Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Console Played on: PlayStation 3
Also on: Xbox 360
Release Date: October 23rd 2009 (EU)
Age Rating: BBFC 18
Borderlands is like a toffee. You unwrap it, excited, ready to shove it in your mouth. The taste is everywhere – back of the mouth, the cheeks, the tip of your tongue. Nothing can get better than this. But then the taste goes. Your mouth is glued shut, your cheeks start feeling puffy and swollen, it’s in the gaps in your teeth, you want to spit it out and never eat one again. Borderlands is a rollercoaster, and one that never really picks up.
It opens nicely. Not amazingly, not groundbreaking, but not poorly, either. The Western vibe is apparent, and after a little cutscene setting the minimal story up, and introducing some solid voice acting, you get to pick one of four characters; Sniper, Soldier, Big Tough Guy and Elemental Woman. Of course, they have better names than that, but basically you’re choosing whether you want to play it out at long distances, up close, bit or both, or the girl, who…kinda…does stuff with her hands. Anyway, you pick your favorite, and disappointingly, the other 3 leave. A shame, because while you can get them back by playing co-op with your mates, it would have been nice to have an AI buddy or 3 at your side.
You pick a name, a colour scheme, and you’re off on your wonderful adventure. Actually, scrap that; you’re grinding. You’re dragging. You’re getting increasingly bored. This is the main gripe with Borderlands – nothing really happens. A quick but confusing tutorial leads you to some boring, monotonous ‘missions’, leading you to some more tedious tasks. All you want to do is explore the varied terrain, traverse hills of yonder, meet exotic enemies and collect rare loot, but the game is determined to keep you on a tight leash for as long as possible, like an overbearing mother.
Obviously, the first thing that hits you is the graphics. Borderlands changed from the dull brown of most games, and instead, employed cel-shaded graphics to give it a bit of an edge. And yes, it does give it an edge. It’s immediately recognisable, and fits the setting and tone like hand and glove. The surprisingly short day/night cycle also adds flair, with sunset offering some beautiful vistas. But it’s not all good. You see, the cel-shading hides a secret. The game…is actually pretty ugly. Look beyond the bold black lines to find horrible shadows, last gen textures, and stiff animation. The rocks that occupy 99% of Borderlands are jagged and often clip into each other. You’ll load into an area that is totally bare, only to find textures and items gradually popping in. It was a clever choice to cel-shade, and it does look good from a distance, but don’t go and peer too hard at a texture, as you might not like what you find.
The other element that ‘sets Borderlands apart’ is the whole FPS-RPG hybrid thing. You’ve seen it done very well in Fallout 3, mixing real-time shooting with stats and figures. Unfortunately, Borderlands doesn’t do it so well. The FPS part of the game is stiff and stale; the rubbish AI will run around a bit, then stand 2 meters in front of you as you desperately try to line up a headshot. There’s nothing dreadful about it (minus the AI), but it’s uninspiring and dull. The RPG part is equally bland. You pick up loot, you level up, adding skill points (increasing damage, or reducing reload times, etc), and sorting out which gun is better than your current. The usual, in other words. Trying to figure out which weapon or armor is best for you if made overly complex by a series of clunky menus and poor signposting, and while, at first, it’s fun to level up and see little numbers fly from bloodied enemies, you begin to realize that there’s no real impact in it; you might reach a level to unlock a new gun, but then what? Borderlands takes the bare bones of both genres and glues them together, hoping in vain for something more than the sum of their parts.
The game tries to make up for it with little things. The dialogue and voice acting are better than most, with the game being very funny on occasions (meeting 9 Toes is sure to raise a smile), and it has a certain charm and style the no other game fully realises. But the AI is shoddy, graphics are dull, the enemies are either bandits or skags, the music and sounds are repetitive, quests are often interchangeable and have no meaning, and the story is forgettable at best.
Closing Comments: Borderlands isn’t a failure. But it isn’t a huge success, either. It could have been so much more, and at times, that potential shines thought and creates a truly stunning experience. More often than not, however, you’re lost in a sea of complex waypoints and crappy landscapes, or killing X number of bad guys for some XP and cash. Again.
Story – 5: There’s this Vault, right, and if you find it, good things happen. Geddit? Only serves as a device to move you to the next areas.
Gameplay – 7: FPSRPG might sound new and exciting, but it’s been done 100x better in Fallout 3, and quickly becomes boring.
Graphics – 8: Cel-shading adds style, but textures are often lacking.
Sound – 6: Apart from snappy voice acting, utterly, utterly forgettable. You might as well play in mute.
Overall – 7: There are so many wonderful ideas hidden away in Borderlands; so much love and passion and flair. But none of that shows through under a game that is, when it all boils down; just above average.