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FPS and RPG
There have been a few attempts to tie together the gun obsessed FPS genre with the skill/loot/quest obsessed RPG genre and none of them have really succeeded. Borderlands is yet another attempt to marry the two and this time they make sweet music together. It might get a little grunty and sweaty in places but this is a triumphant union with a real addictive hook.
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The game is set on the planet Pandora and you start out in a desert wasteland. There are run down outposts, colourful characters and lots of nasty creatures hunting you. The developer, Gearbox, has cleverly combined tried and tested mechanics from the FPS and RPG genres and this is an action packed game with a strong focus on loot which is accessible enough to attract fans from both camps.
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This is a highly polished game and it opens with one of those integrated tutorial intros, but this one is actually good and sucks you right into the action while teaching you the basics in a stylish manner. You are a scavenger of sorts, new to the area and keen to make a fortune. The way to do this is to embark on quests and collect loot. The opening leaves you in no doubt as to the standard first-person shooter gameplay, but as you get into the action you’ll soon see the RPG structure beneath.
To begin with there’s the quest system which allows you to take on missions from various sources. You can have more than one quest open at any one time and it is easy to flick back and forth in the menu system to check on your progress. You can also just go exploring and there are creatures to kill and loot lying around everywhere.
You will also engage in some character specialisation. You’ll need to choose from one of four classes at the start. They are the Soldier, Berserker, Hunter and Siren. Character customization in terms of appearance extends as far as changing the colour of their outfit but this is first-person remember. It doesn’t matter how you look. You can earn skill points through gaining experience in the Borderlands slaughtering dog like creatures called Skags and baddie mercenary characters or taking on quests. There is a tree of skills for each character and you’ll need to choose carefully because you can’t acquire everything.
The weaponry is a big boast because the game supports procedurally generated weapons so there are literally millions of possible combinations. In effect they are split into pistol, rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle, machine gun, rocket launcher and alien weapons. There are also explosives and melee attacks. The most interesting category is the alien weaponry which often has weird and wonderful properties. There are also various damage types and ammo types and to top it off each weapon has a value and a rarity rating. You can read more about that in our Borderlands Weapon Guide.
The gameplay is classic first-person shooter and the AI opponents come in two basic varieties, the run straight at you and try to bite your face off variety and the hide behind a rock and shoot variety. The quests are mostly pretty straightforward with the odd boss fight punctuating your progress, but there is also a mysterious female apparition who ties together a deeper narrative. After your first play through you have the option to start again with your experience intact. The only difference is the enemies you face are a bit tougher. This offers some nice single player replay value.
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The game looks terrific and the opening is reminiscent of a Gorilla’s video, albeit slightly less cartoony. The decision to go for a cel-shaded art style was a good one. Borderlands could have easily looked generic and this decision gives it a real identity. The game is also packed with strong characters and environments and the original concept art was obviously produced by some serious talent. The cel-shaded approach makes it feel like animated concept art and that’s a good thing.
The environments are detailed enough to invite exploration. The level design is a bit tedious in places, leading you through long corridor sections with arbitrary cut offs. The level loads between sections are also a bit of a pain. However, the environments get more interesting as you progress. The menu design and overall presentation style looks great but it was obviously designed for console users and it is awkward to navigate at times for people playing on the PC. The animation work is top notch and lends touches of comedy to some of the scenes. Visually speaking, Borderlands isn’t massively original but has some novelty and is very well realised.
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The voiceover work is excellent and gives the game a dirty Western feel which distances it from the Mad Max setting. The sound effects are also good and there are cues for various events which help you react to the game, a sign of good sound design. The soundtrack is also good and definitely enhances the onscreen action.
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One of the big selling points of Borderlands is the co-operative gameplay. On Steam they even offered the game discounted as a four person package. You can play with up to four players and this may work better on a split screen console or with people that you know because anyone can grab loot. The multiplayer is chaotic, action packed stuff and loads of fun, especially if you can get a decent split in your group: one of each class is ideal although you can play through with everyone as the same class if you prefer. The difficulty is seriously ramped up in co-op so you’ll need to work together to survive.
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Borderlands is a satisfying mix of FPS and RPG. It has a great art style, witty writing and it is engaging and addictive. It does import some typical RPG repetition problems and the story line is weak but there is easily enough content here to give you hours of enjoyment. The co-op mode is good but for me the single player game is the star of the show. The anarchic mood really comes through at times and from psychotic midget attacks to huge boss battles this will suck you in and make you smile.
A collection of reviews of Borderlands for various platforms.