Platform: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), Playstation 3, PC
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: October 20, 2009
Every so often, a game comes along that scratches a particular itch. Borderlands is one such game. Borderlands blends spectacular first-person shooting with addictive RPG elements with near-perfect online co-op implementation to create a whole new genre: the RPS (role-playing shooter).
The first thing you’ll notice about Borderlands is the unique art style. It hits you in the face like a Skag hits the bumper of a speeding bus in the wasteland. It takes a few moments to get used to the cel-shaded graphics but once it settles in, Borderlands easily becomes one of the best looking games of 2009. Borderlands was originally planned with a gritty and realistic graphical style, but the grey and brown realistic post-apocalyptic wasteland has been done before and the team at Gearbox wanted to take it in a new direction. The colours absolutely pop off of the screen and the slightly characterized character models are well complimented by this late-in-the-game decision.
One of the features touted by Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford on various gaming blogs and podcasts is the sheer number of guns available in the game. Pitchford proudly states that Borderlands has more guns than all other FPS games ever released on every platform combined. He is not lying. The game randomly assigns the various stats and special abilities for each weapon dropped in-game with the exception of a few ‘unique’ weapons obtained only by completing certain quests or by killing certain boss characters. This variability ensures that each repeater, revolver, combat rifle, submachine gun, shotgun, sniper rifle, or rocket launcher you come across deserves your consideration. This encourages the use of a variety of weapons throughout the game with a regular turnover keeping the experience fresh. Alien weaponry is also thrown into the mix later in the game for those non-ballistic gun-lovers.
For those unfamiliar with typical RPG gameplay, the kill X number of enemy Y, fetch, and collect quest setups may seem out of place in a shooter, but this element makes this game insanely addictive and provides that MMORPG experience without worrying about griefers, campers or monthly fees. The class system provides the player with 4 choices: siren, soldier, berserker and hunter. The siren is your ‘magic’ user, the soldier is the support class with formidable offensive capabilities, the berserker is your tank, and the hunter plays the long-range sniper. Each class consists of a unique ability and skill trees in which points can be assigned through leveling up making for custom gameplay styles suited to the individual player. Each class also consists of multiple subclasses based on equipable class modifications. The shooting mechanic in Borderlands is absolutely superb, and is the main focus of the game. Each weapon type feels distinct in combat and the various special attributes such as corrosive, explosive, shock, and fire damage lead to some sweet and satisfying kills.
The online implementation in Borderlands is excellent and should be used as a model for future shooters. Players can seamlessly drop in and out of friends’ games without the need for a lobby or separate instances. A friend can join any other friend’s game in-progress at any time and leave without consequence. All experience, weapons, and even stats earned towards achievements (with some glitched achievements at launch) are retained throughout all play sessions. The line between single player and multiplayer has effectively been removed. In a nice touch, the game changes up enemy numbers and difficulty when a friend joins or leaves. What is missing is a system whereby players can compare and trade weapons. At this time, players must drop weapons on the ground to be examined or picked up by friends. The brag factor is somewhat lost when weapons are dropped in the dirt rather than having their stats hot-linked ‘nyah nyah’ MMORPG-style.
The plot ends rather abruptly but that can be forgiven considering the fantastic experience to be had getting there. The multiplayer achievement glitches have been addressed (with retroactive effects) in a recent patch and as the opening sequence suggests, ‘There ain’t no rest for the wicked’, and hopefully Gearbox is working away on Borderlands 2 as per recent rumours. This is one unique shooter that should not be missed.