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Review

Review: Borderlands

This game holds its own against the big guns.

This sniper rifle doesn’t have the same three point eight zoom level that the last had. But “wow” it is packing an additional eighty points of damage and giving plus two-hundred percent to critical damage. A no brainer then, I’ll take it. Hard earned cash handed over for this shiny new death dealer and like all gadgets – it is time to let her rip! There, a midget with a shotgun, not the best target as I wanted something a little harder, he’ll do though. Looking down the scope and waiting for the crosshair to steady…three…two…one…BOOM! The extra damage this baby is packing meant the bullet hit that little ‘fella with such ferocity that he exploded before my eyes. A plume of body bits shooting a hundred feet or so into the air, never to be recognised as humanoid ever again, the bits spread and start landing around me as I progress to the camp. Now I’d be lying if I didn’t say the event had me in tears of laughter, totally over the top gore but executed brilliantly, this is really fun! This is Borderlands…..

Borderlands is a new, fresh, clean and exciting game from Gearbox. We are looking at a first person shooter with role playing and cooperative gameplay. When in the action it plays, feels and asks you to treat it like a shooter. But behind the scenes there are many numbers being crunched that determine the impact of your weapons and elemental effects. You wouldn’t really notice this on the surface if it wasn’t for the numbers flying off the enemy when you hit them, telling you how much damage you just dealt and with the occasional “critical” appearing in red. In most shooters these numbers would be annoying but here in Borderlands each one reminds you of just how brilliant your weapon is, or just how hard that enemy is. So play it like a shooter but bow down and respect the numbers, because essentially those digits will be as important as the blood in your veins.

So the story? Well in an attempt to avoid all spoilers I will try not to give away too much. So I will tell you that there is indeed a story. There you go, pretty spoiler free right? Oh ok. So basically you play as one of four characters, each with their own unique styles based on a class, searching for an alien artefact, done! The Siren class is the femme fatale with the ability to “phase walk”, which is to turn invisible and move at much faster speeds. The Soldier is the muscle and packs a deployable turret that is as effective against enemies as it is shielding the soldier and his party. The Hunter is the one you’ll find on top of a rock taking long shots with a sniper rifle and letting his “Wing” loose to fly over to targets and swoop down to attack. Last is the Berserker who is a bit like the soldier but favours beating the crap out of enemies with his bare hands. There isn’t any real character development throughout the game in terms of background stories as such. You can read all you need to know about these four in the instruction manual. At the start of the game you will be given the option to name your character and choose the colours of clothing from a pretty limited palette. Throughout the game you can change your colours and name should you wish. But sadly you won’t be able to customise much in the way of appearance and that is a real shame.

Where this game gets pretty extensive though is in the skill trees for each character. They all have special moves as mentioned above, in addition they have many more abilities that you can put accumulated skill points into to add modifiers and create a badass killing machine. As soon as you hit level five you start earning these skill points each time you level up, with the current level cap set to level fifty, you still get plenty opportunity to make quite an individual fighter. There are three branches on the skill trees that shape your character and the effectiveness of certain playing styles. I played as the Hunter and focused on sniping with later levels granting me enough skill points to render enemy shields pointless against my killer shots. However, I also put a few points in to the “Gunslinger” skills to ensure I wasn’t too shabby with a pistol when those pesky midgets got up close with their boom sticks! So whilst you cannot really alter the looks of your character the (perhaps more important) thing is you can most certainly alter the way you play through your character. You will get various missions on your adventure and completing these earns XP points which go towards levelling up. XP is also earned per kill and when fighting some great bosses in the boss battles you can expect plenty of XP and loot to bathe in.

Anyone who has read up on this game and / or seen the trailers will know this game is all about the guns. Having completed it twice and getting a one-hundred percent completion, I can confirm new guns just keep on appearing. That is, new statistics for the guns keep appearing. Back to those all important numbers and it is the difference in statistics that make up the epic variety in weaponry. Well before the end of the first play through you will most likely have sampled every gun type there is, which to be honest is still a fair few. I still felt there wasn’t quite enough though and that more variety was desperately needed, such as a crossbow perhaps and even a choice in melee weapons. The weapons do also pack elemental effects such as shock, corrosion, fire and explosion which all add more variety and offer different tactics. Thankfully the game builds up and retains a level of addiction that will feel familiar to anyone that has played Diablo II and Sacred Fallen Angel. Gearbox even made references to Diablo II when naming certain enemies in this title. You will find yourself in the inventory looking at the stats for your weapons and shields just as much as you will be pulling the trigger waiting for an enemy to drop an orange glowing weapon or shield. You will be racing for the weapon chests and will most likely find yourself dashing with no concern for the surroundings, opening the chest for loot, then turning around only to realise you just got yourself flanked by a badass elder skag eyeing you up as his dinner.

The gameplay is great and it really comes to life in co-op with your buddies. Putting points into skills that benefit the party as a whole, such as extra XP gained per kill, is the way to form a more effective fighting force. Also asking if anyone can use the weapon you just picked up before selling it will prevent everyone getting “greedy” which is so easily done in this game. You get the option to fight in a duel simply by hitting a buddy and having them hit you back to accept the challenge. Also scattered throughout the land are arenas where you can take you characters into a deathmatch with your co-op buddies too, breaking up the campaign play and making for some fun times and bragging rights.

Another thing that needs a mention is the humour. The robots known as Clap-traps are really funny and say some really comical things whilst breaking out with a dance. Key enemies are given funny names and your characters will also come out with funny dialogue during combat. The midgets flying back with the recoil from their shotgun is one of the highlights too.

Saving it to last because it is the gameplay that makes this title shine, it is now time to talk graphics. Borderlands is cell-shaded and this adds a great unique feel to the title but there are some really low res textures that would explain the just over three gig install (on the 360). But the draw distance is great, there are very few moments when the game shows any slowdown and I never really noticed any pop-up. However, I feel the cell-shaded style hides the fact that there is little visual material to offer any “wow” moments and it offers just enough to keep it from looking dull or basic. There is plenty of gore with bodies exploding and melting in acid or frying when stunned with electricity, though with this visual style it is amusing rather than “shocking” in terms of violence. The sound is also average and simply serves its purpose.

Pros:

  • Addictive looting game that RPG fans will realy appreciate
  • Great humour and great fun
  • Brilliant Co-op experience promoting great team-work.

Cons:

  • Could do with being bigger
  • More weapon variety needed
  • Mediocre graphics and sound that simply serve their purpose

So, Borderlands is a very fun and addictive game that offers plenty of gameplay and if “looting” and statistics is your thing then there are plenty on offer. I strongly recommend you play it with a mate or three and enjoy the experience together, as this offers a harder challenge and gives you someone to trade with. It feels like a shooter but there is no escaping the fact that it is essentially probability, maths and chance controlling the end results when pulling the trigger. The wow moments will come with the over-the-top gore but don’t expect system breaking visuals. However, do expect a unique style and a long adventure that will better cater for those that like to “grind” through a game.  8/10

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