Borderlands Review

Crossing over....

Review by Darren Cartledge
Published 20th November 2009


  • Developer: Gearbox Software
  • Publisher: 2K Games
  • Release Date: 23rd October 2009

Games that cross genres aren't a new concept but are becoming more common. Despite this, these games never really excel! So it seems that 2K Games and Gearbox Software fancied a challenge when creating their latest action game offering, Borderlands a first person shooter with roleplaying elements.

The game places players on the desolate planet Pandora, a sparsely populated wasteland where humans cling to life. Pandora’s one attraction is a fabled vault of untold riches that attracts treasure hunters from across the galaxy, that scour the planet relentlessly. Unfortunately, for the human inhabitants the Vault also catches the attention of ruthless corporate mercenaries and vile bandits that make life hell. In Borderlands you take up the role of a treasure hunter, searching for the vault and coming in direct conflict with pretty much everyone else seeking its bountiful riches.

So how does this cross genre offering compare to others that have come before it? Well, it’s fair to say that Borderland leans heavily towards being a first person shooter with some basic roleplaying elements thrown in. But whilst others have fallen by the wayside trying to combine genres Borderlands simple approach seems to have worked quite well. The first person shooter action of the game is pretty much what you would expect. You travel the wasteland, coming in to contact with various bad guys looking to fill you with lead, and take them out before they get the chance. Enemies can be pretty tough, but are largely dumb and will often walk directly into the line of fire. This turns most of the games action in to standing battles of who falls first! If it is you then the game employs quite a clever system that allows you to avoid death. Basically your character drops to his knees and is still able to shoot from the hip, if you get a kill then you’re back in the game! If not then you return to the last DNA station that captured your presence and you are charged a number of credits for your respawn. These DNA stations are littered throughout the game, and are usually found around the few human outposts of Pandora.

So the game leans more to being a first person shooter rather than a roleplaying game, featuring a very basic levelling up system that increases your health and damage you deal, as you gain new levels. Increasing in level also allows you access to more powerful weapons and better equipment. This is one of two ways you can customise the preset character that you have chosen from one of four classes (soldier, berserker, hunter and siren) when you first start playing. Once you reach a set level you are able to use your chosen characters special skill, in the case of the soldier this is a deployable turret, the hunter posses a bird of prey that will attack enemies, the berserker’s skill is the imaginatively entitled berserk mode and the siren a Phase Walk that allows her to fight at speed. As you level up these “class skills” can be upgraded with skill points allowing you to make attacks more powerful or regain health whenever it’s used and so on. This may make the games character development system sound a little complex, but it really isn’t, and as a result it works really well with the shooter action. It’s nice that the developers have resisted the temptation to throw in too much, like other cross genre games have, and ultimately failed. Throughout this review I’ve said that many aspects of Borderlands have been kept simple, which may make it sound something of a weak title, but instead this is one of the games strongest points! In a way the game feels like a classic shooter, allowing you to dive straight into the action from the off, without any of the normal messing about that many games seem to make gamers endure! This is a real credit to the developers, who have made Borderlands highly accessible throughout.

Levelling up not only increases your characters health and strength, it also gives you access to more powerful weapons and equipment such as your shield. The game features a huge array of weapons ranging from sniper rifles, repeater pistols, machine guns and so on. Some weapons also feature special elemental effects such as hitting enemies with lightening bolts and making them burst into flames scoring an instant kill. The game actually features an uncountable number of weapons that you can get your hands on, thanks to a content generation system that roles out all manner of weapons from various manufacturers each gun with its own strengths and weaknesses.

Missions in Borderlands are handled in true RPG fashion, as you travel the desolate Pandora you meet various inhabitants who require your help in return for information, and off you go on the various errands that include RPG staples such as retrieving lost items or taking care of a particularly nasty villain. Missions are each ranked on difficulty so you usually have an idea of what you’ll be walking into, however, this difficulty rating diminishes once you start levelling up so if you’re finding a certain mission particularly tricky you can go back later and will often find it much easier.

One of the most striking points of Borderlands is the games graphical style, Borderlands features an amazing cell shade that makes it look like a comic book come to life. The world is a desolate place with various shacks and littered around the wasteland and as you can guess the game world is fairly expansive. Luckily a few of the widespread outposts allow you to summon vehicles that you can use to travel between various locations at pace. The vehicles are pretty rugged looking, and as you would expect in this hostile world are armed to the teeth. The in vehicle action has been implemented well. However it can be a little awkward to control with a mouse and keyboard.

Enemies in the game are pretty much what you would expect, with wide jawed critters that won’t think twice about biting your legs off and the kind of bandits and mercenaries that wouldn’t look out of place in a Mad Max film. In a way the various critters and bad guys give Borderlands a similar feel to Bethesda’s Fallout 3 albeit in a simpler form and if I’m honest, a better shooter element.

Multiplayer wise Borderlands lacks the usual first person shooter competitive modes such as Deathmatch and so on. However, the game does support co-operative play, allowing you to team up with other players to take on quests and so on. I get the distinct feeling though this feature was mainly added for the benefit of the console versions, as sadly throughout my time playing I often found it difficult to find anyone to play the game with!

Borderlands maybe a relatively simple mix of shooter action and RPG elements, however, it will mainly appeal to shooter fans rather than those looking for an immersive roleplaying experience. If you fancy something you can simply pick up and play, then Borderlands may just be the game for you. Simple, but effective!

Review Score: 8/10

Please note, this review was scored using our old system. For more information please see our review policy.

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