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Jeremy Jastrzab
02 Nov, 2009

Borderlands Review

360 Review | Check me out, I'm looting! I'm looting!
Genre mixing in video games is nothing new and the most popular genre to get mixed seems to be the RPG. While not everyone has the patience, skill and nous to get around the intricacies and conventions of the genre, aspects such as levelling up seem to be the gun way to give a natural sense of progress. Combine this with the popular FPS genre, along with the newfound popularity of co-operative play, and chances are that you’re on something. Add in a zany, outlandish premise and wicked sense of humour to get the latest from Gearbox Software, Borderlands.

So rewind for a sec… shooter, RPG and a seemingly post apocalyptic and deserted landscape… sounds a little like Fallout 3, no? Well, that’s actually quite far from the truth. Firstly, Borderlands is a shooter first and RPG second, while the opposite holds for Fallout 3. Secondly, Borderlands is set on the planet of Pandorra, an arid desert planet that is only populated by some remnant scavengers and ex-convict slaves i who remain in search of loot and a legendary vault, said to contain vast amounts of treasure and alien technology. In truth, the setting is much more reminiscent of the cult anime, Trigun.

The story is definitely an interesting premise, and is finely interlaced with a wicked sense of humour. This is evident in the rather creative back stories behind numerous missions. You come across some dark humoured dialogue and some rather colourful characters, but overall, the story doesn’t do anything more than provide a reason to keep going. Sure, you’ve got 15-20 hours or so, but it’s not exceedingly well told and there really isn’t that much to it. In fact, you’d probably consider the ‘ending’, something of a let down and that might be putting it lightly. Still, Borderlands offers enough in the game itself to get around inconveniences such as stories.

Hmm... We could really use some back-up.

Hmm... We could really use some back-up.
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There are two ways to play Borderlands. Obviously, one is through single player and another is to get a friend or three and play through in co-op. As trivial as this may sound, there is a big difference to playing through the game by yourself or with friends. You start off by picking one of four classes: Solider, Hunter, Siren and Tank. Each of these classes is very different from another, and in an ideal world you’d have a team of four, each taking one class. So while you play through as these characters, shooting stuff in first person, Borderlands is an excellent example of how to implement RPG elements.

As you parade through the deserted Pandora landscapes shooting stuff, completing missions and challenges, you’ll gain experience points. With experience points comes levels, and with each level here you get skill points to build you character class trees. The beauty is that the allocations are very flexible and varied, meaning that you can create a unique combination of enhanced skills for your character. Furthermore, each character has an action skill that will be very useful in the right situations and you can reset your skill tree and start again if you wish.

Apart from this, Borderlands has a simple yet dynamic mission structure and challenge set. You’ll be siphoned through each of the main story missions, but along the way you have a number extra missions available through main characters and on ‘Bounty boards’. These optional missions give you more insight into the world of Pandora and are highly recommended for keeping your level up. And if you have accepted multiple bounties at once, you flip between them on the fly and sometimes unwittingly complete them. The challenges are really generous with experience points and are available through out the game. These give you an incentive to keep destroyand exploring. There are a few other minor distractions through out the relatively open world as well.

Pft... You ain't so badass.

Pft... You ain't so badass.
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As mentioned, Borderlands is a shooter, first and foremost. And it really shows in the refined and slick shooter mechanics, similar to the Brother in Arms, Call of Duty and recent Rainbow Six games. Being a shooter first makes combat fun, rather than the eventual grind that you get in most RPGs and none of clumsiness of Fallout 3 without VATS. Sure, it’s still slightly affected by the stats of your weapon, but it has much more to do with skill than a dice roll. And there are ways to customise your character’s skills to make you really effective, in areas such as critical hits. You’ve got a bit of vehicular combat as well, like in Halo, but with the size of some of the later areas, this helps a lot.

The two most compelling aspects of the game, the ones that really clinch the deal, are the smooth level progression and the looting. The game has the whole ‘just one more level’ feel nailed to a tee, and you’ll likely find yourself taking more missions just to keep your levels up. Also, the game discourages excessive grinding by making low level enemies worth virtually no experience. Borderlands immeasurably benefits from the looting system in place. It enters the realms of Diablo and World of Warcraft in being able to find… 87 bazillion different kinds of guns, shields as well as action skill and class upgrades. Finding a gun you really like or finding something stupidly rare or awesome is a priceless feeling. It’s the looting and level progression that make Borderlands both enjoyable and importantly, compelling, while dressing them up in a shooter makes it accessible.

