Product Type: 2k Games PS3 games
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Borderline-Inspired, But Partly Just Bored
Member Name: tom1clare
Date: 28/09/11, updated on 14/10/11 (197 review reads)
Advantages: Distinctive cel-shaded visuals; smooth, satisfying shooting; RPG elements nicely implemented
Disadvantages: Large, empty expanses; recycled missions; story is a let-down; ultimately repetitive
There's a hint of a storyline that guides you across the mining planet of Pandora in search of something cryptically referred to as "The Vault", but save for some of the memorably colourful inhabitants, you'll have a hard time recalling any more pressing details after the event. Of more immediate interest are the tasks you're given, which typically involve killing mutated wildlife, fetching prized or missing items, or fixing machinery for locals too lazy to do it themselves.
At first, this works well. In fact, the opening few hours of the game are a real pleasure. The weight of control is almost perfect, making movement and aiming seem effortless, and though the greyish-brown landscapes aren't especially detailed or exciting, the distinctive cel-shaded graphics lend Borderlands a stylish veneer. The vicious skags (dogs gone wrong) and rakk (swooping, pterodactyl-like birds) make for suitably hostile foes early on and character development is palpable thanks to a whole raft of upgradable attributes as well as the ability to gently improve the proficiency of each weapon type with extended use.
And the fantastic guns are worthy of mention in themselves. There are so many varients, the range can seem quite bewildering at times as there are so many different tweaks and alterations affecting each gun you loot. Revolvers, shotguns, machine-guns and all the other usual suspects vary through scopes, critical hit and firing-rates and the awesome shock, explosive, incendiary and corrosive side-effects sported by certain brands. Likewise you attain a variety of different shields and some funky grenades, some of which explode on impact, others teleport straight to their destination whilst some even sap energy from nearby foes and transfer it back to the player. Even if you tend to favour specific weapon types, chances are you'll branch out into different ones as they all offer something unique.
Mission objectives are engaging for the first few hours though Borderlands is guilty of revisiting several tropes. Some, like the Circus of Death/Circus of Slaughter challenges that see you pitted against a bunch of foes in a battle arena, are a good laugh due to the immediacy and simple excitement of what they offer. Others, such as hunting down audio logs, are likable for their occasionally hilarious dialogue, but become tiresome as these, and several other "collect multiples of x" challenges appear more and more an excuse to get the player yo-yoing from one remote part of the map to another in a not-so-subtle attempt to stretch play time.
And this leads to a more endemic problem for the game, and particularly its multiplayer co-op. Games such as Oblivion and Fallout 3 never needed multiplayer functionality because the chief pleasure of such open-world settings is the ability to explore them freely at your own pace and leisure. Various locations within Borderlands make for great battle maps, but they tend to be on the periphery of inexplicably large, empty-feeling landscapes that serve little purpose other than to make your legs/vehicle accrue some more mileage - the last thing you want to be doing in an online co-operative environment. They offer little incentive to stick around, as level-ups viciously cut the amount of experience you'll receive for killing weaker enemies, to the point where if you supersede a foe by even three or four levels, they're not worth bothering with.
Furthermore, the second half of the game is both less ideal for co-op due to a significant increase in these dead zone environments, yet also feels less like a concerted single-player experience, as your one-man-army comes under threat from all sides and health/back-up heavy bosses such as Mad Mel feel as though they are penalising you for tackling them alone. You get to use vehicles as a means of traversing the landscape but though they handle well enough, absolutely zero imagination has gone into their integration within the game and to be blunt, they are boring to use. The developers either realised the playing area was too large to stroll across and had to compensate, or put them in under some blinkered sense of FPS obligation. And rather bizarrely, I managed to kill a mini-boss by running him over.
Still, Borderlands deserves credit for RPG elements that, barring the curiously minimal XP rewards for completing missions, generally expand the game in a positive manner. The four different character types you can play the game as each offer a very different set of skills, as well as their own special attacks. Nevertheless, unless you really get a kick out of the co-op, it's highly unlikely you'll play the game post-completion as the combat is really the chief source of gameplay and you'll have had plenty by the time the end credits roll.
Borderlands stands out both in terms of visual design and for its genuinely adventurous approach to the age-old FPS formula. It remains to be seen whether co-op will ever be ideally suited to such large environments and lengthy treks, but when you're in the heat of battle, playing alongside others is a real blast, and offers a bit more personality than the solid but rather impersonal single-player experience. The game's good for one playthrough, and as such represents a couple of weeks' worth of fine blasting. One to consider, though it shouldn't trouble the top of your "must-buy" list.
Summary: A good-not-great FPS with lots of clever ideas and questionable design choices
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