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'Borderlands' wicked in more ways than one

Nov 11, 2009

By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada

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Fire up your high-definition console of choice, let Borderlands load, and as the slide guitar from Cage the Elephant's groovy track 'Ain't No Rest for the Wicked' emanates from your speakers, it'll be instantly apparant that this game is going to be quite the departure for Gearbox Software, developers of the sombre Brothers in Arms series.

BorderlandsYes, you'll be shooting guns, but that's about where the comparisons end. Whereas the BIA games are about commanding characters in a war setting using real-time strategy elements, Borderlands is all about the run-and-gun. That, and a whole lot of role-playing, believe it or not.

That's not a combination you see often. At least, not with such a great balance of both gameplay styles. Sure, something like Fallout 3 has you in first person view shooting guns, but the focus is undoubtedly on your character's progression.

Borderlands, however, mixes tried-and-true first person shooter gameplay with RPG elements, making for a hybrid title that makes a lot of sense and is certainly addictive.

In the game, you choose one of four character classes and are quickly dropped from a bus into the wasteland that is the planet Pandora. Your reason for being there? Money, of course. Legend has it a Vault exists that contains a huge treasure. No one even knows if it actually exists, and many have tried finding it, all failing in the process. But as Cage the Elephant sings, "money don't grow on trees."

You'll waste little time in your search, grabbing cold, hard cash from every rusted mailbox and pile of animal dung you encounter. Enemies, meanwhile, waste no time either in trying to mercilessly take you out. Because who wants competition when something like the Vault exists?

You'll learn quickly that this game is not easy. The level your character is at plays a big part in how far you can go and what exactly you can do in Pandora. Point your gun at an enemy and if it's too tough for you to handle, you'll see a nice big glowing skull on top of its head. Of course you can try to take it on along with any of its cronies (which most enemies have several of nearby), but all it'll take are a few deaths to learn that side missions are your friend. They'll help you earn XP, giving you an edge against tougher baddies ... and who knows what weapons you'll find along the way?

BorderlandsAnd that's another important aspect of Borderlands - the firepower. The game uses a random content generation system that means you'll rarely find two weapons that are exactly alike. Some shoot bullets that spray acid on nearby enemies after they've hit their target, while others give you health back after they've done their damage on the bad guys.

So though there may be a lot of levelling up, Gearbox knows how to make for some fun, good old fashioned gunfighting.

The other hook with Borderlands is the co-operative element. Up to four players can hook up online to complete missions together, jumping in and out of games at any point. There are several power-ups available that can really help players become strong co-op partners. Focus on one specific branch of your progress tree, for instance, and you'll eventually be able to shoot your fellow players to give them back health. Strategy is needed though, as ammo is far from unlimited in this game, and it's also not shared between four people. So you'll have to decide who needs what the most.

It's fantastic that Gearbox made the co-op aspect of the game so accessible and easy to use, but it still has its problems. For instance, it's nice that you can invite your Level 5 buddy into your game as you make your way to level 30, but with that big a difference in skills and stats, your friend will be completely out of their league with the enemies you'll be facing. You'll be left babysitting them half the time, reviving them as they get murdered (quite literally) by enemies that are far above their skill level. And in case you're wondering - yes, the difficulty is ramped up as more players are added to a game.

No matter how much the co-op is touted as a big part of this game, we had the most fun traversing Pandora alone.

FPS fans who love competitive multiplayer will be disappointed to find that there is none to be found in Borderlands. For a game that has as good a single player campaign as this one, though, we can forgive, especially considering there are about a thousand other FPS's out there if you really need your CTF or team deathmatch fix.

Though Pandora itself may seem fairly empty, with its subtle wild west-like soundtrack and endless miles of sand almost devoid of friendly faces, there is still a lot to do. There's almost always someone in need of something, and new missions are available to be picked up at bounty boards that are strewn throughout the planet's different sections.

BorderlandsLuckily, vehicle spawn points are opened up fairly early on, making travelling back and forth much easier, and eventually the ability to warp between certain points is also opened. The vehicles are a lot of fun to drive (and nearly impossible to keep flipped!) but we found the placement of the spawn areas for them were a little off. Two will be placed within moments of each other, and then you won't find another for a long time. It's also annoying that you can't earn the ability to pick up loot from downed enemies while driving your vehicle. It can get pretty tedious jumping in and out of a tank just to get a few extra bullets or dollar bills.

There aren't a lot of other sticking points with Borderlands, but there are some. Considering how entertaining the friendly AI that you do meet with is (wait'll you meet Clap Trap), it's a shame there isn't more face-to-face interaction with different characters to help flesh out the story.

At the end of the day though, Gearbox has managed to meld together two game types quite successfully. Any more could have been too ambitious an undertaking, but making a FPRPS (First Person Role-Playing Shooter) was a great choice.

Borderlands is one of the more memorable new IPs to be released in 2009. It has a great sense of humour to go along with its rock-solid gameplay, meaty campaign and excellent replayability. Whether you go it alone or with some friends is up to you, but if you're a fan of shooters or even RPGs, you should check this out.

 

Borderlands
Format: Xbox 360
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Gearbox Software
ESRB Rating: M for Mature
Official Site: http://www.borderlandsthegame.com

Rating: 8 / 10

 
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