Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Borderlands: Fun Shooter in a Blasted Wasteland

"You shouldna come here and now you're gonna pay!"

Welcome to my Borderlands review (spoiler alert for the story, though its not much of a spoiler because that would actually require something to spoil). I was attracted to this game because of its style and mad max look. Having said that, it is very mad max like, from the guns, dust and beaten up vehicles to the fact that there are characters such as 'Mad Mel.' Despite a few flaws this is one of the best games that I've played on the 360. I should also say that I'm reviewing this on the Xbox 360 since it seems there are a few differences on the PC.

Onto the flaws (bad things first.) Most games nowadays have a difficulty setting. This is not present in Borderlands. Each mission has a difficulty indicator, however often it will be a lot harder than it suggests. Many of the missions are quite easy but some of the ones stating they are 'Normal' are actually quite hard. In most rpgs now the higher level you are means its easier to beat lower level creatures. This is not necessarily the case in Borderlands. I found that even if you're higher level the bosses are quite difficult, including the final boss. While it was at level 33, I was 2 level higher and couldn't beat it. With a little help I was able to do it, however the point remains that a difficulty setting would be nice.

The story of Borderlands is its weakest point and is a real pity since it looks like the devs have prioritized gameplay over story, whereas ideally both should play equal parts. And the story is very very weak. Basically the player takes on the role of a mercenary on Pandora (hardly an original name) amongst thousands searching for a cache of alien weapons called The Vault. Guided by your Guardian Angel, a disembodied woman, you have to collect the pieces of a key before the nazi-like Crimson Lance take the key for themselves and open the vault. The leader of the Crimson Lance is then killed by the Destroyer, a massive alien locked inside (what a surprise.) You then have to take it down. The story behind the Destroyer is that the Eridians sacrificed their entire civilization to contain the Destroyer and stop it from taking over the universe. Sound familiar? After the Destroyer is, well, destroyed, you get a large cash payout and that's it. As I said, a very weak story, not creative at all.

But its not all bad news, in fact its mostly good with Borderlands. The presentation is great from the intro scene on the bus all the way to the final boss, with great dialogue, a great sense of humour and excellent graphics with tons of detail in cell-shaded style. The models for characters, enemies and vehicles are excellent, although the vehicles could do with a little more customization. They do look, however, very beaten up and this is appropriate since Borderlands uses the 'Used Future' settings. The landscape is awesome and very spectacular, if a little samey, since its mostly all a pile of rusting trash heap. The menus and interface are laid out very well and the fact that like Elder Scrolls Oblivion there is a day-night cycle immerses the player in the world of Pandora.

As for sound and music Borderlands once again does a good job. From the crunch of your boots when you're running away from howling skags to the chatter of machine gun fire whilst blasting alien-shrieking Rakk from the skies, the game really makes you feel like you're there. The music is good too, and is suitably stressful during combat situations.

Gameplay - this is Borderlands' big winner. Controls are tight, and easy to pick up, with the exception of a rather clunky melee attack by pushing the right stick. As with many open world games you can wander around shooting enemies, bumping up your weapon proficiencies, completing side missions and riding vehicles. You can ignore the storyline to an extent - certain missions will simply unlock the next areas in the game. While the arenas are fun for a while for a bit of player vs player action its the running around in a vast, junk-strewn landscape filled with loot, enemies and vehicles that will keep players coming back again and again. If you haven't played Borderlands in a multiplayer game you're not really appreciating all that the game has to offer as this is definitely one of the most fun aspects of the game. And as stated in the IGN review, there are thousands of guns in Pandora and you'll find yourself spending time choosing which gun that really suits your style.

There isn't much else to say except Borderlands rocks. Hardcore RPG fans may not get enough out of this and the storyline isn't anything to boast about, but there's the core of a really good game here and few gamers into rpgs or shooters won't find something about Borderlands to enjoy. Even after you've finished the game you'll find there's still plenty of reasons to come back and shoot bad guys for years to come. Verdict: I'm giving it an 8.5.

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