Rarely is box art quite this cool
What should I do when I am bored? Really, I should revise more for the chemistry exam that I have first thing tomorrow morning. Instead, I've chosen to review a game very close to my, and seemingly everyone else's, heart. The game in question, Borderlands, was developed by Gearbox Software and released in late 2009. Many have dubbed the game as a "role-playing shooter" because of its integration of aspects from both the FPS and RPG genres.
The story in Borderlands is neither complex nor unique; you are a vault hunter who has travelled to a planet called Pandora where there is supposedly an alien vault hidden amongst the wastes. You are told that the vault contains untold riches and advanced technology. It isn't a great story but an enthralling story was never something that Borderlands aimed for, principally because it feels like something on the side as most of the missions you do have little to know relevance to your quest for the vault. It also suffers from the standard open-world game problem that the
happenings in the story never feel that urgent.
"So what is so special about the game if it lacks a story?" Many, many things. First and foremost, what Borderlands lacks in story it makes up for with the wonderful world of Pandora. The planet is infested with highly aggressive creatures, arid deserts and bandits who shoot anything on site. In Laymen's terms, everything is out to kill you. To go along with this, the side quests are surprisingly brutal in their presentation and everyone has a calm demur when it comes to killing someone; and that's just the good guys. Plus, the story is added to by subtle hints that help explain how the anarchy of the game came about.
Above all else, Borderlands shines most when it comes to its charm. As well as the the murderous world that you find yourself in, there is a strong undercurrent of ultra-dark humour that prevails all the way through the game, even bordering on sadistic at times. The game seems to be out to depress you and then shock you with a random joke screamed through your echo-communication device. The charm is only increased by the disarmingly cartoon-like graphics style that only serves to emphasise the dark nature of the game, along with the gore that spurts from enemies.
Like all girls in games, when
you type "Lillith" into Google
there is an impressive array of
Hentai on show
The role-playing elements of this game are a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand there is no character creation, you pick one of 4 characters with their pre-defined weaknesses and strengths. From a role-playing perspective this is terrible as you do not get full control over who you role-play, though each character has an individual skill tree and special ability so that partially makes up for it. However, this being said there is still plenty of room for customisation: along with cosmetic things such as your hair colour, the unique skill tree cannot be maxed out and also, the more you use a gun type the better your weapon proficiency with it becomes, making you more accurate and allowing you to deal more damage. Add to this the fact that your choice of character will have lead you to a particular playstyle and you are left with one that is extremely stream-lined towards your personal style of play.
The shooting aspect to Borderlands somehow finds a balance between an input of skill and an input of stats. The feel of it isn't as fluid as, say, Call of Duty 4 as it is slightly unresponsive but this only really serves to allow the RPG elements to come into play. The higher your level and weapon proficiency, the higher the numbers that appear on your screen become. So even though a master of FPSs will be able to duck, weave and shoot at the enemies' weak spots, they will still have to be a high enough level to kill the enemy before running out of ammo.
Borderlands proudly boasts that it contains over 100,000 guns. This, of course, is preposterous and not the case at all unless you factor in scopes, elemental effects and bullets fired at once. In reality there are over 30 individual weapons, this is still a fairly large amount and they are introduced to you gradually so, for example, you won't come across a rocket launcher until quite late on in the game. The guns range from alien-shotguns to sniper rifles so there is a gun for every style of play, although some (notably the shot-guns) become noticeably weak when you reach higher levels. The guns are randomly generated so you are constantly finding new and improved versions of older guns, meaning that they never become boring.
What is very interesting about Borderlands is the health system. At the start you have only a health bar which is later added to by a shield, but it is with the shields where things become really special. They are generated by the same system as the guns so some are super-powerful while others are weaker but regenerate your health over time. This means that you have the chance to choose your preferred style of health in the game, whether that be the retro style or the more modern "hide behind a wall to regenerate limbs and internal organs" style. This adds yet another role-playing element to the game as you further shape the game into what you want it to be.
Yet another thing done well in Borderlands is the levelling of the creatures. It's a mix between the WoW and Oblvion styles in the way that enemies in each area level up with you till a point where the game deems that it is time for you to move onto the next area. This means there is still a sense of progression but also a medium amount of challenge.
There are, however, certain areas where this game falters. The biggest being the missions as they are all extremely similar and repetitive. Most include going to a place and wiping out so many of these creatures or driving around in a vehicle with incredibly bad controls in order to go and collect so many leaflets. It's something that really detracted from the whole experience and it's a huge credit to Borderlands' strengths that I still regard the game as excellent. As well as the mission problem, there is also the frequent requests via your echo-communicator to complete quests that are far below your level. These become increasingly annoying as you cannot turn them off and they continue to repeat until you venture all the way back to the starting area so you can complete them. Also, with the exception of the Secret Armoury DLC, Borderlands is incredibly easy if you pair off skills correctly, plus when you die you "go into last stand" for a few seconds and if you kill someone you are revived. Thus taking out all the challenge out of the game unless you come across something particularly nasty.
It's like the ant scene in Indiana Jones 4, but slightly more terrifying
But despite these faults, Borderlands is still an incredible game. Definitely purchase the game (it's really cheap) if you are anyone.
The Final Line/ Bottom Verdict
Borderlands seamlessly joins elements from two fantastic genres and does so with a wave of style and charm that is all too lacking in most modern games. Though don't be surprised if you are left shocked and feeling sick at some moments.
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