The last time I went and fired up a first-person shooter with role-playing elements, it was to check for monsters under my bed. I had given Fallout 3 all the chances it deserved to woo me, but it just never really clicked. My final foray into its dusty world was to once and for all convince myself that there was nothing there and it would all go away once I closed my eyes. Truly, I was a man disappointed.
Thank Gearbox then, that Borderlands is no Fallout 3. It’s much more satisfying.
Set on the nasty world of Pandora, Borderlands is a first-person shooter RPG hybrid that fully embraces the ridiculous. You are faced with the task of finding ‘The Vault’, a fabled treasure buried deep beneath the crust of the planet. You start off by rolling a character from one of four classes, streamlined to give you enough variation without becoming finicky off the bat. A siren, a soldier, a hunter and a tank are at your disposal and all offer unique advantages over the other three. Each class is supplemented by additional abilities that are unlocked and strengthened throughout the adventure, but that’s nothing new. In fact, comparisons to World of Warcraft or even Diablo could be drawn, but that’s not what’s really going on here. Borderlands retains enough of it’s FPS heritage to provide a compelling and unique experience.
Perhaps one of the most often mentioned features of Borderlands is the insane array of weaponry available. The game is literally billed as having ‘bazillions’ of guns, and this feels accurate as you play through. The RPG leanings of the game shine through with unique and rare versions of base guns, elemental attachments and a swag of shield and grenade options to fill any gap. Fans of regular shooters might find it distressing to throw away a perfectly good weapon in place of an untested new piece of kit, but it’s a process you have to grapple with in Borderlands.
For the most part, dealing with inventory and slots is painless, but on occasion I found random glitches which messed up my selection of guns. No matter – there is ample scope within the stable of weapons to suit any matter of psychopathic tendency.
The quality of Borderlands oozes out from the first scene, as the brilliantly acted voice-work and quirky sense of humour are established early. A slight sense of madness is employed in the character writing in this game, a welcome change from the clinical or simply boring NPCs we’re frequently treated to. It’s this charm and attention to detail that sets Borderlands apart from the pack. Once a character is selected, it’s off into the big bad wastelands of Pandora. The storyline ambles along nicely, although it’s not terribly important in the long run. The numerous quests are dished out at a rate which keeps you hungry for more, especially in the faster-paced online mode of the game. Truly, online mode is far superior to the single-player experience, in terms of pace, co-operation and not getting lonely on the long walks around Pandora’s rough surface.
Speaking of that rough surface, the game looks wonderful. The Unreal Engine has been tweaked to provide a clear HUD/inventory system as well as a visually charming 3D environment to murder things in. The art direction of Borderlands was a master-stroke on the part of Gearbox, the cell-shaded models are surprisingly emotive and add to the illusion of the game. There is really something to be said about leaping from your rocket equipped dune-buggy onto the dusty desert floor at dusk and taking to a pack of savage midgets with a sub-machine gun and having it all look so good. The graphical tweak options are fairly limited; perhaps a sign that this game was developed for PC and consoles concurrently. Not the end of the world, but extra config options would be appreciated in a future patch.
Overall, Borderlands is a blast. It’s great fun on your own, something which is only magnified by the wonderful online experience. Occasionally the RPG elements weigh a little too heavily in single player, requiring serious grinding – but this is a minor complaint. The level of charm, wit and overall shine on this title makes it worth the purchase. I had a few issues with Steam compatibility (the game uses inbuilt GameSpy for matchmaking), something I’m sure will be smoothed out in the near future. The PC version offers players a more refined set of controls and tweaking options that it’s console counterparts, making it the version of choice. For fans of Action RPGs and FPS alike, Borderlands is well worth the price of admission.
If you haven't already, check out our console review of Borderlands here.