Q. What do you get when you create a video game by mixing Heavy Metal style comic book graphics, a Road Warrior gamescape, a first person shooter and Diablo 2 style character development?
And wow! What a great mix!
Yes this fabulous quirky off-the-wall, wildly addictive production by Gearbox Software promoted as the first "role playing shooter" grabbed me right from the get-go by presenting what I believe to be the best video game intro EVER. Then it further piqued my interest when I realized that the comic book graphics featured in the intro were also how the game actually looked when you were playing it. The first thing I was reminded of was the artwork I used to enjoy in Heavy Metal magazines of the, ahem, 1980s. What the hell? I thought. Surely this is not going to measure up against photorealistic heavyweights like Crysis or Far Cry 2. But measure up it did as Borderlands continued to define itself as a game of a different color.
The game starts you off by having you pick one of four characters (Soldier, Hunter, Siren or Beserker) each of which is endowed with a special ability. You step off the bus that has driven you to the game's starting point and get greeted by Claptrap, a cowardly one-wheeled disco-boy makeshift robot that seems to be a legend in his own mind ("Look at me I'm dancing! I'm dancing!") but will ultimately act as a perfect foil for your soon-to-be tough-guy/tough-girl image.
Claptrap and a mysterious woman referred to as the Guardian Angel who appears to you through visions then proceed to walk you through the game's mechanics. Borderlands is essentially a unique behind-the-gun shoot-and-loot expedition with RPG style character development via an experience points/skill tree system. You hike or drive to various locations around the vast open world gamescape to shoot the bad guys in order to complete missions and gain experience points for doing so.
In the process, you collect the loot enemies drop, e.g., weapons, ammo and cash, as well as the loot found in various stashes around the environment and then sell the loot (or keep it and use it, more on that later) at vending machines for money. You can also use the money at the vending machines to buy better weapons and equipment. Sound familiar? But don't forget... This is a first person shooter.
Lots to Play With
So just how many weapons are there in Borderlands?
Well early reports said there were 3.1 million. Yeah that's right. Million. Later on when we got the Borderlands official strategy guide, we were told fifteen million. And of course the Borderlands promos have been hyping us with the exaggerated number of 86 bazillion. Whatever... Let's just narrow it down to REAMS of weapons. Done.
Now even though there are only seven categories of weapons, each weapon you find or buy comes with its own specific stats (damage rating, fire rate, accuracy, etc) of which the range is immense as well as possible special features, the variety of which offer innumerable ways to deliciously mess up anything in the game that tries to get in your face and ruffle your feathers. You can use your pistol/submachine gun/combat rifle/sniper rifle/shotgun, whatever, to juice the baddies full of electricity, fry 'em with flames, drench them with acid, bombard them with a barrage of burst-fire rockets or any infernal combination therein.
Beautiful Graphics But the HUD is Way Too Busy
And here's where Borderlands really shines. Yeah it feels like you're playing in a comic book but the graphics you enjoy while you're battling it out with the enemy are a spectacular mish-mash of fiery explosions, lightning blue shock zaps, green acidic meltdowns and, of course, all that is entailed with the general mayhem of an out-and-out firefight, e.g., a torrent of bullets flying by and grenades going off left and right. (NOTE TO SELF: Watch out for the grenades.)
Once again though I have to gripe about the horribly obtrusive interface developers are putting into video games these days, especially first person shooters. I never thought a game would beat FEAR 2 for just the sheer amount of useless junk info plastered on the screen as you play the game but Borderlands takes the cake in this department.
I mean is it really necessary to put a bright red flashing red icon on the screen telling us our weapon needs reloading? Who are you doing that for? We know it's a shooter. We've been surviving first person shooters (and RPGs) with aplomb since Doom was released in the mid 90s. There were times in Borderlands where the screen was so overloaded with all these info bites about experience earned, damage done, levelling up, reload now, the enemy is that way, you just killed an enemy, you are now crouching, etc, ad nauseam that I'd be more mentally engaged in battling all these distractions than I was in just simply shooting my guns in the right direction to do in the bad guys. Please Mr. Developer... Step on the brakes with all that noise. (News flash: Some of us have played video games before.)