by Keaton Arksey
previewed on PC
As the saying goes, you shouldn’t judge a book on its cover. The same can be held true for games. But sometimes you really should, especially if the back is considered part of the cover. For example, Borderlands, based on cover alone, looks to be an intriguing title. One of the enemies in the game is on the cover in front of a red background, middle and index fingers pointed at the temple of his head like a gun, with an explosion of various images from the game coming out the other side. Will it anger some parent? Probably, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome.
Developed by Gearbox, developers behind the Brothers in Arms series, Borderlands is a combination of a first person shooter and role playing game. Set in the distant future, humanity has moved on from Earth, colonizing a distant planet called Pandora. Promised vast mineral resources free for the taking, a “gold” rush ensues as people scramble to harvest resources. However, when people arrive they find nothing but alien ruins. Things eventually break down into anarchy, with the colonists fighting for survival. Due to the slow rotation of the planet, it takes seven years to go from winter to spring. The thaw brings with it horrible monsters awaking from hibernation, adding more danger to an already hostile environment. Just when all seems lost, a vault carved into the side of a mountain that is said to contain vast amounts of alien secrets and technology is found, but whoever found it has been wiped out by a “protective force”. A radio transmission is sent out, but the location of the vault is not given.
Borderlands features a unique, almost cell shaded art style. Originally meant to have a more realistic feel, the new look definitely helps set this game away from the others coming out this year. The setting remains the same, inspired by a Mad Max style post-apocalyptic world. Much like an RPG, most of the game will be compromised of quests, with 160 in total, 30 story missions and 130 side quests. Each rewards the player, whether it is through a new weapon or piece of the story.
Another main draw for Borderlands is four player drop in, drop out co-op. There are four characters, each with their own back story, skills and abilities. Mordecai has come to Pandora in search of a man from his past, and is a lone wolf sniper. Roland is a member of a highly trained private military organization that provides support for the other characters, increasing experience gains, health regeneration, and weapon damage. He also has infinite ammo, making him very useful. Lilith is one of only six Sirens, a group with incredible, uncontrollable powers such as turning invisible, slow down time or speed up allies. Brick, as his name suggests, is the powerhouse who enjoys using his fists to smash enemies. Each character has a skill tree that, as he/she is leveled up can be developed to a certain play style. Better yet is that characters carry over, so if you have leveled Brick up to a high level and join a friend who is just beginning, you continue to use your high level character. Your friend even benefits by getting higher level drops than he could originally get.
At any time during gameplay if a player character is melee’d, they can choose to melee the aggressor, pitting the two in a “deathmatch” so the two can settle the score. There will even be areas on the map that serve as arenas for this purpose. It won’t be enough to knock the Halos and Call of Dutys off the top of the charts but it does serve as a way to teach those who decide to be jerks a thing or two.
While the gameplay looks like a standard FPS, the game is heavily influenced by the dungeon crawler Diablo. Similar to Diablo, a “Procedural Content Creation System” randomly creates items that are dropped by enemies. Each gun is made from several different components such as ammo, barrels, scopes, effects like shock damage and the base types like pistol, shot gun etc. While Gearbox has since lost count of the amount of guns, some reports indicate upwards of 3,166,880 combinations. That’s a lot of random drops.
Features of the map are also randomly generated as well. While towns and paths will remain the same, landscape such as bunkers, enemies, caves, and the like are all randomly generated from the initial loading screen. In fact, once that initial load is done, there won’t be a single loading screen after. Two person buggies can be used to quickly traverse the wasteland, with the option to switch from driver to gunner on the fly. If driving isn’t your thing, a fast travel option is available but only to areas the game will allow you to go.
Developing a new intellectual property in today’s economic climate is definitely a risky decision, but Borderlands looks set to be another success story with a unique art style and insane number of weapons. Here’s hoping it doesn’t end up like that guy on the cover at retail.