Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Gearbox Software
Release date: Available now
With my affections towards Mad Max, first person shooters and RPGs, it was only natural that I would have been following the development of Borderlands from the very first snippet of info released over two years ago. I was anxiously looking forward to reliving Road Warrior-esque scenes on barren salt flats and experimenting on the wildlife using thousands upon thousands of randomly generated guns. And although what I hold in my hands is a solid, well playing romp on a strange and wonderful world, I’m still left conflicted as to whether I’m absolutely in love or just okay with it.
The story goes that at one time Pandora was billed as the get rich planet on the edge of the galaxy. Colonization ships containing scientists, settlers and executives made the trek, but many returned home immediately after they discovered a barren rock with nothing more than a few decrepit alien ruins dotting the surface. Some remained to carve out a new life, but society quickly degraded into anarchy and now every day is spent trying to survive the raiding bandit gangs and recently emerged wildlife. Then there’s “The Vault”, a mysterious place said to hold vast amounts of alien technology and secrets that everybody wants to find but nobody wants to believe in. You, as one of four chosen characters, play a vault hunter. With origins ambiguous and your thirst for riches insatiable, you set out into the world as a newbie.
Or you set out with three of your closest friends. That’s the beauty of Borderlands; this FPS/RPG hybrid can be played alone or with buddies in exactly the same capacity with no cuts for accommodation. In fact, the game actually ramps up with more powerful enemies and loot when additional players are along for the ride. Jump in and grind levels and loot until your thumbs fall off, then hop out and play by yourself. Your stable of characters goes with you, so there’s no starting over unless you choose to make a new character. Hunt together, duel each other and go off on your separate ways in the same area to maximize coverage. This is actually the preferred method for playing, and not just because it’s fun as hell, but also because it covers up some of the faults you’d otherwise notice in the single player experience.
When you’ve got a full team storming an enemy stronghold, the last thing on your mind is going to be how the A.I. is reacting. This is cash and grab at its finest, so when loads of enemies are charging and firing at you there’s hardly enough time to notice anything off kilter, because you’re too busy whooping’ it up and collecting the bounty of loot on the ground. Yet when you’re alone it gives you the time to observe what’s attacking and easily exploit it. The A.I. is just too predictable to make anything you attack any more challenging than its level and weaponry, and beyond that there’s always a way to kite and pick away at your quarry until it succumbs. That’s not to say that combat isn’t fun, especially with all the firearms at your disposal, but it may come across as a little one-dimensional to persnickety players.
I will say, however, that Borderlands sings graphically. The decision to move to a concept art style really makes this title stand out and the icons, indicators and menus are all easy to read and navigate. The sound varies, though; not in quality, but quantity. The guns sound fantastically indicative of their looks, but the music and enemy callouts can get a little repetitive, which grates after awhile. Vehicles could also be handled better, although they’re still a necessary evil to get from point A to point B, which you’ll be doing a lot of until you unlock fast travel beacons later on in the game.
Borderlands delivers on its promise of a blissful marriage between FPS and RPG, overall. As a single player experience, it simply does okay, but as a co-op title it soars. In fact, skip going it alone altogether and drag three of your closest friends into the wasteland of Pandora. Some minor issues persist here and there, but when you’re having this much fun you’ll be able to overlook them until the credits are rolling and you’re starting your next character.