Borderlands (Xbox 360, 2009)
Graphics - 3/5
Audio - 3/5
Presentation - 2/5
Controls - 4/5
Overall - 1.5/5
Borderlands is a game I really wanted to love. I followed all the previews and saw all the positive praise being heaped upon it I made the plunge to explore Pandora after the holidays. What sounded like a great idea on paper turned out to be a poorly executed shell of a game that shows you everything it has to offer in the first 5 minutes.
Do you enjoy a good story or even basic context for your gaming action? If so, just skip this game. While the game opens with a nice narrative that actually had my interest, I would quickly learn that's the height of the story. After a good setup to the planet and some memorable characters, they turn the game over to the player and its off to the races. This is not a bad idea by itself obviously, but the reason this is wrong in Borderlands is because the story is pretty much non-existent from the moment you take control of the character. The rest of the 'story' comes from the form of a girl's voice and distorted image loop that appears during certain times telling you something about what your doing in vague terms. If she did say something important, I wouldn't know because the game doesn't pause or give you a way to replay her messages so half the time, I couldn't even hear it as I was in a firefight at the time. So what this boils down to is no context or purpose why you are running around doing things for people other than the ultimate goal of finding the vault. Who cares as long as the action is tight right? Well...
Borderlands is an average shooter at best and a buggy shooter at worst. In my first playthrough, I chose the hunter. I like to snipe, I didn't mind being a 'support' character for my planned 4 player games, and figured with the 'bazillion' guns the game had, I would have a blast with the crazy rifles I would see. The first problem is that this game is not built for classes at all. No matter who you pick, the game is run into open area or shanty town and shoot everything that moves. There is no stealth, no way to attack a goal from different methods. It's all straight gun fights. No cover, no strategy. This does not bode well for any sniper type class. As soon as you get to a point to see anyone with your scope, you have an army on your tail. If they shoot you, forget about sniper accuracy. If you manage to find a place to get a shot off without them finding you first, the first shot you fire will take care of that as it will trigger every enemy in that area to attack you. In the end though, it didn't matter since the sniper class can handle a shotgun or rifle just as well as any other class. In the end, this simply means that character classes can be reduced to what special attack do you enjoy? An attack bird, a turret, 'sneak' energy attack, or the creative super melee bunch.? If they sound like underwhelming choices, it's because they are actually as boring as they sound. This leads into my next problem. In my first playthrough, I was a hunter and my friend was a siren. As we started tackling quests marked for our current level or lower, we found ourselves pretty much running out of ammo constantly. In a game built around grinding and shooting things, how can ammo be an issue? I asked a friend playing through the game and he said he experienced the same problem with those classes, but playing as the solider fixed that cause his rank ups let you regenerate ammo. So that's great. If you want to play as a non-soldier class by yourself, prepare to run out of ammo a lot in a game all about the shooting and unique gun loot. The game doesn’t help itself with the awful interface. In a game that is all about loot, not having a swap function with another player is simply ridiculous. Also, the basic design interface 101 teaches you that the fewer steps for a player to do something is best. Nobody in Borderlands attended that class in design college apparently. Everything in the inventory system is an absolute pain to manage. When you are playing a game that requires you to equip mods, new guns, artifacts, shields, and health boosts every 10 minutes, this is inexcusable. The shooting action itself is semi-satisfying. The guns have a nice design aesthetic to them that gives them a distinct look and sound compared to other shooters. There are some crazy variety in the types you will find too. This core idea could have driven me to look past a ton of flaws. While I saw some other players with some insanely fun weapons they found, my two playthroughs did not yield me anything that interesting. Overall though, the loot you find is very satisfying and for some, this will be enough to enjoy the game. I think where the game failed most for me was the hook for using the new loot you found. You will see every enemy the game has to offer within about 20 minutes of the game. Yes there are a few (and I mean few as in 2-3 max) surprises of new enemy types or a boss fight, but overall, you will shoot the same 4-5 enemy types (albeit with different stats and names, but same enemies) about a billion times. When you kill your 5000000 generic hockey mask wearing psycho, you’ll stop caring if your anything like me. This also assumes you don’t get bored shooting 5000000 generic dogs (or skags as they are called in the game) that the game makes you deal with in the beginning. If you remember the mission structure in Crackdown, Borderlands is the same minus all the freedom and creativity. Everything in this game is go fetch X of something or kill Y of this enemy type. That’s it. Why are you doing this? Hell if I know. The next problem of Borderlands is every quest is giving in a little text box with no rhyme or reason. So when you’re doing your 6000 fetch quest for a guy you don’t know for reasons your never given in the context of a bigger story that is not being told, you’ll wonder what’s the point? Sadly, the game didn’t have an answer for me. For everything the game does right, it does two things wrong. It can be very satisfying to roll up on a group of psychos and drop them with an overpowered machine gun you found. Then in the next fight, I found a powerful rocket launcher and was all giddy to turn the enemies into liquid when I realized that the launchers in that game are just broken. They will pretty much pass through everything that isn’t the size of a building. The elemental effects on guns allows you light enemies on fire with bullets or burn them with a corrosive acid or fry them with lightening. This is an awesome feature that I greatly enjoyed. If only the game engine could keep up with the effects…
This brings us to the graphics. This game has a great sense of style to it. The way everything looks and animates is quite enjoyable. The only negative part of the graphics is their inability to keep it looking good in motion. This is especially true as stated earlier with the elemental artifacts. Anything that has an artifact will cause the game to turn into a slide show. This is very frustrating to have the game crawl to a standstill from regular shots from a gun during a battle. Also, this holds true for one enemy or 50, both in solo and over Xbox Live. It simply can’t handle its own effects.
When the audio is there, it’s great. Problem is, I really don’t remember any of it. I remember the opening song at the title screen being excellent and when they introduce characters, it can be outstanding. The gun sounds are great too, which definitely helps. Everything else is generic at best but at least non-offensive.
That is the overarching problem with this game. It starts off oozing with personality and style with the opening. I was blown away with the intro and was ready to experience all this crazy planet had to offer. Then the game starts and it all falls apart. If you enjoy shooting the same enemies for the same tasks for no real reason, then nothing I say will matter and you should play this game. If you are expecting story, skip it. If you are expecting to see some mind blowing guns, prepare to sink at least 25 plus hours into it. If you are going in for the shooting action, tread carefully as for this game is average at best at that chore.
This idea has a TON of promise. I will be the first to hop on the sequel if they address these issues. But as it stands now, this is a buggy, boring game that takes a great idea and forgot the other parts of games that make them fun. I will close this review by saying I found this game to be absolutely atrocious when played solo. All the problems mentioned are amplified when playing in single player. At least when you have friends, you can joke to each other and talk about your day to distract you from the pointless XP grinding and broken gameplay.