Posted by Chris Scott Barr on Nov 3, 2009

Review – Borderlands (PS3)

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Borderlands sets you down on the desolate planet of Pandora. Here is a world that few people would ever want to set foot on, save for the prospect of treasure. It has been rumored that a vault lie hidden somewhere in the vast wasteland which contains riches beyond measure. Treasure hunters, mercenaries  and even large corporations want to get their hands on whatever is contained within.

The world of Pandora seems like a barren wasteland, yet the art styling makes the landscape seem rich and exciting. The prominent black lines and shading remind me very much of a comic book, while at the same time it feels like something entirely different. The overall landscape doesn’t change much from zone to zone, but each has its own characteristics that makes it seem unique.

You start out the game as one of four mercenaries hoping to strike it rich. Each character has their own strengths and weaknesses, along with special abilities and weapon proficiencies. What really makes each stand out is their singular action skill. This is a special ability that you can trigger when you need to kick a little more ass. At their very basic, the action skills are thus:

  • Soldier – Can drop an automated turret that takes down baddies while also protecting you.
  • Siren – Can briefly turn invisible and move with increased speed. Also does damage when phasing in and out.
  • Hunter – Releases his bird of prey to attack nearby enemies.
  • Berserker – Becomes temporarily invulnerable while dealing extra melee damage.

As you level up, you earn skill points which are spent on your skill tree. Each character has three branches on the tree. The abilities unlocked generally revolve around your action skill. How you spend your points can also help determine your role when you’re playing with friends. One tree might make you better equipped for healing, while another could give you the tools you need for maximum destruction.

The game starts off with an awesome opening scene featuring a great song from Cage the Elephant. You then select your character and begin making friends with the locals (mostly by killing bandits and such). You’ll take on quests from various NPC’s which take you all over the world. Along the way you’ll slowly find out more and more about this mysterious vault which you are searching for.

The quests usually take the form of “kill someone”, “kill a bunch of someones” or “find these things”. As basic as these are each quest did feel somewhat unique, and you rarely had the feeling that you were simply grinding for XP. Your main quest line flows rather naturally, while the optional sidequests have enough background flavor to keep your interest. You are rewarded with XP, cash and/or weapons/upgrades.

One of my favorite aspects of this game is your variety of weapons. The game’s case boasts “bazillions of guns,” and they aren’t kidding. Weapons are broken down into seven different categories. These include pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles and launchers. The more you use each type, the more proficient you become. As you level up a type of weapon you’ll get increased damage, faster reloading, etc.

Weapons have a number of different stats to be concerned with. Damage, Accuracy and Fire Rate are the major ones. You’ll also want to pay attention to how many shots are fired per round, and if it does elemental damage. Some guns also have special attributes like increased reload speed, higher accuracy and more zoom.

The more rare firearms will even have a small bit of red text, which alludes to a special ability. This is something that both intrigues and annoys me. To my knowledge, there is no official listing of what each piece of text means. I have found a decent fan-made list that gives a decent description of some red text abilities. However, most of the time I just have to experiment with the gun to figure out what is special about it.

Guns are found all over the place in this game. You’ll get them as rewards for a quest, off of corpses, in boxes and even in scrap piles. Guns can also be purchased from vendors, which unlike some games can actually be somewhat useful. Generally the good guns are very expensive, but at times worth the price.

When you come across weapons and upgrades on the ground (or in boxes) you’ll be greeted with a popup just above the item. This tells you all of the stats (including cash value) so that you can easily determine if it’s worth picking up.

Other important items are your personal shield, grenade modifier and class mod. The first two are fairly self-explanatory. The class mod will give you bonuses to various stats that compliment the class you have chosen. This might mean increasing your damage with a particular weapon, or adding to the abilities you have chosen in your skill tree. Changing one of these out before a battle can have a significant impact on the outcome, so I recommend holding onto a couple of different ones just in case.

Combat is a blast. The enemy AI is fairly adept, so you’re generally kept on your toes. Your foes come in a variety of forms (humanoid, insect-like, beastly and so-on) and even those have their own sub-categories. You might have a bandit that smartly takes cover and fires off a few shots when the time is right, or a large brute who walks confidently toward you while laying down a barrage of bullets. My favorites are the raving lunatics that will light themselves on fire and just run toward you in a frenzy. (Though the midgets with shotguns are a close second).

Since you spend a good deal of the game killing things, it’s only right that they should die in an interesting fashion. Body parts will get blown off, or an electrified show might make them convulse and fall over. If you’re using the right elemental weapon, you can even disintegrate the foe, leaving only their mask hanging in mid-air for a moment before it falls unceremoniously to the ground.

Travel is broken down into three things. You can hoof it, drive a bad-ass vehicle (armed with your choice of guns) or use the Fast Travel system. Vehicles are generated at various places throughout each zone. These places are plentiful enough that you don’t really have to walk a lot, except in areas that can’t be reached otherwise. Driving them can be tricky at first, but eventually you’ll be able to get around well enough. Each vehicle has room for two; a driver and a gunner. The weapons on these aren’t the most powerful, but they do the trick. Your best bet is to simply run over whatever enemy might be in your path. They make a wonderful squishing noise when you do, it’s rather addicting.

The Fast Travel system is simple enough. When you reach one of the stations, it can be used to instantly transport you to a different station that you have previously discovered. I use the term “instant” very loosely here. Loading times between zones are annoyingly long, taking anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds. Even when are finally loaded into the zone, most of the objects are a little fuzzy for a few extra seconds before they become clear. This wouldn’t be so bad if you weren’t jumping from zone to zone for your various quests. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it certainly doesn’t add to the excitement either.

I was disappointed by the overall lack of voice acting in this game. Only a handful of NPCs had any real dialogue and even that was forgettable, save one.  Scooter, the country bumpkin that supplies your vehicles is hilarious. Every time you approach one of his stations you’ll hear is redneck voice spouting of something like “This is where the cars live, git you one!” As for your own character, they will have little quips when they level up, enter a vehicle or occasionally when you kill an enemy.

Multiplayer is where most people are going to spend a considerable amount of time. Things go a lot quicker and are much more fun when you’ve got other people to run with. The enemies do a good job of scaling to larger groups, provided that you’re at least close to the same level. There are arenas setup for dueling, for those times when you’re convinced you can kick everyone’s ass. My biggest complaint here is the lack of a trading system. For a game that relies so heavily on loot, there is no way to trade items between two characters. One must simply drop an item that another player wants, so that it can be picked up by the right person.

Overall, Borderlands is a fun game. The pace is just right (maybe a touch slow for solo play, depending on your preference) and there are enough characters and weapons to warrant a considerable amount of replayability. This is definitely a game that’s going to be around for a while.

[ Borderlands ]

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