Borderlands is a mixture of FPS and (MMO)RPG, which is available on the PC, Xbox 360, PS3, iPhone and Atari 2600. I lied about the last two. I’ve been playing through the PC version (thanks Drav!) for a wee while, and although I haven’t got to play co-op yet, I’ve got enough of a grasp on the game’s workings. For your reference, I’ve got my soldier up to level 11.

If anything, the past few years has shown that games developers know that there’s only so much straight up FPS action that people can take, and so FPS games have been diversifying. There’s a healthy experimental quality to some FPS games of recent years – Far Cry 2 wanted to add more immersion and player-made story (and failed on both counts); Mirror’s Edge wanted to add platforming (and based on the 360 demo, kinda succeeded); Call of Duty Modern Warfare sprinkled some story-driven tragedy into the genre (and this worked a fuckton more than it did in the sequel). Gearbox, the makers of Borderlands, have decided to go one better. They’ve taken the FPS, and added the structure of RPGs to it, so instead of a linear path through the game, you’ve got quests to complete (with the associated run-back or drive-back to quest givers to hand in) and loot to, erm, loot (which is cash, ammo, guns, upgrades and the like). Other FPS games have character selections, and Borderlands does too, but in this game they’re essentially filling the usual MMORPG roles of healer, tank, long range DPS and rogue (ok, so it’s the Solider’s turret which can do the healing, but it’s healing so it is a healer).

Anyways, enough of that shit. This is why the game is good. It’s gorgeous (once you switch vertical sync on in your graphics card driver software). Cel-shaded, looks almost hand drawn up close, everything shifts at a rapid rate of knots and looks fucking beautiful. There’s a day and night cycle in there, which has some lovely sunrises and sunsets. From what I’ve seen, the world has a coherent look that carries one style through the different places. It’s solid and nice.

You know how different FPS games have their own feel? Like Half Life 2 feels a little bit floaty and sterile, Call of Duty is all rugged and physical with all the camera shakes when you’re shot, and Fallout 3 switches between floaty and cinematic with the VATS system, a bit stop and start sometimes? Borderlands has it’s own feel, and it takes a bit of getting used to. The field of view is pulled in tight, so you really don’t get to see that much. I’m playing the game on my 32″ TV, 1366 x 768, and to me it feels small. When you sprint, it pulls back to a more normal field of view, which adds to the sensation of speed and acceleration, but when you stop, it zooms back in. Only a bit, but enough. And the reason for this is simple – it puts the twitch back into first person shootery. It doesn’t take much for the little yappy enemies (funniest of which I’ve seen up to now are the Mutant Midget Psychos) to get under your camera, so you’ll be getting hit and you can’t see where it’s coming from. You’ll be getting shot from both sides, but where in another game a quick flick of the mouse makes the target appear under your crosshair, in this game you’ll be fucking hunting for the bastards. And believe me, this is a good thing. It shoves a bit of the old adrenalin surge back into it, especially when you factor the weapons and levels into it.

Like any FPS game, you get guns. Some you buy, some you find, and some you loot from corpses. There are fucking bajillions of them, and there is a good broad range between them all. I’ve come across a pistol which has a scope on it, shoots incendiary bullets to set people on fire with, and has a blade underneath it to help kill shit up close quicker. I’m currently using a shotgun which shoots electrical shells that’ll knock down an enemy shield in one shot. I believe that later on you can get weird mixtures, like a shotgun which fires rockets, or a pinpoint accurate rocket launcher with a sniper scope. You can only carry so many though, and you’ve also got up to four “equipped” slots. So your arsenal will build up, but you can only have a few readily to hand at one time; this encourages you to take it easy and make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into so you can kit yourself out accordingly.

And you’ll also need this kind of planning when dealing with higher level baddies. Like RPGs, your character gets experience with every kill and every completed quest. The enemies at the beginning are all your level or near enough to pose a limited threat. As you go up the levels and quests, though, you’ll soon be asked to take out enemies which are higher level. And you’ll know when it happens, cos the guns you’ve been happily sticking with suddenly become fucking useless. The headshots you’ve been carefully using to take enemies out easily (headshots are critical hits) will suddenly scratch ineffectively at the health bars of the sadistic cunts you’re aiming at. Sure, with patience and practice you’ll take a couple of them down, but the game knows you’re trying something above your station, and it’ll spawn more of the bastards to stop you. And they will. Like WoW, there’s an indicator next to each enemy to tell you their level, so you can compare it to your own and decide whether you’re gonna take them on or not. Sometimes though, you’ll venture into somewhere and not notice the bastard behind you, who will fuck you up good.

Of course, also like WoW, you could just choose a different quest to do. There’s an interface for selecting a quest to track, which will show you where you need to go to complete it. Each quest has a recommended level rating, so you can pick the one nearest to your level to make it easier. It seems like the quest interface doesn’t do this itself though, cos every now and again you’ll start a new quest, leg it all the way to where you got to complete it, and you’ll get your ass handed to you. If it would automatically pick the quest nearest to your current level, then that would be awesome. If you wanted to kill yourself, you could pick one higher than the recommended one still, but by default you’d get through the game quickly and relatively easily and you’d have fun. Woo!

Now that I’ve mentioned the interface, I’ve got to praise whoever makes the UIs for Gearbox. They’ve excelled themselves. Borderlands has some of the most annoyingly fucking stupid UI design decisions I’ve seen in a long time. Do you like to use your mouse for navigating in-game menus? Excellent – you’ll hate this. It doesn’t take long to realise that the quickest and easiest way of navigating the menus is by using the keyboard only. Fuck, some things you can’t even do with the mouse anyway, like confirming that “yes, I really do want to sell that gun, because I clicked on the relevant icon, and then the gun, and at neither point did my IQ suddenly plummet and click the wrong thing”. So you soon get used to calling up the menus, sticking both hands on the keyboard (Enter to accept, and Esc to cancel? That is wonderfully novel! Well done!), doing what you want to do, then going back to keyboard and mouse. THIS IS FUCKING ANNOYING. How anyone at Gearbox can be paid to come up with shit like this is beyond me.

Rant over! Despite the flaws described above, the game is fucking ace. You soon get into a rhythm of sorting out your weapon loadout, sniping enemies from a distance (or using a rocket launcher to soften them up first), switching to a SMG to slow their advance, getting the shotgun out for when they get too close, stabbing wildly at the V key to knife them when you can’t be arsed reloading, then remembering you have a special power and hitting the F key just in time to watch the bastards die in quick succession. Add the odd vehicle section (a quicker and funnier version of Halo’s warthog up to now) and you’ve got yourself Borderlands. Rinse and repeat. It’s very moreish, there’s the constant XP / loot / cash feedback from doing pretty much anything, and despite the obvious flaws, it doesn’t take long to really get hooked on the fucker.

I’d imagine the game is even better with more players, and I’m hoping to get on this in co-op after the New Year. Until then, it’s very very good indeed. Well worth a go.

Leave a Reply