A not so subtle blend of RPG and FPS
Posted 3 years ago By - JD Speedy
An RPG and a shooter, properly mixed, is the gaming equivalent of a unicorn. Rarely seen and thought to be impossible.
But that hasn’t stopped more than one company from tackling this difficult cocktail in the past year. First there was Fallout 3, which succeeded more on its qualities as the former than the latter. Borderlands, in part leveraging on the success of Fallout, but trying to outdo it in the same breath, seemed even more ambitious, not submitting to the temptation of a gameplay element similar to F3’s time-stopping VATS system.
No, Gearbox Software wanted to make an RPG that felt like a real shooter or die trying.
And because of that determination, for the most part, Borderlands succeeds. It’s not just an RPG, not just a Diablo-style dungeon-crawling loot-whore game; no, Borderlands managed to actually cram in some satisfying FPS combat that doesn’t feel tacked-on. There’s no need to make the combat turn-based at all. I don’t mean it as a slight to Fallout, but in terms of straight real-time combat, Borderlands has the edge. First and foremost, it’s an excellent stat-based shooter and maintains a pace closer to Brothers in Arms than Baldur’s Gate. But what makes keeps it worth playing is the sheer amount of gear you will collect and use over the course of the game.
Now, I, like most people, was more than dubious at the purported 17 million guns supposedly found in the game. But I’ve gone from a cynic to a preacher. While I think the 17 million number is more of a PR selling point that belongs on the back of the box and mostly ignored, the spirit of their system, a random gun generator, really evokes the best parts of dungeon crawling and loot collection. Every time you find a gun crate, or down a powerful enemy, you’ll feel compelled to boot up your load-out screen, take stock of your current guns, shields and mods, and re-kit your dude. You can pick accuracy or damage, elemental effect over fire-rate or even find special effect guns that spawn their own ammo or up the chance of critical hits. It’s just so enthralling, trolling for new weapons or selling your old ones, that it makes the game hard to put down, even if you aren’t completely keen on your next quest.
I mean, there are obvious drawbacks to this system. I found myself stuck more than once with the same set of guns for 5 levels in a row. And in a game that is mostly based in loot collection, sorting and selling, that was a depressing time. But it also makes the real finds, the true upgrades, all the more exciting. On the whole the combat is also fairly balanced. While I didn’t really appreciate the fact that normal-rated quests were fairly difficult and tough ones were nigh impossible, the pace of the game is generous and keeps you moving along at a decent clip. You will rarely find yourself without a quest you can handle and leveling up happens evenly and often.
There is one encounter that I truly despised, but in the interest of avoiding plot spoilers, I’ll just say that the final encounter left me feeling a little shortchanged. That said, for a game I put a solid 30-40 hours into in a single playthrough, that’s not a good enough reason to avoid it.
Graphics and Sound
One of the tonal elements that really sells the Borderlands universe is the look of the game. It looks cel-shaded because of the hard outlines on everything in the environment but almost cartoonish. That’s not to say that the tone of the game is silly really, but more black and comical. It can be a gritty game at points and the graphics really sell it as a fully realized world.
The sound is pretty great too. Each of the enemies sounds different and you’ll often hear them before you see them. Psychos, Bandits, Midgets and Skags will all have their give away grunts and calls and putting their voices, heavy breathing and battle cries at the top of the mix adds fantastic tension to even small skirmishes.
Borderlands is also one of my favourite co-op experiences of the year. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up playing through this game in a party of two or more and develop intricate strategies that rely on the strengths of how you spec out your character or even just the different action skills each class possesses (like the soldier’s turret or the siren’s phase walk).
It really lends itself to some interesting weapon choices and skill tree allocations that can dramatically shift a battle, particularly when they complement how your co-op partner(s) have decided to lay their skills out.
Now, don’t get me wrong, while it may seem like all love and no gripe, Borderlands is far from a perfect game.
When you’re commanding one of the games vehicles in particular, some of the problems become abundantly clear. For one, Gearbox have taken from the school of Halo for the vehicle controls in the game. You control throttle with the left stick and aim using the camera on the right stick. It’s hardly easy to manage at first, but you do get kind of used to it.
But it also brings into sharp relief some of the problems with geometry and snags the game has. You’ll get stuck more than once, in a vehicle and on foot, and I’ve even heard of friends having to resort to restarting their game (without save) to fix the problem. That didn’t happen to me but it’s a real problem that probably can’t be fixed with a simple patch.
However, the end boss balance and geometry problems notwithstanding, it’s one hell of a game that absolutely sings when it’s working and when you can enjoy it with a friend. If you have the patience, Borderlands truly hits on a gaming hunger pang you may not have known you had and without the kind of depth that could dissuade the RPG-phobic.
To quote Claptrap, the foul-mouthed robot voice of the game: “Look at me, I’m dancin’! DANCIN’!” Oh wait, that makes no sense. Oh nevermind…
+ Co-op is awesome
+ Loot collection is satisfying and gun variety is immense
+ The world is well realized
+ Little funny elements like boss descriptions and Claptrap
- Geometry snags can break up the action or strand you
- Some bosses feel a little unbalanced, especially on your own
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Release Date : 2009/10/20
System : Xbox 360
Publisher : 2K Games
Developer : Gearbox Software
Category : Shooter
ESRB : M
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