I get asked from time to time what my favourite game is. I don't know why. People are misguided and sometimes think I know something they don't. Well, whatever the reason, I always respond with my own question: of the moment, or of all time? If they want an 'of the moment' answer, for a good few months now, I've been saying Borderlands.
A decent outing on this game came along sort of late for me: I played a build at GCA in September last year, but didn't end up doing the review for it, so it sort of sat around in the back of my mind as something I would get to eventually. After hearing some friends talk about how great it was, and following on from Jess's exhaltant 9.2/10, I bought my own copy and got down to huntin' some Skag. Because I was so busy with the core story, the DLC sort of floated around without my taking much notice.
The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned and Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot have both been out for a while. As if the world of Borderlands wasn't big enough already, 2K have added a couple of new adventures to keep you chopping through, whether you're all by your lonesome or hanging out with friends. Now, for all of you poor Kiwis who have an internet connection that seems as if it was designed and built by Bastards Incorporated, the two expansions have been released as a single retail package.
With Left 4 Dead 2 a part of such recent history, a zombie shooter add-on for a game like Borderlands was always going to need to have a few points of difference. Well, first of all, it's part of the Borderlands universe, which has certain implications for the game's aesthetic and automatically drives it away from any obvious comparison. Even a comparison within the Borderlands franchise is sort of tough, at least in terms of the environments. The desolate Arid Badlands seem such a far cry from the landscape here because Jakob's Cove, where there's a zombie infestation going on, is so lush. Just what the hell is it with zombies and swamps, anyway?
L4D2 was based very much on a high-adrenaline, visceral experience, whereas the action in Zombie Island is somehow a little more madcap (I haven't been scared once). From the opening cutscene, where a father tells his sassy daughter a bedtime story (before getting annoyed at her constant interruptions and telling her she's adopted) you get a sense for how things will play out. Borderlands isn't really a game you can take very seriously. As far as shooters go, it's one of the 'fun' ones. The Zombie Island add-on is even wackier still.
Across five new areas, you'll tackle Jakob's Cove to deal with the armies of living dead spawned by an experimental Dr. Ned. One of the missions will be locating this absent madman, as following on from the groaning, brain-lusting rise of his fleshy canvases, he's gapped it. Each time you vanquish a zombie, you'll need to collect its brain, and as with many of the enemies in the main game, guns and ammo will fountain out for inspection and collection so you can tame the resurrection.
As with the main game, Zombie Island is based very simply on killing enemies and amassing weapons and ammo, while completing simple missions (you only ever have to follow your compass). It's a fantastic formula, and 2K have done an excellent job giving us more of the same (but different). The combat itself is basically unchanged, although the enemies are somehow more tenacious, coming in massive waves (as zombies are wont to do). Spitting undead are vexatious and the way they get all up in your grill reminded me a lot of how packs of Skag all come at you at once. Naturally, the zombies aren't quite as fast.
With plenty of new missions and fresh items to be had, Zombie Island makes for a great expansion on its own. Of course, if you get this package retail, you're also going to get the Underdome Riot. Kicking off again with a fantastic little intro, you're introduced to the be-heeled femme fatale Moxxi, as she explains her fascination with arena combat. This part of the expansion has rather less depth than the Island, but there are still a number of side quests to get into.
The Underdome has three arena areas, and a central noticeboard where you can pick up missions. In the arena itself you'll face waves of enemies (the boss wave, the gun wave, etc) and you'll need to kill them all before you move on to the next wave. The arena has been well designed, despite being quite small, with plenty of places to run and hide. Between waves, air-drops will restock your health and ammo. This is all about action and will test your character's stamina, shield set up and the way you spread your weapons. One of the things that has always set Borderlands apart is the sheer number of guns - because there's no new ones in Riot, you'll want to ensure you set yourself up well before you travel across. The massive number of combinations for your combat set up means that the Riot (in fact, both expansions) will play differently each time you change up your arsenal.
The Riot won't give you as much extra oomph as Zombie Island (especially as a single player affair) but tacked on to this retail package it still deepens and enlivens the overall experience. Retail DLC is a brilliant way to bridge any gaps caused by poor broadband infrastructure, and it helps keep Kiwi gamers on the same wavelength as those overseas when we're looking to hook up for some multiplayer. On top of all that, Borderlands is the sort of game you can keep going back to anyway, so with these extras the developers are starting to lay it on nice and thick for us, which can only be a good thing.
This isn't where the DLC ends for Borderlands, so it's possible we'll see another retail release very soon. For now, if you haven't already downloaded these two add-ons, this is a fairly cost-effective way to get them both together without draining your data cap.