Brutal, humorous and fun – Borderlands is part Call of Duty, part Diablo and part Crackdown.
It opens with a stylish cutscene, which as well as setting the scene well lets you choose which cla$$ you want to be, out of a choice of four. The general story is that you’re on a scarcely populated planet called Pandora, looking for a mysterious Vault that apparently holds infinite riches and unimaginable alien technlology (on the search for which you’ll have to kill thousands of enemies and a dozen or so bosses to boot). On the way you’ll pass through a number of big open areas packed with side quests, things to kill and a variety of loot, the most common being ammo and money (which you can swap at one of the many vending machines for weapons, shields, health & more). Though the main plot may not be anything to write home about – nor the mediocre ending, but the characters (especially some of the bosses and earlier friendlies) and witty dialogue both make up for it it in my opinion.
It might not be as polished or satisfying as the big shooter franchises, but Borderlands’ gunplay does a fine job. The average enemy will take a good load of bullets to down, so you’ll have to make sure you’re constantly swapping your weapons for better ones to keep up. And, as you will have been told in the previews, there are literally MILLIONS of guns to choose from. Electric rocket launchers, spiked revolvers, rocket launcher shotguns – this game has everything! You’ll want to keep a large supply of weapons in your inventory, which you can expand by doing a few of the Claptrap Rescue side missions, which will have you looking up the location of a tiny repair kit hidden in the game world on Gamefaqs in no time.
You also have a cla$$ specific ‘action skill’ that you can utilize to take out your opponents; a killer bird named Bloodwing for the Hunter, a portable turret for the Soldier, a ‘super fast’ mode for the Siren which allows you to run 5 times as fast for a few seconds and finally a ‘massive damage’ mode for the Berserker that lets you decimate anyone near you using your solid-as-rock fists. These all add a unique twist to gameplay and can be upgraded to recharge quicker, deal more damage, last for longer etc. If you do happen to fall in combat there are two ways you can be revived; killing someone quickly before you pass out, or having someone else help you up if you’re playing in co-op. If neither of those happen you’ll simply respawn back at the last checkpoint you passed for a reasonable percentage of your money.
The final key element to gameplay is the cars, which pack either a rocket launcher or machine gun and allow you to travel much quicker than on foot. They don’t work or handle quite as well as in Halo but they’re generally fun to drive and shoot. At around the middle of the game you’ll also unlock a much-needed fast travel option that lets you teleport across Pandora to the many different areas.
Although nowhere near the high standards set by the all familiar SW graphics kings, Borderlands puts up a good show on the visual side of things, with the highlight being the very appropriate cartoony art $tyle. The graphics are made all the more impressive by the vast open worlds that they take place in. But, as expected with any game of this scale, it does end up suffering from a fair few (easily ignorable) glitches here and there. The music is decent as well I suppose; the few oft-repeated ‘battle tracks’ suit the fast-paced gameplay well and keep the adrenaline levels high. It would have been nice to see more licensed songs like the one in the excellent intro though.
Depending on whether or not you decide to do all the side quests, Borderlands will probably last you around 25 to 40 hours – and that’s just a single playthrough. There’s also a Mass Effect-esque ‘New Game Plus’ option to carry on with the same weapons and level on a second playthrough with all the enemies toughening up to match. On top of that, there’s obviously the extensive 4 player online/2 player splitscreen co-op which works well for the most part and increases the fun, though you need to be roughly the same level as the people you’re playing with to have any fun. Luckily, there’s a matchmaking system that will find an appropriate group for you. Once you’re in a co-op game there’s also three ‘Arenas’ scattered around Pandora that let you play a small 2v2 or free for all deathmatch game against each other, which although fun doesn’t work as well as you might of hoped.
If I were to judge Borderlands simply by it’s gameplay and graphics I’d probably not give it any more than an 8, but considering the above average length and replay value I’d say it just about warrants a 9.