Fallout 3 was last year’s towering success. It’s no surprise, then, to see later games mimicking its barren, dystopian, desert styling. Borderlands borrows a huge amount from Bethesda’s epic roleplaying/shooter crossover hit, and reviewing it without mentioning this incredible debt is akin to forgetting that the Life of Brian may have been influenced by the Bible. Borderlands is not the Messiah, it’s a very naughty game!
Borderlands makes its intentions clear from the opening cinematic. Life on Pandora is colourful, vibrant, ugly and easily splattered across the front of passing buses. The game stamps its own signature on post-apocalyptic bandit-ridden cliches with a refreshing cell-shaded comic look. Fallout 3 saw the future of the 1950’s gone wrong; Borderlands funnels Mad Max through a Futurama kaleidoscope. It’s a bold move for a game that looked good in development even before this radical change in direction, and gives it an instant charm which more serious games lack.
The graphical overhaul also complements the main philosophy behind the game; make it bigger, badder and more powerful. Borderland’s run & gun combat is surprisingly well-honed, and shooter fans will have no problems at all adjusting to the controls. While your starting weapons are the staple guns of the FPS genre, after a few hours play you’ll come across more interesting specimens.
There are machine guns which set people on fire, and sniper rifles which instantly take down enemy shields. You’ll find rocket launchers which splatter bandits with highly corrosive acid, causing them to run around screaming in a lime-green fountain of toxic waste. For those permanently on the lookout for the next big thing, Borderlands’ randomised loot drops and weapon caches are as big a draw as the stat boosts and skill points gained when you level up. Plenty of enemy variety ensures you’ll swap frequently between guns for maximum impact.
Four character types are available from the outset: the soldier, a generic all rounder; the Hunter, a sniper and long range specialist; Brick, a shotgun-toting berserker; and Lillith, a sneaky lady who can become invisible.
As each character progresses points are unlocked to spend in their skill trees, resulting in greater specialisation. With the ability to play cooperatively with 4 players, a tuned-up team can make short work of giant mutant bosses. Character progress can be saved at “New U” stations dotted around for all your DNA-restructuring and resurrection needs.
Role-playing elements are cleverly interwoven with the shooting action. As your character gets more statistically proficient with their chosen weapons, shots become visibly more accurate. Numbers showing damage inflicted on enemies spill from their bodies in place of blood.