Calling Randy Pitchford over to my PC, I point at a number on the screen that was excitedly alternating between "7" and "xll".
"What's happening there?" I asked. "Oh, that's how much damage each of those shotgun pellets inflicts," he explained. "If you hit someone with all 11 pellets, that's the full 77 damage." That's more damage than I'd ever done to anybody in Borderlands, I noted, before chasing after skags - the doglike jaws with feet that prowl the game world - with my powerful new thing.
It's telling that Pitchford won't even put a number on the weapon count any more. Originally said to be "around 500,000" the number rose with every press release. Now Gearbox mutter numbers in excess of 17 million. "The total doesn't really matter any more, admits Pitchford, "it's beyond counting. Players will only see about a 1,000 guns during their play anyway."
Loot Is King
They guns are procedurally generated of course; individually customisable components slotted together by an Al system to create millions of possible combinations. There's a version of that shotgun spitting out 12 pellets instead of 11, that counts as a different gun. There'll also be one with acid pellets, and one that sets people on fire.
This has caused Borderlands to resurrect a degree of loot-fever not seen since Hellgate: London. And as a skillbased shooter it holds up admirably: quests to clear out bandit camps play out like any givervFPS, so much so that the inescapable inadequacies of the early weapons will leave you feeling strangely underpowered.
Soaking up XP through missionsand kills is instantly engaging, and while your weapon proficiencies increase through use. each level brings with it a skill point to be spent in one of three specialities.
Each of the four classes: Soldier (guns), Hunter (sniper). Heavy (tank) and Siren (stealth) have different skillsets, and a unique action. Soldiers chuck down temporary sentry turrets for example, while Heavies enter berserker rages, and Sirens dip in and out of invisibility. Unlockable skills augment these.
In four-way co-op it all comes together beautifully. Your characters are persistent, and the world doesn't adjust itself to maintain the challenge -so if you spend five hours levelling up in co-op and return to the starting area, you'll have the weaker skags dying in shock just at the sight of you. And that's a far better solution than coming back to find old enemies riding around on scooters and barking flames at you.
Borderlands is treading the line between shooter and RPG expertly, potentially trimming away too much of its RPG chromosone for us PC lot (skills and levelling up are a rather basic affair), but in the process ensuring that the parts in which you shoot at things to make them dead aren't scuppered by stats and dice-rolls. They're not, and Borderlands is fun. Commence looking forward to it... now.
Post-apocalyptic bandits and Mad Max-style carnage will always have a special place in our hearts. It's the sort of scenario that shooters were invented for, and one Borderlands makes fine use of. Borderlands is probably closer to Fallout 3 than anything but that's not to say it's merely a cartoon remix. This is much faster moving and much funnier. The excellent character scripting provides an irreverent cheeriness to the game, whilst the unique hand-drawn visual style turns a potentially bleak backdrop into the most fun-filled wasteland you're ever likely to stumble into.
Going with such powerful artistic design is a brave move by the developer. This cel-shaded look, used in French shooter XIII and, more recently, Battlefield Heroes tends to divide audiences. It's a love/hate thing based purely on whether the visual style is to your taste or not. Publishers aren't always quick to take risks and so it's also worth commending 2K Games for having the balls to go with it. Many wouldn't.
In-game music is also artfully done. The dynamic tunes fade in and out depending on the action's pace, and is| the perfect companion to the visuals. But all of these athetics niceties will come to nought if the game plays like crud. Happily, it doesn't.
Borderlands' single-player campaign can be played as either Roland the soldier, Lilith the siren, Mordecai the hunter, or the man mountain known simply as Brick. In true RPG-lite fashion each character has a particular style that sets them apart. Roland is a master of mid-range assault weapons like rifles and machine guns; Lilith is a sort of post-apocalypse druid who can discharge all manner of fiery and electrical mayhem; Mordecai is a long-range specialist; and Brick is essentially an old-fashioned hand-to-hand pitbull. On top of basic personality skills, d there's a detailed upgrade tree which means each character can improve further skills. Brick, for example, has the brawler, tank and blaster sub-types to toy with. Each of these sub-types then has seven individual skills that can be powered up to a maximum level of five.
