Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Review for Game-Debate: Borderlands

Even before it was released, Borderlands was one of the most discussed games here at Game-Debate. Arguments, which may or may not have been started by yours truly, took place in which someone (i.e. me) suggested it could just be a Fallout 3 clone. Here I will concede that this wasn’t correct but I wasn’t incorrect either! (Here, I’m subscribing to the man’s school of not being wrong.) As an action-RPG Borderlands does share similarities which Fallout 3 and other games in the genre with open world gameplay, plenty of quests, levelling up and a lot of killing things on the way. While, for the most part it isn’t revolutionary, Borderlands is still a very enjoyable experience that doesn’t take itself too seriously with an array of comic style characters.

Comic book is certainly the key phrase here with Borderlands carrying a distinct and very impressive visual style. The cell-shading does give you the impressive of playing in a comic – a very violent comic but a comic nonetheless! With the colour pallet on offer it’s a shame the world of Pandora can occasionally be dull to look at because there’s only so many things that can be done to make a barren rocky landscape look interesting. Thankfully you’re not on Pandora for a sight-seeing tour and the action packed game play means you won’t often be staring at the scenery. So what are you doing down there anyway?

You play as one of four fortune hunters who are on the planet of Pandora looking for the various loot and riches on offer. Upon your arrival a ‘Guardian Angel’ informs you that you’ve been chosen to unlock The Vault (Alas, this type of vault doesn’t include Liam Neeson as your dad) You therefore set off on the various missions and side quests available while you work towards this goal. Like almost every RPG that’s ever existed these quests begin with simple tasks such as ‘talk to this person’ or ‘collect/kill these things’ before adding ‘make this work’ and the traditional ‘Kill X.’ To be honest, the quests can feel very repetitive and there isn’t much of a story to hold them together but the combat and weapons are pleasing enough to hold everything together.

Before accepting a quest, Borderlands will tell you if it’s difficultly is Trivial through to Impossible depending on your characters level at the time – a nice touch that means you won’t go charging into unwinnable situations...unless you want to get killed. That said, it doesn’t really matter if you do end up getting killed because you’ll respawn at a nearby ‘Nu-U’ machine minutes away from where you died. (Would you kindly notice how this is very similar to Bioshock’s vita-chambers)

However, if you can survive there’s actually something to be said for accepting missions that are listed as ‘Tough’ or ‘Hard’ because the better the enemies you take down, the better the loot they drop is... and that means better weapons. The shear variety of guns on offer is one of Borderlands best features. Of course the there’s your usual array of weapons like pistols, machine guns and sniper rifles but the variety doesn’t end there, oh no! Not a single gun I picked up during my time on Pandora was the same as one I’d used previously. You’ll find yourself eagerly looting foes and opening containers in an effort to find better weapons which do more damage, have a higher accuracy or even cause elemental damage. Each one is a joy to use but what really makes the combat stand out is four possible protagonists and their special abilities.

There’s the soldier who can deploy a turret, the sniper who can use his pet bird to cause havoc with opponents, the tank who pounds enemies with his fists and the siren who is essentially the mage who can use elements to damage opponents. Whatever character you choose to play as you’ll have plenty of customisation options when it comes to adding skills as you level up and it’s a joy to see these in action – especially when it comes to co-op mode which is where Borderlands really shines.

Ploughing through bandits and skags (the main creatures you’ll encounter on Pandora...arguably far too often) is fun on its own but can get lonely and feel somewhat slow paced. It’s much, much more enjoyable when you’re playing the game with a full party of four. Yes, the enemies get tougher but working together is great fun. In theory, it’s actually possible to play through the entire campaign with the same four players. However, the flexible nature of Borderlands means you’ll be able to drop in and drop out of multiplayer missions whenever takes your fancy. Nonetheless, Multiplayer isn’t without a couple of minor issues. Firstly, just finding a game to join can be frustrating and it often took two or three attempts to successfully start playing online. Secondly, I was playing with two players around the same level as my character when someone with a much higher level joined which meant all of the missions available to them became available to me thus robbing me of the satisfaction of exploring and finding missions myself. This can be avoided through declining offers of multiple missions in the options but I didn’t know this at the time so please keep this in mind if you want to play online! You must at least try playing Borderlands, not only because it’s outrageous fun but there are some quests that feel like they have been designed for cooperative play.

If you are a Billy no mates who finds yourself needing to grind levels to make missions simpler it actually isn’t too difficult because the A.I of your enemies is absolutely terrible. The bandits you face will rarely take cover and don’t work well in groups. Ploughing them all down is satisfying enough but it does occasionally feel like shooting fish in a barrel and even boss battles can feel a bit too simple. The enemies do get a lot tougher and a lot smarter when you reach Borderlands last few missions but the game would be that little bit better if there were a larger variety of enemies during the first three quarters of the story. One final point about the end of the game – don’t worry I’m not giving anything away! Completing the final story mission was a massive anti-climax. You can continue to play on after this but the ‘ending’ was disappointing and open ended. Cynics could argue it doesn’t so much leave the door open for a Borderlands 2, but knocks an entire wall through for it! Or opens a portal...

The gameplay might be somewhat simple at times but nonetheless Borderlands is great fun, especially when you play it with friends. The quests may be dull but at the end of the day Borderlands isn’t about them. It’s about the weapons, the fantastic cell-shaded visual design and the massive amounts of fun that can be had playing it with friends. I still say it shares similarities with Fallout 3 but the two also have their differences. If you want to make moral decisions as part of a fantastic story then stick to Fallout 3. However, if you want cartoon style madness, excellent weapons and fun playing with up to three other people then Borderlands is the Action-RPG for you. A must for anyone who enjoys co-op shooters.

(Originally written for Game-Debate)

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