Fall is an extremely risky season to launch a new IP for video games. Don’t tell that to 2K Games and Gearbox Software, though, because their long anticipated FPS/RPG hybrid, Borderlands, is finally available for the masses.
Now, if you think FPS/RPG and Fallout 3 comes to mind, you are kind of on the right track. Add in a healthy dose of Diablo to Fallout 3 and you have Borderlands, which equals out to be a first person shooter loot-fest. The higher your character levels up, the more you find yourself playing “just one more quest” to level up one more time and find a higher rated piece of weaponry.
For better or worse, there is not that much of a focus on the narrative in Borderlands. There is a well-produced opening cut scene introducing the four main character classes to choose from and explaining that you are on the desert wasteland planet of Pandora to find the only thing that matters here, which is a rumored vault containing vast alien riches. Don’t expect a cutting edge narrative in Borderlands, as most quests only have text dialog boxes to introduce and conclude them. That said, Borderlands’ strength is in its gunplay, and discovering the plethora of guns and other loot that awaits.
What better way to experience a loot-filled game than in co-op? Up to four people can play online or system link, or up to two players in split screen. There is a single player option, but Borderlands is far more fun playing with friends. I would recommend avoiding the split screen play as the menus are not big enough to fit on each players side of the screen, which results in the player having to use the right-stick to rotate the menu across their screen. Consequently, the all-too-important inventory management in Borderlands results in a mess, and this was on the 52” television we tested split screen on.
Borderlands takes a page out of another 2K game, Bioshock, by respawning players at Vita Chamber-esque stations upon death for a small fee. Before perishing in battle, if a player runs out of health they go into a brief “Second Chance” state where they can either wait to be revived by a teammate in co-op, or kill an enemy in that short time window and be awarded with a resurrection. It is a fresh twist to this increasingly popular mechanic in co-op games, which is a big help in single player play, or if you happen to veer off a little too far from your partners in co-op.
Each of the four characters available has a unique skill that can be upgraded with skill points as they level up. The Soldier has a turret gun with a shield to aid in combat, a Berserker goes into an indestructible rage, the Siren’s unique trait is invisibility and lightning-fast speed, and a Hunter has a bird he can call on to assist in battle. I was surprised to see there was no meaningful character customization other than changing the color of clothing. With the vast amount of weapons available, it is a bummer to see no armor options whatsoever other than equipping invisible shields.
The four character classes can use any of the insane amount of guns and grenades available from the corpses that you vanquished, or from the many vending machines scattered across the wasteland. The marketing for Borderlands claims it has “Bazillions of Guns.” Most of the guns fall into the traditional classes of SMG, Rifles, Pistols, Shotguns and Explosives. Each gun may have one different accessory or ability to differentiate it from the last like having a scope or also having the bonus of shock and fire damage. All these characteristics add up to a seemingly endless amount of guns available, and while most belong to the aforementioned classes, I kept anxiously awaiting the next weapon I stumbled across.
There is a lot of value in Borderlands. It is a beefy game with seemingly countless quests available. Aside from playing through with four different character classes, upon beating the game a “Playthrough 2” option unlocks which lets you keep your character and weapons from before and continue to push towards the level 50 cap, facing tougher adversaries.
All of this comes together to form a very fun and enjoyable package. There are vehicles available to assist in quickly traveling across the desert wastes, though the control can be a little jerky on them. I also would have liked an official trade system in place. You can always drop items from your inventory for teammates to pick up, but there is no way to drop currency. Plus, who knows how trustworthy that person is you joined up with in matchmaking the day you did not see any of your friends playing online.
Gearbox made it well known that pretty far into the development cycle that they completely changed the art style from a realistic next-gen look early previews indicated to a mature cel-shaded look (think of the cel-shading implemented in games like Crackdown). It is the perfect fit to accompany the fast and intense style of gameplay Borderlands brings to the table.
Do not dismiss Borderlands as “just another shooter.” Co-op play is all the rage in FPS games these days, and not only is it featured here, but it is encouraged. Most importantly, the co-op play is addicting and nonstop awesome! Before instantly running for that copy of Modern Warfare 2 this season, make sure to give Borderlands a look, especially if co-op play is your thing.
Versions Reviewed: Xbox 360, PS3, PC