In total there are 21 separate skills per character to master, and that won't be achieved quickly. The multiplayer game is an interesting excursion especially when all four players know how to play their character and work together. It's the age-old problem really, as soon as you get one team member who tries to play a tank like a sniper then it all gets a bit chaotic. Still, with a relatively small team size it's not like Counter-Strike or Modem Warfare where as soon as you put one foot wrong you're instantly flamed by half the server.
There's probably more mileage in the single-player game, particularly if you replay the campaign mode with a fresh character once you've completed it Like many games these days that won't take a huge amount of time - maybe around 12 to 15 hours for someone who knows their way around a FPS.
We've already had the 'Which character is best?' debate and that's always a good sign. Ultimately it doesn't matter whether you play in multiplayer or single-player, the ability to take your fighter in the direction you want with a few well chosen modifications means you simply cannot fail to have a blast.
The outrageous and unruly gangs of Pandora - the world you live on - are also pretty smart combatants. Instead of just lingering amongst the crevices and outcroppings poised to end your dusty existence in a surge of scripted hostility, their AI is surprisingly coherent. When injured or overpowered they will retreat and seek cover. They also look for safety in numbers and more often than not it's the bandit with the most powerful shooter who's out in front leading the strike.
The arsenal at your disposal is the game's most hyped feature. All the weapons in Borderlands are procedurally generated, which means there's never the same gun twice. Obviously, a shotgun will always feel different to a sniper rifle, it goes without saying. What Gearbox have done is devise a system where no two shotguns are the same. Each one is slightly different in terms of damage, recoil, clip size, special modifications and various other attributes.
This sounds good, and it kind of works. There are just so many weapons, and you go through such a large variety of them so quickly, most of the time you don't notice the subtleties between shotgun A' and shotgun 'B' unless one of them does something dramatic like set your target on fire. At the end of the day, a shotgun feels like a shotgun regardless of whether it has a reload speed of 1.4 or L9 seconds or a damage multiplier of x9 or xll.
As a player, all you really care about is whether your enemy g explodes in a shower of gore within I an acceptable time limit. Generally I speaking with Brick that tends to be " one blast to the head at point-blank range with any kind of shotgun, or two seconds of a continuous pounding with any combat rifle. If guns were rarer then maybe the differences between them would be more obvious, but when they're so abundant the system isn't so effective.
Even when taking into account the random weapon feature, gun combat is still pretty standard, whereas close combat is a different story. Some of Brick's melee attacks are so quick it's hard to work out if you've made contact. Death animations can sometimes take a while to play out too, so you're never entirely sure if you've killed someone.
Lilith occasionally suffers from the same problem with her penchant for close-range zapping, but because her hands clearly quiver as she performs her frying duties it's not as pronounced. Plus, most of the moves she throws seem to leave her victims juddering violently whilst bathed in an ethereal glow. So, it tends to be obvious when they're done.
Most missions take place outside, and the open-ended structure means you can have multiple missions on the go. Not being able to take down a boss because his armour is too powerful need not be a crisis that leaves you sobbing with frustration. By hitting the tab key you can start another mission, advance a level or two and then swagger back with brand new skill upgrades and royally trounce your former problem.
Unlike Fallout3 you will never be asked to creep around silently and plant a thermometer in an alien's egg sack or get involved in inconsequential side-quests that drive you from the main plot. Borderlands is much tighter and the main narrative thread is never far away. There are one or two missions that involve collecting rare herbs or food, but even these will involve annihilating a pack of the dog-like skags or group of bandits.
Borderlands is gung-ho, finger on the trigger all the way. The HUD is usually flashing red, you're always looking for health and constantly worrying about ammo levels. When the criticals become more frequent and heads start to pop your character begins to scream and hurl insults in a kind of insane battle frenzy. These are the moments where you remember what a fantastic feeling it is to play a really great FPS.
There's no doubt that Borderlands is a fantastic game. The visuals, music, character modification, gameplay, feel and balance are all spot on. The interface, however, is not. At first it's confusing trying to work out how to change an equipped item. Eventually you get used to it and can even work out how to equip shields and grenades. Even the vending machines that sell weapons and upgrades lack clarity, and it's hard to see how that could be made counterintuitive.
