overblown, empty spectacle of Hollywood, Vanquish is a game designed to be played, pure and simple. You can mock the story all you want but, with gameplay as irresistibly slick and enjoyable as this, nothing else will matter apart from ridding every room of enemies in the quickest and coolest way possible.
Vanquish-3.5 – Binary Domain-2.5
AND THE WINNER IS... VANQUISH!
Despite some good ideas and enjoyable gameplay, Binary Domain has been beaten by our victor, Vanquish. It's worth noting that if you shop around you can purchase both games for around £20 these days, which is an absolute steal for two of the most underappreciated action games of the current generation.
Words by David Harrison (Twitter: @sealofmadness)
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