#889 Borderlands

Posted: 22nd July 2012 by Mulholland in Games
Tags: , , , , , ,

164th played so far

Genre: First-Person Shooter/Role-Playing Game
Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC
Year of Release: 2009
Developer: Gearbox Interactive
Publisher: 2K Games

The two of us had a discussion a few days ago about role-playing games. This is a fairly regular occurrence seeing how Jeroen’s favourite games to play whilst I am out food shopping are the likes of Icewind Dale and Neverwinter Nights. Something that came up was how many role-playing elements are bleeding into games in general

Since this was a game I have been wanting to play for ages I am glad that I had the chance to push this as the next game we looked at.

Our Thoughts

Like with Heavy Rain and Saints Row II I was the principal player of this game so most of this will be written from my perspective (so sorry about that in advance if you prefer the blue writing).

In a nutshell Borderlands is essentially a first-person shooter game with role-playing elements. The role-playing elements are not as far-reaching as the likes of Planescape:Torment as it really only applies to weapon proficiency and character skills. As games go it has a lot in common with Fallout 3 (one of my favourite games of all time) apart from here this is strictly first-person perspective with the exception of getting into vehicles. One difference here is that while in more ‘proper’ RPGs like those mentioned above, most games would allow several solutions – stealth being as valuable as running in guns blazing, while Borderlands give you only a single option. If you look at what’s probably the most appropriate comparison in its genre – Deus Ex – then the lack of choice in solutions really stand out (just because shooting things in the face is not your thang). Deus Ex can be finished without many kills, Borderlands will require hundreds of kills. The emphasis here is on FPS, with some RPG elements, rather than this offering any real RPG experience.

Since I found this game so very compelling and addictive there is obviously a lot to be recommended but I really need to get the big negative off of my chest: the storyline. The idea of Borderlands is that you are taking the role of an inter-planetary treasure hunter looking for ‘The Vault’ on the hostile world of Pandora (just writing this sentence makes me realise how many tropes are present in this game). This would actually be fine by itself to be completely honest. No other motivations are required since the fun does lie in setting bandits on fire and exploding the heads of skags. However, the game tries to give the sheen of some major storyline thread which really does not work well; the interjections by the supposed ‘guardian angel’ are more annoying that informative.

Crappy storyline aside, this game is a lot of fun and clearly has been inspired by other films and games which explains the warm feeling of familiarity that permeates this harsh alien landscape. Seeing that this is a treasure hunting game set in a desert there is a clear western theme (unlike whatever the hell kinda awesome cartoon weirdness was occupied by Zack & Wiki). This is strongly supported by a well done soundtrack which is never too intrusive despite what has been described as a ‘white trash’ twang.

This western feel can also be seen in the planets inhabitants, many of which feel like a slightly hillbilly version of Firefly (what a great show). Sure they give you quests and may lead you down the garden path every now and then (apart from Claptrap the robot who is beyond delightful) but they fit in perfectly with the feel of the game. The same can be said of the enemies whether they be the pterodactyl-like Rokks or the midget bandits (very similar to the grunts in Halo)

These worlds are fairly large so when you begin to be able to use vehicles they feel like an absolute godsend and not just because you can kill a lot of local enemies by running them over… although that is freaking awesome. The controls of the vehicles are pretty annoying to begin with since using anything other than X (for PS3) or A (on 360) for accelerating really does feel counter-intuitive. After a while using the analogue sticks to control a colour-coordinated rocket launching tank feels natural and all is good in the hood.

Now, the RPG elements are fairly simple, although it permeates most of the game. First, there’s the usual XP to level up system, which increases your damage and HP. Weapons are trained through use – the more you use a type, the better you can use it. Damage, accuracy and so on. To get your ‘special abilities’, you start gaining skill points from level 5 on, which gives you class-specific skills – from increased fire rate to new abilities and improvements to more special ones. They’re quite useful and serve to differentiate the different classes.

Another part of the customisation that’s present in the game, beyond class selection, skills and weapon use, are the weapons. The weapons are generated randomly, based on several base abilities that the game combines, leading to about a million different weapons being ‘available’. You won’t find all of them, and wouldn’t want to, but it makes gameplay slightly more different between different playthroughs. It won’t have a big impact, though – there’ll still be plenty of pistols setting things on fire, and one might give more damage than others, but you won’t have to worry about going without your preferred option.

One thing that I particularly applaud this on (apart from the aforementioned character customisation) is the look of the game. By making it cel-shaded it makes the entire experience feel like a comic book which should put this on par with No More Heroes in terms of graphics but I think Borderlands actually looks better because they have the saturation and colour contrasts at a more aesthetically pleasing level whilst maintaining a decent level of realism.

All in all, it’s an FPS with some RPG elements. Expect more of the former with bits of the latter, but the latter does add to the game’s appeal and longevity. It’s not the strongest example of either, but the combination of both, together with its more random elements, make for an appealing game.

Final Thoughts

I easily played over our five-hour quota for this game and I barely made it out of the first area. There is a lot that can be done in ways of exploration and looting and general shenanigans that you can make a mission drag on as much as you want. Bad storyline aside this really is a fun game. Sure it’s derivative but they never set out to change the world with this game, just to make something that was fun to play.

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