While single player is enjoyable in its own right, the game is even better with friends. The single player affair becomes a lot slower and at times more frustrating when you enter new areas or are on scavenging missions. However, the ‘second wind’ mechanic definitely helps a lot, as it allows you to keep going if you die if you kill an enemy before you bleed out. In co-op, the experience is much faster and has the potential to be much more dynamic, especially if there are a variety of classes. Furthermore, a lot of the missions seem to be designed with co-op in mind. One mission against the ‘mothraak’ was really tough with one person as the dragon-like beast only had one target to aim at with its fireballs of death, while with two or more people, you could tactically out manoeuvre it. So while co-op doesn’t trivialise the game, it certainly is easier to get into with friends. And friends are important, because you don’t want some random to be constantly starting duels with you. While you’ve got a whole separate game for duels almost, they're a quaint little distraction.

Look at ma skillz. Ma skillz are amazing.

Look at ma skillz. Ma skillz are amazing.
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Unfortunately, it’s not all roses and sunshine with Borderlands. Plenty of sunshine, but no roses. Seriously though, apart from the lacklustre story, issues such as some poor AI and occasional detection issues and the like are dispersed through the game. They are hardly game breaking but are distracting. The poor AI actually adds to frustration in the single player as it is easy to get overwhelmed without back up. And while the interface is intuitive, slick and easy to get through, there aren’t any options to potentially store weapons and it gets crowded with higher inventory capacity. Sure, you’ll probably sell them anyway but it would have been nice to keep them somewhere and it occasionally underlines options that haven’t been included in the game. Furthermore, there is no easy way to swap items with your co-op partners, which is something of an oversight and has the potential to turn friendly games nasty.

The current cel-shaded graphical style for Borderlands was not in the original plans. It plays off quite handsomely though, as it complements the laid back and tongue-in-cheek nature of the game very well. Furthermore, aside from the purposely drab landscape, the colour and the dynamic presentation are a far cry from the usual dull, washed-out and gritty offerings of the Unreal engine. Aside from some slow-down when using scoped aiming and initial texture loading problems, the game runs fine. The voicing has a distinct ‘south west’ flavour and the excitable claptraps are an interesting homage to R2-D2. The sound track is another wonderful strong point to the game, as the tracks easily epitomise the areas and the situations that you’re in. Unfortunately, their cues can be off at times, meaning you’ll have a foreboding track playing at times where there is actually nothing happening.

Borderlands succeeds in creating a ‘role playing shooter’, in that it very successfully combines two genres, the FPS and the RPG. The shooting is fun and furious while the looting and levelling make the game very compelling in place of a lacklustre story. While the single player suffers occasionally from slower pacing and frustrations, it still manages to be compelling on its own. If you’ve got some friends to take along for a pillage and plunder, you’re not likely to come out for a while. As such, the final score represents a split between the single and multiplayer experiences. Hopefully Borderlands will encourage developers into think deeper about just what makes each genre tick the next time a genre mix comes along.
The Score
Borderlands shows just how compelling a mix of shooting and looting can be. And it can be even better with friends.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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27 Comments
4 years ago
i bet they had more than one meeting over what mad mel should yell out, and i can probably guess on the ones they decided against.
As Itachi and i were just discussing, this game is going to make other fps' feel rather redundant to me.
4 years ago
I have been having a lot of fun with this game. After 3 or so hours of trying to get it to work on the PC with 3 friends (port issues) we spent the better part of 8 hours playing just getting that next level. :)

The most addictive fun we have had CO-OP in a long time. (Even including L4D)

All this game really needs to include is a sleep option because I really need some now.
4 years ago
I know about the scoring system etc etc and that 8.5 is a good score but for me the thing is a 9.0-9.5.

Like itachi, if i play gears or soemthing now i'll be like 'lulz all i can use is lancer and a shotty 2 guns big whoop'
4 years ago
^^^ thats so true and also i will go why the hell am i not leveling up and getting better with this weapon hahhaha.
4 years ago
Infested Jibbs wrote
I know about the scoring system etc etc and that 8.5 is a good score but for me the thing is a 9.0-9.5.

Like itachi, if i play gears or soemthing now i'll be like 'lulz all i can use is lancer and a shotty 2 guns big whoop'
back in the cage chimp

icon_rolleyes.gif
4 years ago
? Is that about me only referencing itachi?I can edit my original post and squeeze you in too fetid, i'l just have to pull some strings and call in a few favours.
4 years ago
"As trivial as this may sound, there is a big different to playing"

typo
4 years ago
Good review - glad I read it! I'd kind of ignored this game but it actually sounds like my cup o' tea.

