Borderlands

In 2009, the hype in the world of First Person Shooters has centered solely around Killzone 2 and Modern Warfare 2. Each game has been backed by a huge development budget, and sales of each will no doubt be enormous, but for many, there's a different shooter out there that's truly worthy of such hype and hysteria. Blending elements of the RPG and First Person Shooter genres, 2K Games have produced the sort of game that doesn't immediately appeal to a mass audience, but delivers incredible quality to those willing to appreciate something a bit different. Forget wafer-thin personalities and zero development; this is Borderlands, where you will start with nothing, develop and care for your character over a vast array of missions, and learn that there is always, always a bigger gun.

Borderlands

Bridging multiple genres has been a stumbling block for a vast array of games up until now, with First Person Shooters often having lazily tacked-on vehicle sections that detracted from the overall experience. Although the vehicle-based segments of Borderlands aren't at the Gran Turismo standard, they aren't game breaking, while the combination of role playing and shooting elements are blended perfectly, resulting in one of the most successful multi-genre games of all time.

First things first, you're given a choice of character. There's no bad choice to make here, since each one can be developed with comparable abilities, but picking one that suits your style of play is important. Whether you're suited to the rapid pace of Lilith and her tremendous phasewalk capability, the sturdier fist-pumping approach of Brick, the Bloodwing-assisted gunslinging of Mordecai or the weapon-hungry armada that is Roland, there's equal potential for character development, weapon hording and general butt kickery. In a move of extreme genius, developers 2K games weren't content with simply allowing you to embark on your adventure alone. You're offered the chance to meet up with a friend, either online or offline (in splitscreen) and tackle the entire game cooperatively, from start to finish, every mission, every enemy. It's a feature that was sorely missed for generations of consoles, but is finally being fulfilled on Playstation 3 with great games such as this. There's not a single mission in the game that isn't fun while tackling the objectives with company.

Borderlands

Like any good RPG, the full potential of the upgrade system is unleashed gradually. Initially, you gain experience by shooting the bad stuffs, then by completing missions. As soon as you reach Level 5 though, you learn that you can assign skill points (one per level) to particular abilities. These range from core upgrades like increased firepower or reload speed through to the more unusual skills specific to each character, including Lilith's ability to cause elemental damage while phasewalking. It doesn't stop at levelling up your character with experience either - your individual weapon capability in each category also upgrades with experience. For example, spending time using SMGs will gradually raise your SMG level, leading to SMG-specific bonuses on reload speed, fire rate and power. If all that isn't enough, you'll also be able to spend almost the entire game scrounging around for new weaponry, with a near-infinite array of possibilities. No matter how good your current weapon is, you always know there's a better version somewhere - you've just got to get out there and find it.

So, unleashed on the world of Pandora, initially in a small town called Fyrestone, you begin by taking on short missions for the local doctor. Although mission variety throughout the game is such that you'll sometimes just be switching generators on or turning valves, nothing ever feels like a chore, and the change of pace from mission to mission is welcome. It's also relatively easy to group missions together. Some missions are drip fed as the story progresses, but players can often accept multiple missions (often from different story characters or local bounty boards) and head off to a particular area with multiple objectives in mind. It greatly adds to the feeling of progression and success when you're able to tick of several missions in a single excursion. That said, travel is only mildly taxing in the game, and new alternatives for getting around are soon offered. It isn't long before vehicles are unlocked, providing a swift way around Borderlands' massive landscapes, once you've got used to the unusual First Person Shooter-style vehicle controls. Slightly further on, warp stations are also made available, allowing instantaneous travel to and from any major location in the game. It makes an enormous game easily accessible, and is crucial to a player's enjoyment of the game. Borderlands

Once you're out shooting skags (local wildlife with an unfriendly attitude to visitors), finding the recordings of lost adventurers, collecting items for various people or even taking on local bad guys, the sublime FPS controls really begin to shine. Borderlands' handling is almost the polar opposite to that of Killzone 2. Here, there's no clunky momentum, frustrating staggering and slow turning. In Borderlands, characters still feel weighty, but respond instantly, with perfectly fluid control. In many ways, it makes sense, with the ISA in Killzone bogged down with layers of armour, while the heroes in Borderlands wear only a light layer of clothing and a high-tech shield for protection. The result is a fast-paced, clinical shooter that rewards reaction speed, accuracy and boisterous enthusiasm.

It's not short-lived fun either, with a vast number of missions to take on, including several boss characters. It could take upwards of twenty five hours to get through the main game, and everything is in place for a second playthrough after that with bigger guns and tougher enemies. In fact, it's likely you won't have reached the maximum level in your first play, encouraging you to keep going or to try out some of the expansion packs (of which there are some particular highlights, in the form of The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned and The Secret Armory of General Knoxx). The bosses you meet along the way range from demented humans (Nine Toes and Sledge, for example) through to enormous beasts and other-worldy critters. Depending on your level, some of the fights can be truly ferocious. In standard RPG form, the game is as hard as you want to make it, depending on how thoroughly you work through the game, levelling up as you go.

Borderlands

There's little to criticise about Borderlands, since the RPG elements add such an incredible new lease of life to the FPS genre. That said, the visuals are one small area to pick on. The game does look uniquely beautiful, with cel-shaded characters and landscapes that set the game apart from the standard dreary terrain of Killzone. Still, the potential for crazy visuals isn't fully explored in the game. There's interesting caverns, and a few unique alien landscapes, but the majority of the game features brown cliffs and paths. Though it fits with the rundown nature of most of the towns, it feels like a missed opportunity. Just because a town is rundown doesn't mean the cliffs can't be bright yellow and teaming with hostile red plants that do nothing but eat small insects. It'd add a layer of life to the game that is slightly missed, particularly since there aren't a huge number of other people around to see. There's plenty of bandits to take out, but each town is populated by the last few stubborn men, clinging on to a living. It fits, but it leaves things feeling slightly sterile.

The voicework is pretty good though, with plenty of recorded dialogue from NPCs featuring in the story. The main characters also have quite a lot to say when they're out in the field. In particular, playing as Lilith, there's a secret part of you that wants to join her slightly sadistic, mildly lunatic laugh as she pulls off a critical kill. Each character has a few fun phrases, and you'll get used to them, particulary in co-op mode, as they give a clue what your partner's up to. Worried your comrade might be grabbing all the best weapons? Never fear, their character is almost certain to shout something like: I've never seen anything like this, which handily gives the game away. The music, though not particularly varied, is also reasonably decent, and its greatest strength is that it reacts to your location and situation, often chiming in to accentuate battles, and getting even more serious when a boss character or other formidable foe is on the scene.

Borderlands

Overall, though Borderlands isn't quite the perfect game, it is absolutely terrific, and easily the best shooter of the year. While the focus for many might be on the Modern Warfare or Killzone franchises, anybody seeking something a little deeper, or more entertaining, should really consider Borderlands. If you're a fan of co-op gaming, offline or on, there's nothing quite as flexible as Borderlands, a game which has successfully melded the best elements of First Person Shooters, RPGs and co-operative gameplay.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

2K Games

Developer:

Gearbox Software

Players:

1-2

Online:

1-4

Release:

2009-10-23

Trophies:

71

Review summary

Gameplay:

Thoroughly enjoyable with extremely addictive RPG elements

Graphics:

Unique and interesting style, if not always eye catching

Sound:

Decent voicework and music, with great sound effects

Lastability:

Numerous side missions and good replay value

9.3

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