Published on November 29th, 2009 | by prime0
Borderlands – Review
Summary: The choice of visual style works well for the story
It’s tough to be a shooter in 2009. Avoiding both Modern Warfare 2 and Halo 3 ODST isn’t exactly easy if you also want to get noticed. Good job then, that Gearbox decided to throw its original template for Borderlands in the bin and come back with an out-there art direction and a seriously in-your-face ad campaign. It’s pretty difficult to avoid that sort of audiovisual onslaught.
Good job indeed, because missing out on a game with the confidence and quality of Borderlands would be a shame for anyone invested in the FPS genre. It’s a sprawling epic, focused almost entirely around the collection of loot from the bodies of your fallen enemies, and about as anarchically charged as a mainstream games get. It really isn’t like anything else.
The loot in question, beyond ammo and health, is the key to Borderland’s success. The game randomly generates weaponry for you, combining colors, stats, features and, of course, ammunition types to create true one-of-a-kind weapons. And what weapons. Flame-throwing shotguns, lighting-bolt assault rifles – there’s even an automatic rocket launcher if you’re lucky enough to stumble across it. The quest for newer and better guns is the driving force that powers you through Borderlands’ twist Western theatre, always prompting one more side quest out of you; always promising that elusive perfect weapon just around the next rocky outcrop.
Which is just as well, as without such a powerful draw, Borderlands might suffer. As a straight shooter, it lags behind its open-world cousins – it has neither the subtlety or intelligence of, say Far Cry 2, nor the role-playing depth of Fallout 3. The opening hours are spent walking back and forth between quest givers, slaughtering ret-like monsters called Skags and generally getting somewhat fed up with the world. It’s only when the weapons start coming thick and fast that things begin to pick up.
Thankfully, the shooting itself is punchy and enjoyable. Even though the enemy AI is barely more advanced that Doom’s, there’s a frantic need for speed, accuracy and skill whenever you’re set upon, which will be regularly. Its closest resemblance is actually Halo, purely because there’s such a need to be aware of your surroundings and able to react. It even brings a new mechanic to the shooter fold – Last Stand, whereby even after losing all of your health, one last kill will award you a boost so you can keep on fighting. Against some of the later stages leviathan enemies, there’s high drama in every battle.
A shame then, that the repetitive trudges between these explosive high-points get more tiresome as the game goes on. The art style may be striking – even beautiful at times – but there’s only so much rock and dust anyone can look at before crying out for a bit of vegetation. Having co-op buddies in tow helps alleviate the grind, but ultimately it’s only quest for bigger, better and more badass guns that keep Borderlands going.
Don’t underestimate it though. It’s an intoxicating, zombiefying draw. In fact, we’re off to find some more. Let us know what you find.