The signature theme song for Borderlands continuously claims that “there ain’t no rest for the wicked,” but anybody who has stepped into Pandora will tell you that the good aren’t getting much rest either. A lot of gamers have a hard time classifying Borderlands due to its expansive formula of gameplay that offers not only a free roam philosophy, but a loot system, leveling system, first-person shooter mechanics, player-Vs-player gameplay and 4-player co-op. While the developers are dubbing the title a RPGFPS, appropriately, Borderlands kind of reminds me of a smash up of all of my favorite things from four to five other games under one roof. Is this something that is a negative? By no means is it a negative, because while Borderlands does borrow from other franchises, it provides a unique experience that those other games can’t even begin to think of offering to a gamer from any stand point.
To me, and I’m aware this is going to send their official forums into a frenzy, Borderlands feels like a mash-up between Fallout 3 (simply for its wasteland like offering and free-roam abilities), Crackdown (in art style), Left 4 Dead (4-player co-op in a survival-type atmosphere), Too Human (in how the loots are so vast and you can play for hours on end without getting what you want or need, making it that much sweeter when you do) and finally, any great First-Person Shooter (for its FPS abilities, obviously). If you were a fan of even 60-80% (3-4) of those titles, chances are, Borderlands is going to appeal to you and keep your attention for well over a month. If that style of games isn’t what you’re into, you may find it hard to get into Borderlands like I have. Regardless, I think you should definitely rent it if you’re unsure, because Borderlands isn’t going to be for everyone, but it’s definitely going to have a mass appeal.
So, let’s jump into the review now.
Borderlands takes place on a distant planet at the edge of our galaxy known as Pandora. Settlers from Earth travel to Pandora in hopes of settling into a new, yet peaceful life, but upon arrival they soon discover that Pandora is nothing more than a barren wasteland. Most who originally settle here choose to leave, so long as they can afford to – however, some stick it out in hopes of finding alien technology to trade for riches and a better life.
Everything takes a turn for the worse though when Spring starts to roll around and various monsters come out of hibernation seeking food and the desire to fill their bellies. Unfortunately, you’re on the menu and it’s up to you to survive through it all in order to find the ultimate chest of alien technology known as the Vault. Earlier settlers who found this gold mine were entirely wiped out by a defensive force protecting this alien technology and thus raiders have one goal in mind – to be the one who finds the vault and catapults themselves into riches.
Borderlands is not a place for the weak at heart. Players wanting to pick up a shotty, sniper rifle and a pistol and just run through the game are going to be in for a very pleasant (unpleasant, depending who you ask) surprise. Gearbox has most certainly tailored their game to the ideology that players should take their time and enjoy everything the game has to offer in order to work their way through it. While the main story is scattered across 30 missions, there are 130 side-missions that should be considered while playing. These side-missions give players the chance to properly level up their characters allowing them to continue through the game at a decent pace. It also helps prolong the game and adds a decent amount of playability while scouring the vapid wasteland for loot and treasure worth finding.
Character creation is a simple process, you choose between four style of players, Mordecai (Sniper-style), Lilith (Magic-focused weaponry), Roland (Medical-inspired) and Brick (the Brute tank). Once you’ve chosen which player/class you’d like to play through the game with, you have the opportunity to follow your robotic buddy, Claptrap, to a character customization screen that allows you to pick the color scheme that your character will wear throughout his adventure in Pandora. This is pretty much the only thing that will separate you from the other players you play with through co-op outside of the weaponry of course.
When it comes down to weapons, I don’t think any game comes even remotely close to Borderlands in terms of choice and differential between gun to gun. As many of you know, Gearbox created a random generating loot mechanic that allows for all dropped weapons to randomly generate statistics and boosts to help differentiate them from one another. This gives gamers the opportunity to play through and more than likely not see any two guns that are the exact same. With a confirmed 17,000,000+ weapon configurations, you may have to play through the title 5-7 times before even realizing you’ve had the same gun twice now. This variety of weaponry also enables the game to play different each time you play because your experience is ultimately impossible to replicate every time through.
Action-packed is probably the best way to describe the combat aspect of Pandora. Those of you planning to sit 30 feet away from each monster and just snipe them off one at a time are going to find it very difficult to beat this game. Though, playing in co-op and assisting a brute like Brick from afar does have its advantages and is probably the best way to utilize Mordecai’s efficiency with sniper rifles. However, the majority of the combat is going to take place up close and personal. Prepare to go balls to the wall in action-oriented gameplay that keeps Borderlands from ever getting dull. For those of you wanting to utilize a scout-like hunter such as Mordecai yet still remain competitive in solo-play, please be sure to focus on skills that will help you as the game progresses. If you focus too much on sniper rifles and pistols, you end up suffering later on down the road when you’re facing mobs of aliens that may be a little out of your level grade.
The best suggestion I can give you is to play to your character’s strengths. If you’re going to utilize Mordecai, be prepared to face a much tougher road to completion than if you use Brick or Roland. Obviously your play-style is going to determine exactly how difficult it is for you to get through the game, but if you match your skill sets and characters to your preferred method of play, you should be able to personalize your gaming experience and tailor it to be effective. That is of course, as long as you’re not some idiot trying to be a healing sniper playing through the game alone. Then you’re just asking to get your ass kicked throughout the game.
The multiplayer aspect of Borderlands is quite impressive and entertaining. Being able to play splitscreen with a friend or online with 4 buddies is a great addition to the title and definitely helps the grindfest move itself forward at a great pace. While players can drop in and out like flies, the game’s enemies will tailor to those of the host, so if you’re a lowly level walking into the home of a superior player, expect to get your ass kicked repeatedly. While I wish it could keep everything at an average where some monsters are around your level and some are higher up, it would give a nice balance and give you a sense of purpose other than human target practice or a free meal.
The sound presentation for Borderlands is exactly what you’d expect from the trailers and teasers thrown out by Gearbox prior to release. The game is filled with dark humor, crude jokes and great dialogue to keep the game entertaining even 15 hours in. The cinematic cut scenes string together perfectly and are placed appropriately apart in order to keep things interesting and give a nice balance of play. Unless you’re doing nothing but grinding, you should be able to hit a cut scene every so often as you move through the story line.
Visually Borderlands is a powerhouse of beauty. The decision to switch from a grittier look to that of a cel-shaded paradise was absolutely brilliant from a design perspective. It allows the game to carry its own unique perspective on the vapid wasteland idea and adds for an element of gore that goes beyond the realistic tones or Fallout 3 style of play. When you punch someone’s head into a pile of hamburger meat for the very first time, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
Borderlands only true downfall has to be the fact that it’s stuck releasing between Uncharted 2 and Modern Warfare 2. If this was releasing in an off-month like June or July, it would receive praise and Game of the Year notions in terms of quality of play; however, due to its release schedule, it may get mixed in the gray of other GOTY-worthy candidates. It also doesn’t help that Borderlands is geared more towards the hardcore gamer opposed to the casual player. Those enjoying the aspects of grindings those levels out in co-op or solo mode will enjoy Borderlands for everything it is…those who don’t, should probably rent it first. As for me, I’m a hardcore gamer and feel Borderlands is worth every penny and then some – especially once Zombie Island is released. Bring on the pain!