Platforms: 360 (Also PS3, PC)
ESRB Rating: M
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Gearbox Software
Review by: John Gustafson
With Borderlands, Gearbox Software has created a hybrid role-playing shooter that takes the typical first-person shooter controls and frames them within the role-playing game background of titles like Diablo and Fallout 3. The comparison between Borderlands and games like Diablo or Fallout 3 are unavoidable, and intentional by the developer. When stripped of all the extraneous layers (there aren’t that many), Borderlands takes Diablo 2’s obsessive loot system and throws it into a brighter version of Fallout 3’s wasteland with the option of multiplayer. The tantalizing thought of a multiplayer Fallout is perhaps the flashiest selling point and turns out to be the strongest part of an otherwise average single-player RPG.
The introduction to Borderlands is a fine example of a well developed fusion of pop-culture, fast-paced character descriptions and an explanation of the setting to get players acquainted with each of the converging bits of information. After this short introduction and a tutorial that works in bits of the traditional game elements, the player is set on his path. If only that path to the end goal was clear.
Mankind got around to colonizing the planet Pandora, believing vast resources would be discovered and eventually become a thriving system. It turned out that Pandora was a barren world well past its luscious prime with very little keeping the colony running. A sizable contingency left people to search for a new settlement before the planet entered its “spring” season, leaving the remaining populace to create a life for themselves and build communities. Once spring arrived, so did the planet’s natural life forms, which had been hibernating for the long winter cycle and were now beginning to roam the planet. Life on Pandora was becoming all the more difficult until word began to spread that a vault containing alien weapons, artifacts and resources was somewhere on the planet. As a mercenary, it is up to the player to build his strength, weapons stock and find the vault. If the player makes a little money along the way, then all the better.
There are four mercenary classes to select from – the Berserker, the Siren, the Hunter and the Soldier. The Berserker (Brick) is a tank character that soaks up damage but also returns it in spades with his melee attacks. The Siren (Lilith) “phase walks” into an alternate plane and can deal out stealth attacks or sabotage a group of enemies. The Hunter (Mordecai) is a sniper class assisted by a birdlike creature that attacks enemies independently. The Soldier (Roland) is a mix between a healer and team mage with his team enhancements. Each type of character has a skill tree that branches off into three concentrated roles that skill points can be used on.
The characters come in one flavor and are customizable only by swapping two clothing color choices. After the initial half hour, the characters have as much personality and life to them as the barren lands. The option to select a character class, and then craft his or her appearance within a creation system would at least let players feel like they have invested something into the character rather than blasting enemies in the face.
The context of the quests also gets lost in the haze of Pandora. Towns and NPCs dole out quests, but due to the lifelessness of the world there is a lack of connection to the plight of the people, the quest itself (except for experience and loot), or the overall story. So many of the quests are clones of one that was previously completed, only with a slight variation, from a different town, that the RPG grind sets in once a second zone is visited. Additionally, knowing what quest line takes the player along the main story path is not clearly marked and can feel as important or unimportant, depending upon how one looks at the list, as the next.
There are four technical problems that rear their heads every time the game loads. Environmental textures load into the game anywhere between five to 30 seconds after the game begins or a new zone is visited. Vehicle handling is problematic, making shooting and driving an unnecessarily difficult task. There will be invisible objects or geographical oddities that will stop the vehicle in motion or when a player is on foot. The AI can also be a bit predictable in its offensive and defensive tendencies.
So why is Borderlands still a good and fun game to play? Easy. Multiplayer wipes away most of the complaints about the boring, almost non-existent story and forces the player to act differently than when soloing. It may not be the most technical RPG/FPS on the market, but when four players, of four different types of characters get together, the action becomes contagious and the push for just one more level or one crazier gun takes over. The skill abilities work well with those of different characters and form a complementary team that highlights the somewhat boring single player mode.
The obscene amount of guns, shields and character enhancements that drop always offer something unique – but is handled very well by a window that compares the gun in hand to the one on the ground. This allows the player to make on-the-spot decisions of whether he will keep the gun without even putting it in their inventory.
Admittedly, Borderlands may be difficult to recommend to shooter-exclusive fans, but on the other hand should be considered by RPG or RPG-lite fans. The Diablo elements really propel the gameplay into the theoretical stratosphere depending on what loot is dropped. While the story may not be quite there, and the environments cannot hold a candle to Fallout 3, Borderlands was clearly made with multiplayer in mind and should be played with a group of three like minded friends.
For more info, www.borderlandsthegame.com
Pads & Panels received a copy of the game courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.