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Platform

Xbox 360

 

Genre

Shooter RPG

 

Publisher

2K Games

 

Developer

Gearbox Software

 

ESRB

M (Mature)

 

Released

October 20, 2009

 

 

 - Fun gameplay

 - Visually stunning

 - Fantastic multiplayer

 - Great weapon variety

 

 

- Skill trees could stand more variety

 - Not many RPG elements

 

 

Review: Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3)

Review: Crackdown (360)

Review: Wet (360)

 

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Borderlands

Score: 8.5 / 10

 

borderlands          borderlands

 

Pandora is a dusty wasteland, where, supposedly, thousands of years ago an advanced alien race stashed a vault full of high-tech goodies that any enterprising person could spin into a vast fortune. As luck has it, Pandora is not short of entrepreneurs looking to do just that. Of course in order to survive the local wildlife, overcome the roving bandits, and take on every other threat to your future good fortunes you'll need high powered combat rifles, skull-penetrating sniper rifles, high powered rockets, and a variety of other instruments to flay the flesh from your enemies.

 

Luckily, Pandora has those, too.

 

From its very roots Borderlands doesn't hide what it is. What you find when you open the box is an unabashed loot-based shooter. Customization of character avatars is very minimal, and from the start what is important is each classes special

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skill, and their preferred weapons. You're going to spend a lot of time looking at loot, upgrading weapons, and shooting at your enemies. You shouldn't expect a deep story, branching dialogue, a light/dark morality meter, or any of the things that we expect in RPGs these days. That role-playing game element comes in the form of weapon stats, and building up your characters skill tree, which I'll get to a bit

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later.

 

The weapons largely come in standard varieties; pistols, combat rifles, sniper rifles, shotguns, and rocket launchers. The exception is some advanced tech that you'll find later on. So if the weapon types are more or less everything you've seen before, what justifies the game's hype of their guns, and weapon systems? Simply put, variety! Damage, firing rate, clip capacity and more all change from weapon to weapon, and you'll be replacing your gear pretty fast. More than that, you can upgrade the weapons in various directions, and there are also unique, named weapons that are even better. Not enough? Okay, let's toss in elemental damage-types like fire, or corrosive that can trigger special, and gloriously nasty death animations. The developers boast that there are hundreds of thousands of weapons in the game, or more. I tend to believe them. This massive amount of variety is important not only because this is largely a loot fueled game experience, but because you're going to spending a fair lot of time peering down the sights of your weapon.

 

When I heard about the variety of the weapons before the game's release I was doubtful that they'd be very different from one another. But when I found myself eschewing a weapon with a slightly higher firing rate because I liked the function of the zooming scope better on another one, I realized that they'd done their job.

 

Since you're going to be spending most of the game unleashing destruction upon animals, gangsters, the unworthy, and just folks who need their tickets punched, its a darn good thing that Gearbox has given you a lot of variety in the beasties of the game world. I don't want to ruin too much, but suffice to say there are a lot of different enemies with different behaviours, and even outlaws and thugs will feel different from one another in their tactics, and certainly in their equipment. Fighting a man with a machine gun is a lot different than fighting one who has a shotgun and a combat shield, and the same massive variety of guns that supports you is leveraged against you in the form of your enemies.

 

borderlands          borderlands

 

Earlier I touched on skill trees, and unique character skills. These play a big role in the game and they're something you'll be using often. I've spent the most time on the Soldier class, whose special skill is dropping down an automatic turret, with fold out shields for cover. From the start the turret is a help in taking down groups of enemies, and in finding cover. But when you level up you can put your skill points into a lot of different skills that will change the behaviour of the gun. You can make it revive fallen allies, do more damage, regenerate your health or ammo, or occasionally pop out a box of supplies. Depending on how you specialize your character you can also get upgrades that allow your own weapons to do more damage, reload faster, or - and this is a personal favourite - make it so that shooting your allies heals them instead of does damage. This one is perfect for those of us coming more from the RPG pool than the Shooter one. For the first time, friendly-fire actually is.

 

While Borderlands makes for a strong single-player experience I have to mention that this game really shines in the multiplayer. Though I haven't taken it online yet, I've loved the split-screen local multiplayer, and feel it adds a huge amount to the game. This one feels like its definitely a game meant to be played with friends.

 

Another big surprise for me was that I found the game visually appealing - I normally dislike cell-shading, something that I've made no secret of in previous reviews. But I'm going on record right now: I don't hate cell-shading. Not anymore. I still don't like boring, visually clunky cell-shading, but Borderlands is none of those things. Its stylized, detailed, interesting, and just visually pleasing all around. The environments catch your eye, the enemies and characters look fierce (or funny, when they're supposed to be) and the weapons range from high-tech to rusty and crude. Everything in this title looks like a great, triple A game . . . which it is.

 

Gearbox has churned out another hit with Borderlands, an original IP with original style, flare, graphics, and gameplay in a land of sequels, spin-offs and clones. I sincerely hope box sales for the title represent it.

 

 - DT Mathers

(October 28, 2009)

 

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