Apart from clothing/weapons is there any kind of character customisation? It looks like the four classes are sort of "locked" in appearance.
4 years ago
I think this game is pretty cool and have finished it twice so now have a kick-ass level 50 Lilith.
The one thing that I found a little strange, and I guess slightly disappointing, is the lack of bad language. I mean you can blow a crazy little midgets head off, dissolve them with corrosive effects and set them alight but I have not heard one bad word in my whole 75+ hours of game play.
I would not mind a couple of S**TS of a few F**KS. I mean it is a pretty lawless land full of homicidal maniacs but strangely enough they all seem rather polite and well spoken.
4 years ago
Can't really change appearance. There is no armor or clothes to wear. You can only change the color of a characters clothes and your vehicles, but as it is FPS I think only your co-op friends can see it.
4 years ago
I have sunk many hours into this game with friends and it is the funnest co-op game I have played in a long time.

Who would of thought leveling up a skill tree in an fps would work so well. And the loot is a lot of fun, cause you have no idea what you are gonna get.

It has to be the longest campaign I've played in a shooter and the re-playability is endless.

It kinda makes me want l4d2 less and less. Especially if the aussie one is cut to pieces.
4 years ago
I started playing this game the other night and so far I've had stuff all sleep because of it..... I don't really mind though.
4 years ago
@benspyda... l4d2 is cut to pieces in aus... i have cancelled my order because of it being so bad

on topic tho... borderlands is awesome... and with all the extra content i've heard of thats coming we should be playing it for some time icon_biggrin.gif
4 years ago
It's a gem of a game. Very playable, be it for a quick mission or an all night session co-op.

It does what it does very well and its not overly produced to the point of over shine.

Can't wait for the extra DLC too!

http://www.1up.com/do/newsStory?cId=3176506
4 years ago
Just bought the PS3 version icon_biggrin.gif and have come home to find my ISP churn has gone through and am now on 10Mb ADSL2+ wheee
4 years ago
ODEED wrote
I think this game is pretty cool and have finished it twice so now have a kick-ass level 50 Lilith.
The one thing that I found a little strange, and I guess slightly disappointing, is the lack of bad language. I mean you can blow a crazy little midgets head off, dissolve them with corrosive effects and set them alight but I have not heard one bad word in my whole 75+ hours of game play.
I would not mind a couple of S**TS of a few F**KS. I mean it is a pretty lawless land full of homicidal maniacs but strangely enough they all seem rather polite and well spoken.
Strange, I swear (no pun intended) I've heard a few s and f-bombs thrown around by enemies during firefights.
4 years ago
I enjoyed playing this a lot more than I thought I would. Normally I struggle to get into an FPS, but the RPG elements make it a lot more playable for me. After coming from playing Aion and being familiar with the whole questing, looting, leveling etc., it was all that more exciting to play it from an FPS angle.
4 years ago
Well Im playing on PS3. My computer likes to crash randomly playing games for some reason (we suspect heat) so I joined the console crowd. So, if any other ps3ers are looking for an average co-oper then friend me(emechbjm). Its a bit "dry" playing single player, but my main criticism is mapping the triggers to l/r2. They need to allow re-mapping ASAP.
emech wrote
Well Im playing on PS3. My computer likes to crash randomly playing games for some reason (we suspect heat) so I joined the console crowd. So, if any other ps3ers are looking for an average co-oper then friend me(emechbjm). Its a bit "dry" playing single player, but my main criticism is mapping the triggers to l/r2. They need to allow re-mapping ASAP.
There's a few controller options in the options menu. I personally use the "Resistant" option, which is much better as it's more in line with other shooters on the console.
4 years ago
Thought I'd be helpful and share some tweaks from the Gearbox Forums for the PC version:

http://gbxforums.gearboxsoftware.com/showthread.php?t=79043

I personally have disabled the startup logos, mouse smoothing and ingame voice chat.

Had a blast playing this last night with Dani and Denny, love the progression of skills and such, it can be pretty tricky, but in coop it makes it feel more rewarding.
4 years ago
A13x wrote
some tweaks
The only one I need is the skip intro movies. Drives me nuts when a game locks the ADs in for every startup.
4 years ago
Try the mouse smoothing one too. Game is more fluid by a tremendous amount with the smoothing off I found.

Jeremy is spot on with the review, the game's phenomenal as a co-op title, and very solid with SP. Randy was totally spot on when we talked to him about the game a few months back. Kick arse.
4 years ago
This game is amazing can only put it down to have a break and hope onto dj hero icon_biggrin.gif
4 years ago
I liked this review because it wasn't constantly rambling on about how you should only ever play this online, while not listing pros and cons of the game overall. Very handy, this review. I've had my eyes on the game for a while now so I think I'm going to pick it up.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  23/10/2009 (Confirmed)
Publisher:
  Take 2 Interactive
Genre:
  Shooter
Year Made:
  2008
Players:
  1

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