omali's Borderlands (PC) review

Bullet Sponges and Lackluster AI Bring Borderlands Down

Borderlands makes me recognize my own double standards as a curator of MMORPG's, games that have for over a decade thrived on the concept of sword/mace/magic/axe/etc sponges populating worlds and carrying AI just slightly over the intellectual boundaries of "that guy different, me run straight line and smash." Borderlands has you playing as one of four characters (classes) as you take quests, kill monsters, gain experience, level up and spend ability points. There are stats, big weapons, and randomly generating weapons. In essence, this was the game that would bring the hardcore RPG and FPS crowds together to make sweet, sweet love.

Foremost, Gearbox did an excellent job with the tongue-in-cheek humor of Borderlands, offering a good laugh in the character descriptions. The game introduces each boss with a short introduction accompanied by a description. For instance, Nine Toes is described as "also, he has three balls," and you meet a brute named Sledge whose description reads "PS: You two aren't friends." Stupid? Yes. Immature? Undoubtedly. Nevertheless, something to get a chuckle over.

What Borderlands does best is in the RPG feeling of real upgrades over incrementally buffing your stats. While 90% of the loot you'll find is utter garbage, the other 10% will offer a generous upgrade to your existing weaponry. This serves to keep players entertained, as these weapons come often enough that you don't feel overwhelmed at sections, but at the same time not so often that you'll feel overpowered. And while the weapon customization on drop is completely random, the system occasionally becomes depressing when you find a gun with incredible stats, but it is held back by poor optimization. For instance, a pistol with great firepower but no worthwhile sights to aim with. Or a close range shotgun with a sniper scope. As you use each weapon, you'll gain proficiency in that weapon's class, offering more accuracy, more ammunition, and less recoil, etc.

I can't fault Borderlands for its small selection of enemies, because people tend to fault this game while overlooking the fact that highly praised games like Half Life 2 included even less variety. Graphically, the game has a smooth cel-shaded style that makes for a good looking world and weapons that, although dynamically created, fit together seamlessly.

But I have to gripe: I understand my seeming hypocrisy with giving role playing games, but I found a lot less enjoyment in the fact that bosses in this game are essentially larger versions of other creatures but with a lot higher endurance, higher health, and higher strength. Call me old fashioned, but after the fourth time I've shot someone point blank in the face with a shotgun, I expect them to die. Bosses also have a tendency to hinge on the fact that you've found a suitably powerful weapon to face them, as even with my arsenal heading in to fight Sledge, my best attacks could only take slivers away from his health. It wasn't until I went back and did some more grinding that I managed to find a rifle capable of taking him down.

Which brings me to AI. The artificial intelligence in this game has two crutches to play on: Seal Team 6 accuracy and infinite knowledge. There is no point in attempting stealth, because once you fire a shot (and even before you shoot) your opposition will know exactly where you are, snap immediately to your head, and start firing. Thanks to a few walls that allowed bullet sparks to be seen on the other side, I was able to find out that the AI does not have line of sight limitations, following me behind the wall even as I strafed left and right.

There are also frustrating deaths, like when a "badass" rank mob (mini-boss) simply rushes you and guns you down in the matter of two seconds. Luckily, you have the factor of "second wind," where your character lies on the ground and if you manage to kill an enemy within a certain period of time, you'll get back up with full health and armor. Dying is a simple matter of appearing at the last checkpoint with some cash withdrawn.

So I suggest playing Borderlands before Borderlands 2 comes out, not as much for the story but because it's so cheap these days. Borderlands is frustrating at times, but ultimately satisfying at others.

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