Format: PS3 (version tested), Xbox 360, PC
Publisher: 2K Games
Genre: First Person RPG
On the harsh, wasteland planet of Pandora, you will choose from 4 different characters as your epic quest begins. On your journey you'll encounter bounty hunters, robots and fearsome monsters, but at your disposal will be almost limitless weapons and abilities, all aiding your search for the 'vault', a mythical dwelling rumoured to contain an incredible prize. Gearbox Software's latest is a classy, good looking title that attempts to fuse elements of the Role Playing Game and the First Person Shooter. Is this the ultimate in hybrid gaming, or more a case of a Jack of two trades and master of neither?
The very first thing that strikes you about Borderlands is how pretty it is. The graphics have an excellent, cartoon like quality that only comes from painstakingly hand drawing the textures. Locations are detailed and the people caricatured, yet convincing, lending a unique sense of style to the game's presentation. The opening credits ooze an edgy, gritty atmosphere and instantly impress. Any fears of this being a poor man's Fallout 3 are soon allayed when you start to actually play the game and realise that this title is distinct enough to justify an existence in its own right.
The game shows its RPG elements from the beginning. Before doing anything, you are asked to select your character. Each has distinct abilities and proficiencies with particular weapons, as well as several upgrade paths. Experience points are earned much as you would expect, by defeating enemies and completing missions. These are obtained from Non Playable Characters or, innovatively, by checking a notice board for mercenaries. Missions generally follow the thread of an unravelling plot but there are side tasks to be undertaken too and certainly, the first few missions are designed to teach you the mechanics of the game.
The action is mostly first person (switching to third when using vehicles) and it's here that the game takes many cues from recent shooters. Controls will be familiar to most, following the stock layout of most others. Regarding weapons, the game notoriously has hundreds of thousands at your disposal, ranging from standard pistols and machine guns, to fictional devices that have an elemental effect. These can be bought from vending machines or, along with currency, scavenged from storage crates and even (bizarrely), collected from dead animals or found by smashing up piles of bones. The game is certainly not shackled to reality or even plausibility.
However, it is this fantasy environment which causes most of the game's problems. The whole world feels spongy, nothing seems to have any weight. The visuals, whilst nice, sacrifice any sort of interaction: glass bottles left on table tops won't move or shatter, even under a hail of bullets. Old, rusted drum cans will not budge, even if driven into full speed by an armoured vehicle, you'll bounce right off them every time. So forget about destructible environments.
Enemies are thankfully more animated, running around and taking cover etc. But problems exist here too, they spawn randomly but always from the same locations, their attacks easily anticipated, a fact not helped by the rather poor AI. Even the violence (and this is a gory game that justifies its 18 certificate) is undermined by the cartoon like manner in which it is portrayed. All this serves to create a detachment, a failure in the mise-en-scène which brings you out of the game and makes you impervious to its draws.
Exploration is also a muted affair. Entering areas is done by pushing buttons located at the edge of the playing field in the current location you are in, which transports you to the next area. Despite not making any sense, this gives the feeling that you are always playing within compartments, large rooms with no ceilings, rather than an expansive, open world environment. More annoyingly, switching between locations requires a significant load time, insulting when you consider the hefty, compulsory install when you first load the game.
Borderlands has made an easy target of itself, by combining two huge and already well catered for genres. It should be applauded in its attempts and for some genuine innovation but the truth is that it provides a mediocre experience as an FPS and as an RPG. Shooter fans will be frustrated by the bewildering amount of weaponry, requiring you to constantly compare gun stats in menus, with not enough twitch trigger game play and a lack of diversity in its enemies. Role Playing aficionados will find the missions too linear and uninspiring, whilst the absence of proper character customisation may limit the real tweaker's joy. However, the game could serve to introduce fans of one genre into the other. There is a niche that this will fill and it will no doubt sit well with some gamers, but even they won't appreciate the technical problems apparent here, such as frame rate issues and choppy audio when things get busy.
Despite these caveats, Borderlands is an OK title that has its moments. There is fun to be had here, the campaign is mainly enjoyable and the multiplayer is well implemented. I hope to see more hybrid games of this ilk soon, we should challenge current perceptions of genre. However, developers need to ensure that they get the balance right, as this game has many problems that could and should have been ironed out in the design stage. Not one for the hardcore set.