In a marketing campaign that the more cynical among us might claim was a little too cool for its own good, developer Gearbox touted its latest effort, Borderlands, as the bastard child of an FPS and RPG. Fortunately, this claim is more or less true, even if the game does lean more heavily on the FPS side of the equation.
Borderlands is set far into the future on a distant and barren planet called Pandora. Its human settlers have reverted to a lawless, Wild-West lifestyle, attacking the vicious indigenous life and each other in equal measure. Yep, life is pretty miserable on Pandora, where only the most tenacious hold out for the promise of vast wealth in the form of ancient but hidden alien technologies.
You assume the role of one of four characters: Roland the soldier, Mordecai the hunter, Brick the berserker and Lilith the siren (a kind of supernatural being). Each of these characters (you guessed it) has their own unique back-story, talents and skills. As you level up, stats such as health or weapon damage increase along with you; however the RPG-style flexibility comes in the form of the focus skills. Each character has three unique skill trees they can develop as they see fit, and as each skill is unlocked, more options become available.
Leveling up is achieved by completing various missions given to you by the more hospitable inhabitants of Pandora. There are 160 missions within the game all told, 30 being crucial to the main plot with the remainder being various side quests. Despite the large number of missions available, variety is somewhat lacking, as most quests are essentially simple ‘point A to point B’ dungeon crawlers. The inclusion of customisable vehicles and their missions in the game does go some way to balancing this out, however.
Of course I can’t use the phrase ‘dungeon crawler’ without also talking about loot, and loot is Borderlands’ middle name; specifically gun-loot. Thanks to a random-generation system there are literally hundreds of thousands of weapons available to find in-game. The problem with that number of weapons, however, is they do tend to feel a little samey after a while. That said, it’s still an impressive feature that keeps you holding out for the better and shinier.
Now everyone is banging on about the incredible visuals, the unique cel shading, bold outlines, fantastic lighting – and they’re absolutely right. Borderlands looks brilliant – ‘nuff said.
For me, the game’s two biggest shortcomings revolve around the same asset: specifically, the enemies you encounter. The AI is inconsistent to say the least, and although each new enemy spawned does behave differently, more often than not it is with the behaviour of a pumpkin. Even bosses were not immune to illogical and sometimes downright stupid behaviour. One boss I encountered, Bone Head, chased me into a pit then refused, like a big baby, to come out… Let’s just say it was a turkey shoot for yours truly.
Spawning is also a little twitchy in Borderlands. Case in point: after defeating the aforementioned Bone Head, I expected a pleasant stroll past the corpses of my vanquished foes back the way I came to the exit. To my horror, the entire level was once again repopulated with the same force of enemies that I had had to fight my way through in the first place. “No fair!” I cried. Changing tactics, I decided to run through the level, dodge the flak and hope for the best. During my break for freedom, enemies would literally spawn right before my eyes – I didn’t stand a chance.
Despite its idiosyncrasies, Borderlands shines. It’s fun and violent, with intuitive controls and a plethora of collectables. Sure, the enemy encounters can at times feel like a bit of a chore, but overall it’s an absolute blast to play, particularly online, where the only problem you’ll have is fighting over who gets the best shotty.