Hopefully by now, most of you will have heard all about Borderlands, the upcoming ârole-playing shooterâ from 2K Games and Gearbox Software. It caught Tristanâs eye at E3, and Reuben previewed it earlier this year. Now weâve finally got our mitts on a preview copy of the game, and the verdict is that Borderlands is very, very good.
Both Tristan and Reuben have already given a good background to the overall story and setting for the game: it takes place on a planet called Pandora, a dusty, roughhouse sort of place; a mix of old-west and high-tech. Thereâs a back-story to do with alien remnants on the planet, but in the early part of the game you only get a hint of this.
The game starts with a brief scene that allows you to choose one of four characters to play. The choices are pretty straightforward: the tank, the soldier, the hunter and the siren. I chose the hunter, a mysterious figure by the name of Mordecai, with a preference for long-range weapons, and the âbloodwingâ (animal companion) skill that kicked in at level five.
Thereâs the usual âgetting to know youâ intro scenes, where you choose your name and colouring, learn the controls, and shoot a few stupid baddies who are just begging to be taken down by a noob. You begin in a town called Firestone, which is pretty run-down, with bandits everywhere, ripping around in their runners (vehicles) and blowing things up.
Firestone is smack in the middle of an area called the Arid Badlands, which is chock-a-block with beasties and baddies, like bandits, rakks (bird-like creatures), and skags. Skags are bizarre, doggy animals that can jump, wave huge tongues, and spray green gobs of something nasty. Luckily they start out as small, easily disposed of pups. They eat anything they can find, and lucky for you, they vomit up anything they canât digest. Expect to spend a good deal of your early game time picking through skag-puke.
Borderlands gameplay starts off slow. Initially there are quite a few âfetchingâ quests, and slowly, as you achieve your objectives, stores start to open up in Firestone. And eventually you wind up with an expanded list of objectives to get through, and you slowly start to explore more and more of the area. Itâs fairly straightforward stuff for the genre.
The objectives themselves are relatively easy to get through, with waypoints indicated on the easy-to-use map. Mind you, when I say âeasyâ, I donât mean âa piece of cakeâ. Taking on a bandit camp requires some serious strategy, and use of different weapons for short and long-range combat.
I did have one quest (the safe house, at level 14) that seemed to be glitchy; I couldnât get in to the final area, the safe house itself, which meant I had to backtrack all the way back to Firestone. It was frustrating, but Iâm completely willing to admit that I may have missed some key to the puzzle. Still, in comparison to the other quests, which went so smoothly, it was a surprise.
Itâs just as well things start out slowly, because once you hit level five, youâll realise that the game has become more complex and interesting, with a skill-level tree that opens up for you. This will be completely different for each of the characters; Mordecai got three âstreamsâ of skill choices to build upon, including sniper skills, rogue (mostly animal handling skills) and gun-nut.
Speaking of guns, there are TONS of weapons and gear to collect in this game, so be prepared to play the inventory-shuffle a great deal. There are scads of items around the place, most of which are to do with shooting, improving your attacks, or defending. Rather than using the conventional armour, youâll find yourself choosing different types of energy field armour, which will block just about anything, but take a period of non-combat before they will recharge.
The action itself is loads of fun, though being more of a PC gamer, I found my accuracy was more-than-somewhat lacking on the 360. I was quite useless with the semi automatic and automatic assault rifles, but shotguns (with their lovely wide spray pattern) and sniper rifles were much more my scene.
And â just when you think youâve got the game sussed, they give you the option to drive a runner. Yes, your very own all-terrain vehicle, with a seat for the driver and another for the gun turret. Solo players can easily move from one seat to the next, though I suspect itâs during co-op play that these things get really fun. You wonât believe what a satisfying squish those bandits make.
The look of the game is cartoony, as others have mentioned before, but it is so well done that at times you forget. Yes, the palates are muted (i.e. browns and greys), but to be honest, youâll be so busy fighting off skags, I doubt youâll be dwelling too long on the colour of the scenery.
The soundtrack is awesome, quite possibly the best Iâve ever heard in a game before. It is background music, but it enhances the mood of the game so wonderfully that I found myself marveling on it periodically throughout the game. It moves from winsome guitars, to power chord soundscapes, to something you might hear on an episode of Firefly. I was truly, truly impressed.
Iâm running the risk of waxing a little too lyrical about this game, so let me sum up and say that while Iâd usually enjoy a little more âRPâ in my role-playing shooter, Borderlands has such a great combination of gunplay, vehicles, loot, weapons, character development, plus a gorgeous look and feel, as well as some seriously sick humour, I wouldnât hesitate to recommend this game to anyone. This babyâs got GOTY written all over it. Make sure you grab your copy on October 23rd.
(P.S. If you're still not convinced I suggest you check out the Comic Con trailer on YouTube.)
The Good: A soundtrack to die for, totally addictive gameplay.
The Bad: Combat can get a bit wayward.
The Ugly: Sitting down for a game and realising youâve lost the whole day.