Binary Domain and Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days have little in common. Binary Domain tells a powerful, nuanced story that touches on global warming, international law, government contracts, personal loyalties, and competing corporate interests. Its characters have surprising depth. Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days tells a gritty, profanity-peppered crime story. It is a would-be character study of two killers completely lacking in character. Binary Domain has something to say. Kane and Lynch 2 would rather just scream in your face and upset you. Both succeed in their very different missions.
Binary Domain – Robots, Political Intrigue, Reverence for Life
Toshihiro Nagoshi’s Binary Domain imagines a future in which corporations build humanoid robots to repopulate the world’s factories after global warming nearly wipes humans out. Global warming raised the sea-level, destroyed cities, killed off a large percentage of the population. To replenish the workforce, the Bergen company in the U.S. and the Amada corporation in Japan produced android workers. With the help of the new robot workforce, survivors built cities on top of the submerged old cities.
A wounded man in a business suit, with a pistol in one hand and a grenade in the other, staggers into a building owned by Bergen. He leaves a trail of blood behind him. He seems like he could bleed out at any moment. He confronts another business man (call him Yellow Tie) who cowers behind a desk. “I don’t know who this man is,” says Yellow Tie. Yellow Tie’s robot bodyguards point their guns at the wounded man, tell him twice to drop the gun. Wounded Man complies, drops the gun, raises the grenade, cries out, “Why?” He curses Yellow Tie. He screams “Why?” again. Then, he digs his fingers into his own face and rips off his nose like a deranged Terminator. Things only get crazier from there. (The scene contains some mild NSFW language.)
Somebody hasn’t been holding up their end of the New Geneva convention, Clause 21 of which states that no robot may have human features. Who is making the illegal, human-looking ‘Hollow Children’? The U.S. puts the blame on Yoji Amada, head of the Amada corporation, and sends in a team to find him. You play as Dan, leader of a so-called “Rust Crew” from the International Robotics Technology Association. Dan’s mission is to locate and apprehend Amada on behalf of the United States and the UN Security Council. Dan and his squad will have to get past Amada’s robot army first.
In the “Slum Kids” scene, poor kids salvage guns from fallen robotic soldiers. Dan and his partner Big Bo spare these “weapons scavengers” because they are children. The fateful decision leads to a dramatic standoff. As the scene unfolds, we see that, for some unlucky survivors, there is no future. Aware of the scene’s power, Sega used it as a trailer.
For a shooter, Binary Domain has a surprisingly low human body-count (if we overlook the backstory’s near extinction-level event). When a human character dies, it happens in a cut-scene. More often than not, the camera turns away from the killing blow. The in-game carnage is almost entirely robotic. Like the rest of Nagoshi’s games, Binary Domain demonstrates a reverence for life all too rare in contemporary gaming.
Nagoshi has been an outspoken critic of glorified, wanton violence in games. As reported by Kotaku in 2009, Nagoshi rejects the GTA series’ modus operandi, which says, basically, that simulated murder can be fun. The Kotaku article points out the role of hand-to-hand combat, non-lethal takedowns, and enemy-provoked violence in his flagship Yakuza series. As the Yakuza series shows the versatility of the gangster genre, Binary Domain takes familiar cyborg/android/AI sci-fi tropes to unexpected territory, exploring social issues and political ideas that most shooters shy away from.
Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days – Vulgarity, Misrepresentation, and Mass Murder as Entertainment
At the other end of the spectrum is Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days. Its stylized presentation, including pixelated head-shots right out of a hastily censored “caught on camera” clip and all-too-real phone messages during load screens, cranks up the tension. The game features some of the most intense voice acting of Brian Bloom’s illustrious career in his role as Adam ‘Kane’ Marcus, but Jarion Monroe steals the show as the demented James Seth Lynch, a lovesick and twisted killer. The plot adds up to “Kane meets up with Lynch in Shanghai. Kane kills the wrong girl. The entire mob and police force hunt Kane and Lynch through the streets of Shanghai. Lynch is in love with a woman named Xiu. Xiu isn’t answering her phone. Bad things happen. Worse things happen. Torture happens. Vengeance happens. The End.”
As things get grimmer, the voice actors turn a workmanlike crime story script into a nihilistic work of art. It’s a whole mess of blood, bullets, screaming, and problematic content. The game’s negative portrayal of Shanghai prompted a defamation lawsuit on behalf of the Chinese government. (Something about the suggestion that Shanghai’s entire police force was in league with drug gangs didn’t sit well with government officials.) If Binary Domain takes the high road, then Kane and Lynch 2 burrows to the Earth’s core because the low road just wasn’t low enough. Furthermore, if there is a game that epitomizes the high body-count fetishistic ultraviolence that games like Binary Domain rebel against, it’s Kane and Lynch 2.
To see just how different in tone these games are, compare the “Slum Kids” scene from Binary Domain with the following NSFW trailer for Kane and Lynch 2.
How You Should Play Them
These two shooters do the fundamentals well. If you enjoy third-person shooters with cover mechanics, you will probably have fun with both of these titles. In Binary Domain, the gameplay is what you would expect from a third-person shooter with a cover system, outside of an imperfectly implemented reputation system and a hit-and-miss gimmick that makes misguided use of your microphone. The microphone gimmick can be disabled in the Options menu. In Kane and Lynch 2, an unfortunate overindulgence in camera-bobbing detracts from otherwise solid cover mechanics. Hop over to the Options menu and turn off the shaky cam.
Why You Should Play Them
I consider Binary Domain and Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days to be companion pieces in terms of solid cover mechanics, responsive controls, cinematic storytelling, and haunting atmosphere. They are two polished third-person shooters that sold poorly and deserved a sequel and did not get one. Play Binary Domain for the plot, squad-based gameplay, and heady ideas. Play Kane and Lynch 2 for the guilty thrills and powerful performances. These are two cover shooters that deserve a second chance.