…if Diablo’s cousin dressed up as a sci-fi shooter for Halloween and liked the costume so much he decided to wear it all year round. Take everything you know and love(?) about that tried and true kill-loot-level up- repeat formula and duct tape it onto some crazy fast passed run and gun shooter gameplay and you’ve got a pretty good idea of what Borderlands is all about. The story focuses on a foursome of intergalactic misfits (the game’s playable characters) so odd even the bus driver mocks them in the intro, who come to a backwater planet in search of a mysterious vault and the incredible treasures said to lie within. If that doesn’t sound like a good excuse to shoot the crap out of anything that moves, I don’t know what is.
What works first and foremost for Borderlands is the two-great-tastes-that-go-great-together way in which the shooter gameplay is melded with the addictive RPG elements. Make no mistakes about it, this is not a tactical, leisurely paced shooter for turn-based role-playing fans. This is a hectic, fast paced gunfight from start to finish, but to get through it alive you will need every edge you can squeeze out of your skills and gear and that’s where the Diablo factor goes into overdrive. Get some quests, kill stuff, level up, increase your skills, then go do it some more. And then there are the guns, lots and lots of gun. Chests full of them are frequent rewards for fighting into an enemy stronghold, and you never know when some dude you just ventilated is going to drop the sweetest little implement of destruction you’ve ever laid eyes on. As if all that wasn’t enough, you can do it all with three buddies backing you up. Four player co-op that’s exciting, addictive as all hell, and even has a decent sense of humor. What’s not to like?
What Doesn’t Work
One thing that’s likely to turn some people away from Borderlands’ considerable charms is the amount of time required going through loot and tweaking your character. So if all you want out of a shooter is shooting, and your patience for other stuff is low, this probably isn’t the best fit for you. Likewise the level based nature of the game can cause some problems, particularly when playing with other people. Because for the game to really be fun for everyone you have to be within a couple levels of your opponents, it can be tricky at times getting a game that isn’t too hard or too easy for someone and it can be a bit of a drag. As far as gameplay gripes go, they’re pretty minor. It would have been nice to see more than one active skill per character class, as most of the skills give passive bonuses of some kind, and the vehicle combat is pretty much rubbish that should have been scrapped entirely, but otherwise the game works pretty much as intended, which is to say very solid.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line here is that as true hybrid games go, Borderlands is as great a success as there has ever been. You can really feel the strengths of both genres come together as you blast your way through enemies, leveling up and grabbing that phat loot. If you like shooting and looting, it doesn’t get much better than this. Single player is fun and satisfying, with four playable classes to experiment with through fifty levels of experience and a wide variety of hostile alien animals, deranged hillbilly bandits, and corporate paramilitary goon squads to blast with an arsenal of seemingly endless possibilities. Throw another three people into the mix for some four player co-op against greatly beefed up opposition and things just get plain crazy. One of this year’s must plays for anyone who has even a passing interest in shooters, and the kind of game that just might get under your skin in a big bad way.