Out of all the tourist attractions in the galaxy, Pandora is probably the last planet you would want to end up on. If the native wildlife doesn’t get you, the gangs of marauding bandits probably will. The planet does however have one thing that makes it a lucrative destination for those seeking wealth and power. Legends tell of a mythical vault, packed to the brim with untold riches and alien technology. Many have tried to find this vault but none have succeeded.
Borderlands is a first person shooter that attempts to combine the genre with some light RPG elements. Add in a four-player co-op mode and generous helpings of lot and you have yourself a very addictive experience. While the game can be played in Single Player mode, it is definitely a case of “the more, the merrier” as loot improves and battles become more hectic if you bring along friends.
You start the game with a choice between four different characters. Roland is a soldier with the ability to launch a helpful turret, while Lilith is a Siren Phasewalker with almost magical abilities. Mordercai is a hunter with a pet bird to help him in battle and lastly there is Brick, a berserker that simply likes to hit things very hard. Each character has their own weapon preferences and special abilities along with skills that can be leveled up. Unfortunately, they don’t have any interesting back stories or quests allowing you to learn more about their motivations.
Borderlands definitely has the feel of a massive multiplayer online game, even when played alone. You receive new missions from bounty boards or npcs but everything usually comes down to either killing things or finding items. Complete a quest and you are rewarded with some experience points and maybe a new weapon. Every now and then you’ll run into story missions that further the plot a bit but these are often the same as ordinary missions, except with a big bad boss waiting for you at the end. Those coming to the game expecting an epic story will more than likely be disappointed.
The RPG elements that have been added to the game are a lot of fun but Gearbox has opted to keep things simple. When you level up there is no stat tweaking beyond a single skill point that you get to allocate. Likewise, your weapon proficiencies improve by using a certain type of weapon a lot. The weapons are definitely the highlight of the game as there are literally thousands of possible variations. They all fall into different classes such as shotguns, sniper rifles, pistols, rocket launchers and machine guns but come in endless variations. Each time you kill a foe or open one of the many loot chests scattered around the place, you are guaranteed to find an assortment of firearms. There are actually so many weapons in this game that it can become a chore to compare the new ones you pick up with the ones you have equipped all the time. Loot is color coded so you can spot at a glance what is rare and what is not but you can still expect to spend a lot of time in your inventory. I was surprised to discover that there is no way to customize any weapons so you are pretty much at the mercy of chance when it comes to getting better weapons.
Apart from the weapons, your character only has a slot for a shield and a grenade mod. I really would have liked to be able to customize my character even further with some armor sets but sadly this is not to be. There are some vending machines all over the place where you can stock up on health kits and ammo as well as pawn all your excess loot. The New-U stations dotted about enables you to tweak your characters colors and re-assign skill points (at a price of course) but that’s it. Interestingly enough, the vehicles available from the “Catch-A-Ride” stations are all free so you can use and abuse them as you please. Racing across the plains is definitely more fun than walking but you can also fast travel to locations that have previously visited. Enemies usually respawn after a while so there is never a shortage of things to shoot. You can even initiate a friendly duel with your fellow players if you tire of shooting enemies.
Borderlands has a unique, almost hand-drawn art style that makes it a lot more colorful and eye catching than other shooters. It almost looks like a graphic novel with its exaggerated character features. The game is still very violent however so expect to see lots of blood, dismemberment and gruesome deaths. Weapons and grenades can have secondary effects such as setting enemies on fire or electrocuting them for even more gory deaths. Your enemies consist of wild animals such as the Skags and Raks that inhabit the planet as well as some nasty insect life like the Spiderants. The planet also has its fair share of bandits and psychos to throws at you. The game doesn’t shy away from a bit of humor either so expect to encounter mutant midget psychos and the likes of Skagzilla or Mothrakk! The gameworld is quite large as well so be prepared to sink a lot of hours into this one. Should you be killed by a foe you have about ten seconds before you bleed out. Kill any enemy within this time period and you receive a second wind. Die and its back to teh nearest New-U station where you are docked a chunk of change for respawning. Playing in co-op enables other players to revive you before you bleed out which definitely improves the flow of the game.
Although Borderlands is a console port I didn’t have any issues with the controls. Your character can sprint, crouch and jump with ease and these skills all come in very handy during battles or while hunting for loot. The audio is done very well with some solid voice acting. The little “Claptrap” robots that you encounter all over the place are definitely the stars of the show. Because of the amount of time spent engaging enemies, the “battle” song can become a bit repetitive however.
If all you care about is shooting and looting then Borderlands is definitely the game for you. The Single Player mode can start to feel a bit like a grind but the co-op is a blast. With its unique visual style, kooky characters and randomly generated weapons, Borderlands definitely stands out from the pack. It’s not without its flaws and I wish some elements were more fleshed out but it certainly succeeded in what it set out to do.
*Review originally published 2009.
- OS: Windows XP/Vista
- Processor: 2.4 Ghz or equivalent processor with SSE2 support
- Memory: 1GB System RAM (2GB recommended with Vista)
- Graphics: 256mb video ram or better (GeForce 7 series or higher/Radeon HD3000 series or higher)
- Hard Drive: 8 GB or more free space
- Sound: Windows compatible sound card