Borderlands crosses genre lines

Hybrid gameplay and vibrant visual style make Borderlands a must-have

What happens when you cross Fallout 3 with Diablo II and cover it in a fresh coat of cell-shaded paint? You get Borderlands, the new open-world first-person shooter/role playing game from Gearbox Software. While FPS/RPG isn't a combo of genres that you hear together very often, Borderlands does a good job of integrating components from both of these styles. There's a solid shooter base that rewards accuracy, speed and planning, but there is also an in-depth skill tree which allows for extensive character customization.

Borderlands is set on a wasteland of a planet known as Pandora. The player starts the game by choosing one of four possible character archetypes: the soldier, the hunter, the berserker or the siren (a sci-fi assassin). None of the characters has a particularly deep back story or personality but the player can express his individuality by tailoring his character to his own particular playing style by way of the aforementioned skill trees. Once you get into the game proper, you will find yourself traversing the wasteland, fighting off parties of raiders and searching for an elusive Mecca of advanced technology known as "The Vault." No, you didn't just stumble onto a review of Fallout 3, but Borderlands is delightfully self-aware of the major similarities to that other wasteland-traversing title and even goes so far as to allow you to pick up bobble heads and sell them for in-game currency.

Although Pandora is a compelling world, plot takes somewhat of a backseat to gameplay in this title. The shooting component is well executed but lacks some of the refinements that are now seen in most FPSs, such as a cover system. Where the gameplay really starts to shine is in the realm of customization. Borderlands uses a randomly-generated loot system similar to the one found in Diablo II. This means that there are hundreds of thousands of possible permutations when it comes to weapons. There's always a certain thrill associated with not knowing if the next weapon you find will be junk or an epic upgrade. Additionally, your character levels up via experience points, which you receive for killing enemies and turning in quests. Every time you level up, you can allocate a skill point into a class-specific ability. With time, your character will play quite differently than even someone of the same class.

On that note, Borderlands supports two-player offline co-op and four player parties through the Internet. Tearing through the wasteland with three friends is a rollicking good time, and all of the customization means that everyone can bring something unique to the table.

The cartoonish art style of Borderlands fits the game like a glove. Full of humor and over-the-top characters, Borderlands is in many ways the antithesis of the serious and bleak world of Fallout 3. Sound in the game is also very solid, with compelling music and good voice acting.

There are, however, a few areas where Borderlands disappoints. As previously stated, the shooting mechanic is good but not great. There also are some annoyingly long load screens in between different areas of the wasteland. Finally, as good as the game can be online, if you don't already have friends lined up with whom to play, it can be a hassle to find people who are at the right level or on the right quests.

The takeaway: Despite these shortcomings, Borderlands manages to impress by not taking itself too seriously. Between the humorous dialogue and the vibrant art style, I found myself thoroughly enjoying my time on Pandora.


Published October 29, 2009 in Arts and Entertainment, tableau









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