I don’t think I’m going to be able to think about shooters the same way again after playing Borderlands. ‘Rifle’ is such a vague term now; how many bullets does it hold? What is it’s firing rate? What scope does it have? How is it loaded? Borderlands basically centres itself around these questions and makes a game out of it – and an extremely bloody, funny, and compelling game at that.
After a charming, buddy-movie-esque intro Borderlands dumps you in the wastes of a planet called Pandora where you choose a role of either Hunter, Soldier, Mage or Tank. Its then up to you to carry out rudimentary tasks and be lead through a breadcrumb trailed plot around the planet in order to gain access to ‘The Vault’ – an ancient Aladdins cave set to contain treasures which your mind couldn’t comprehend. Apart from that though any actual story sort of falls by the wayside pretty early on, and for once I’m actually going to say that’s fine because in Pandora you are given plenty of motivation for progressing by something else entirely.
Guns. Borderlands is about Guns. It’s your motivation for everything. Quests are rewarded with guns or money, and all you have to spend your money on is guns anyway. Each weapon is procedurally generated from an array of possible parts and stats, so a rifle could for example be loaded like a revolver, have a 1x magnified scope and a fire rate of 1 shot per second. Or it could be clip loaded, have a 3x scope and fire 3 shots per second. Then there are variables like accuracy, base damage, reload time, and most interestingly elemental effects.
My favourite rifle could only hold 3 shots, but it was dam powerful and when it hit it set people massively on fire – and if people were standing next to the unlucky victim they would probably be set on fire too. Guns get extremely interesting when they shoot fire and lightning I tell you. Later on I had a revolver that only held two shots but fired acid bullets ridiculously powerfully. It would brutally disintegrate people in one shot. You fall in love with your guns, you know, because they are your guns. They are special, each one a product of chance. And you love them because you can rub them in your friends noses and show them off.
Borderlands has drop in/out 4 player co-op where anybody can just jump in to anybody else’s game and help them out. For the most part I’ve played it in 2 player and it was jolly wonderful. Co-op is always fun I suppose, but there’s an extra something when you can both enthuse over a new drop – it’s like a constant adventure of discovery, and sharing drops out between you adds that extra friendliness. I’ve dabbled with 3 player, and it wasn’t quite as good. There is too much to manage, especially when comparing items in your inventory takes plenty long enough on your own; waiting for two people to decide what guns they want to use can slow the pace right down, inevitably leaving one idiot jumping around and wasting ammo out of boredom. The important thing though is that co-op is by no means necessary, Borderlands works perfectly fine as a solo endeavour which is rare with titles that want you to buddy up – though when you are driving around the wastes in a two seater car, seeing that gunner seat empty will pang loneliness.
No matter how pretty your gun is though, it’s what you do with it that matters. Pandora is full of odd people and creatures, delectably placed for you to kill and maim with your weapons of choice. It’s a bit of a mixed bag with the enemies – mostly though they are fine. In fact, anything with two legs is wonderful to fight. And I say ‘anything’ because it goes beyond standard grunts. Grunts are there, obviously, but then there are big Bruiser guys, midgets (who hilariously fly backwards when they fire their shotguns), big freakish worrying looking things, and a few others including ‘Badass’ enemies which are harder models of their standard template. Killing these ‘people’ is Borderlands bread and butter, it’s how you try out your new loot. They never get boring, they never get annoying; they are, in fact, the perfect type of fodder for a game about weapons.
However, there are creatures to kill too. The first creatures you run into are dog things, which are fine – and then there are insects which are irritating but passable, and then there are those fucking spiders. They’re those baddies which aren’t fun to fight but a chore and there are millions of them. I’d say that the only times I actually tried to avoid combat was at the sight of a group of spiders – they’re tedious and an unpleasant type of difficult. Like I said though, other than that the baddies are fine. Even the bosses really; every so often one crops up and while I generally can’t stand boss encounters here they don’t have those same stupid attacks, and they never really feel impossible. Plus each one gets an excellent, stylised freeze-frame comic book entrance which always raises a smile.
I suppose stylised comic book is a decent way of describing the whole look of borderlands actually. It’s like living concept art; cell shaded and bold, but also gritty and downplayed. On the one hand, everything is a bit too brown but on the other it never feels it and the specs of vivid colour really liven the surroundings (especially when who you are playing with demands a hot-pink car). It’s odd, everything looks roughly the same – trashed wasteland – but each area has something that makes it different, whether it be landmarks or just the lay of the land, it’s mostly distinguishable. And pretty. The violence is comic book too; limbs and heads are more than ready to be detached, people fizzle away to nothing or explode in a wash of blood and fire.
Like anything though, Borderlands has it’s share of problems. If it put my super critical hat I’d say that the narrative is a shambles and the last quarter is lacking compared to everything that precedes it. Gun properties need to be explained better (I had to hit up some forums to find out what some things actually meant) and at present the net code is awful. The thought that has gone into specifically the pc version is poor – asking you to press page up and down to scroll text and various silly little bits like that, and the final sequence is both disappointing and severely lacking in the fun department.
What isn’t patchable with Borderlands though is more than forgiveable. It blends FPS and RPG brilliantly, creating a fast paced shooter that is constantly engaging, funny, and wonderfully violent to boot. The motivation to play on is always there, tapping into our inner kleptomaniac – wanting bigger, better, more shiny weaponry. I absolutely loved my time with Borderlands and it’s one of those games that ‘did it first’ – randomly generated weapons that you can see and feel the difference in. It could be more of an RPG, and it could be more of an FPS, but it hits a delightful balance between the two that never overcomplicates but is never plain simple either.