Borderlands - Not Perfect but Great Fun
Ah Borderlands. How different a game could be just based on its art style. When they first announced this post apocalyptic shooter way back in the days of yore, it still had the same grimy art style as every other Unreal Engine 3 game that has ever been made. A few months later, and after a full on rebellion by the sounds of it from the art team, we instead got a new “concept art” style of graphics. Oh and a witty change of humour. And yes the game is also good.
Borderlands is set on the planet of Pandora, a wasteland world covered in desert where it is rumoured that beneath the planet there is a vault full of advanced alien technology. As usual with all treasure hunting, many people do not believe in its actual existence. However, you arrive on the planet as one of four treasure hunters (Mordaci the hunter, Brick the berserker, Lilith the siren and Roland the soldier). You then proceed to travel around this world, through each of the differently styled areas in search of the keys to the vault, doing quests for various people and following a “guardian angel”. To be honest, the story is actually a little crap – the whole angel side of it is rubbish. She pops up every so often to simply say “well done, but you haven’t faced you hardest challenge yet” and at one part uses a line from Bioshock that stands out a mile away. However it doesn’t matter, as the selection of missions are stories in themselves.
Yes that man is on fire
The gameplay in Borderlands is a combination of RPG and FPS, focused more on the shooting dynamics side as opposed to turning it into a combat system closer to the dice rolls that were blatantly behind the combat in Fallout 3 and the pit of eternal horror that was Hellgate London. The shooting is solid; feeling slick like any other modern shooter should do but also showing its RPG roots having numbers showing damage amounts flying off enemies and a big red critical flying off an enemy when you hit their weak point. On top of that, the game also has various elemental damage systems which add some benefits, such as extra damage over time. As you gain XP you level up, which grants you more action points to upgrade you abilities. Each of the characters are actual the class system. The Hunter is effectively the sniper, Brick the tanks, Lilith the mage and Roland the healer/support person. The classes are brilliant, not limiting you to a certain weapon type but rewarding you for playing in a certain style. Each class also has a special ability, such as the turret from the soldier. These abilities are most useful when playing as a team when they combine together. Pairing a soldier’s turret to heal and attack while a siren uses phasewalk to sneak behind an enemy allows masses of enemies to be mown down. In fact the game has several moments where it simply throws masses of enemies at you to deal with which sometimes may be best thing ever. However at other times when every enemy is at level 30 it can be a bit frustrating. However, death holds no fear if there are some enemies around you at low health. If you manage to take one enemy down then you receive a second wind, which brings you back to life with full shields and half health. This is a brilliant feature that helps to get rid of some of the frustration of this sort of game.
A major boast of Borderlands is its massive number of guns. I’ve done around 2 playthoughs and can back up with the fact there are many guns. Many admittedly are only simply stat changes, such as swapping out a scope in exchange for a damage boost, but the system can lead to some surprising setups. One weapon I found is a revolver with only two rounds in a magazine but has a scope, does fire damage and each round does 300 damage before the effects of fire. Another weapon is a shotgun with massive amounts of damage when fired or used in melee, but has no accuracy – meaning of course you need to be in an enemies face in order to use it. This system means each weapon feels slightly different from the last. However, there is one issue. It is quite possible that you may go through a play through and pick up weapons that aren’t actually that good. On the other hand you may, like me, find a weapon that is over powered and then use it through the rest of the game and possibly take it into the second game.
The graphics of Borderlands are awesome. If you liked the look of Crackdown, this has taken it to the next level by rendering a more organic landscape with this method. It really suits it, especially in the design of the enemies. The skags, small dog like creatures not the female members of Eastenders, are among just a few of the many enemies model who despite fitting into several groups, still each feel unique. The characters all looks like they are straight out of a comic book, with pencil lines bringing out every last detail. The only slight disappointment is that although there are millions of guns, nearly all of the same type look exactly the same. This good sense of art design is coupled with a stellar piece of sound design. The voice acting is excellent, but unfortunately you don’t get very much use out of it. Apart from your characters, or the enemies, little quips (“Critical Biatch!”) and the occasional story section there is no long lengths of dialogue.
CL4P-TP Interplanetary Ninja Assassin
The game also has a brilliant sense of humour. Some come through in the dialogue, but many are simply from little things. Fans of Firefly will rejoice when they reach Jainynestown while Mad Max fans will be seeing references flying out of the screen. The game introduces with a snappy grindhouse style character intro, giving each a tag line. This includes the first boss Nine Toes. I won’t spoil it but believe me it actually made me laugh so hard the first time I dropped the controller. You won’t laugh a minute like in Brutal Legend, but it will still give you a chuckle.
Finally the other important things. Borderlands was designed to be played in co op and supports it 4 players online and 2 players in split screen. When played in co op, the game feels more like an MMO than a simple co op game which does means it’s disappointing that it misses out several features. First of all is that the trading system is based upon dropping items and letting other players pick it up. This works fine with trusted friends but as soon as you play online, it does not work. You can’t trust 90% of the players online, and if you trade with them something important you won’t ever see it again most likely. However, don’t let that put you off trying it out. Another minor fault is for a game that is packed with millions of cool pieces of equipment, there is no storage system, leaving you to bid farewell to any kit you don’t use. Finally, the achievements are a very good mixture of things you would find normally just by going through the game such as discovering area alongside others which are a little bit strange. My advice is to try anything.
Borderlands is not the world’s most perfect game. But it has all the best parts of an MMO in a competent shooter and one of this year’s greatest co-op experience. This is one game which really did need to get away from the usual grime of Unreal 3 and into a new and almost unique look.
I give Borderlands 96%