By Steve Haske
Criminally overlooked in retail despite its unique qualities, Binary is in many ways similar to Blade Runner: in the future, cybernetic technology is so advanced that it becomes possible to create robots that are indistinguishable from humans. After a U.S. attack by a so-called “hollow child,” an international spec-ops team is sent to Japan to apprehend the creator of the world’s most advanced robotics technology, under violation of an international treaty banning the research and development of sentient intelligence in machines. Only unlike Blade Runner’s replicants, hollow children have no idea they’re not human.
There’s plenty of commentary that can spark just from this setup: humanity playing God, ethics in technology or even, as Binary was developed by a Japanese team, issues Japan has historically grappled with regarding its military stance or its own cultural identity. It’s a bit unexpected for a game whose surface-level description could be summed up as using automatic weapons to destroy robots.
Binary’s self-awareness is likely its most fascinating aspect. On a design level, this manifests in the AI of your enemies, all Japanese-manufactured cybernetic soldiers (nicknamed “scrapheads”). Thematically tying in with the idea of evolution, they dynamically react to changing battle conditions, adapting as situations warrant by, say, shooting malfunctioning teammates or picking up weapons even if primary shooting limbs have been blown off.
Yet hollow children aren’t self-aware. They are ignorant to the reality that they’re actually machines. The only thing that separates them from the scrapheads on the battlefield is a layer of artificial skin and implanted memories. And if these androids lived as humans for so long, what can it even mean to be alive?
It’s almost impossible to get into the meat of Binary without revealing too much about the narrative, which twists unexpectedly while raising heavy questions about natural selection and the dichotomy between real and artificial life. Interestingly, the developers also acknowledge the cultural stereotypes Japan usually affords foreign culture, lending a touch of Zoltan Korda’s Sahara to the proceedings—all this in the body of a dumb sci-fi shooter.
Binary Domain is available now on PS3 and Xbox 360.
Steve Haske is a Portland-based journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @afraidtomerge.
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