No Waste Here
There are other strange foibles such as not being able to compare items you own with potential purchases. In the end you have to memorize stats of the gun you're thinking of buying and then compare it to the one in your inventory.
Aside from the.pdd randomly respawning enemy, item management is probably the only genuinely annoying thing about Borderlands. Even now you can tell this is a world potentially rich in lore and secrets and we've just heard that the first DLC, The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned will be released before the end of the year. There's no doubt about it. This is just the beginning. Pandora is a place we're looking forward to visit again in the very near future.
Bwahhhh, I Scoffed. Bwaahh, look at the sun in Borderlands - it doesn't move! That's not videogame fact. That's videogame fiction. Exactly what sort of fool do Gearbox take me for? What flavour of moron do they think I am? Unmoving sun my foot!
And then you notice that the planet of Pandora isn't lit by the sun. It's lit by moonlight, illuminated by a heavenly body suspended forever in one spot. A new moon heralds the dead of night, and a full moon equates to high-noon. And that's a rather beautiful idea -certainly an original thought.
Criticise Borderlands for its rat-like skags all you like, but you can't fault Gearbox on a design front. Skags fulfil the role of cannon fodder, but crucially: they're not rats. Nothing is anything familiar, everything is frightening or at the very least interesting. Characters like Claptrap (I say that as if Borderlands has more than just one interesting character) will be fondly remembered for their bold presence on an otherwise desolate rock. And the art style too - for bravely scrapping the original brown blur of a game and replacing it with this painting, Gearbox deserve a hundred million high-fives.
Until I chuck myself into the co-op I'll reserve judgement on everything about Borderlands that isn't a lantern moon, a small rat-like creature or a wise-cracking robot. In the meantime.
Do You Remember Borderlands? It was a brown shooter, in Unreal Engine 3, on some alien planet. It had a giant monster with a vagina for a head. It boasted a roster of over half a million weapons, which were mostly variants on one another. A pink shotgun that fires ice bullets. A blue shotgun that fireslasers. A blue-green shotgun that fires slightly smaller ice bullets. And so forth, like one of those 99,999 games-in-1 handheld LCD toys that counts 999 different speeds of Tetris as 999 independent games. Well, it's changed. Gearbox have realised that their apocalyptic shooter looked like every other apocalyptic shooter in existence, and took a bold, commendable step towards creating a unique art style. It really does look beautiful, the bright, saturated stabs of colour leaping from the line-drawn backgrounds, coupled with the sketchy pen-shading on rocks and cliff faces. Borderlands is pretty now. At the very least it's infinitely more memorable than it was previously.
The premise remains untouched: an abandoned planet called Pandora has had its vast golden hoard plundered by enterprising space prospectors. You are Rolland, one of the folks left behind in this alien Wild West, a world of skags, raks and dune buggies. Co-op is at this game's core, an open-world adventure in which three of your friends can drop in and out at any time.
Borderlands' RPG leanings are slight: while it's a tactile and responsive shooter (your bullets will go where you tell them to), you'll level up and increase your stats as you play, moving into more and more dangerous territory as the game goes on. Shanty towns act as quest hubs. From these locations, bulletin boards and locals dish out buttery missions and toasty tasks, from the rather mundane "kill 10 of these things" to the more exciting assassination jobs. Of course, mates are welcome on these trips - but play solo and the AI will hop in the driver's seat, orchestrating the actions of your fellow fighters.
So Many Guns
A PvP mode features in the form of Borderlands' arenas - underground caverns in which two players can duke it out at will, without fear of deathly consequences. Levels are matched to make fights play out fairly, the only advantages being your choice of weapon. Of which there are manyij Weapons are almost always unique in this game - imagine a random assortment of variables (ammo type, reload time, homing capabilities, and accuracy) set atop a base weapon type (handgun, grenade, machine gun, and rocket launcher) and you'll have a good idea where this total of 65C|D00 guns has come from. Weapons ail identifiable by colour, and you'll stumble across astoundingly fun toys in the field. Had a particularly rough soap with a bloke armed with a repeatiHg, homing shotgun? Be sure to raid his corpse.
Riddled with nice touches, such as firing from the floor (from Left 4 Dead, or Max Payne, depending on your preference), and of course the humongous rak hive: a towering beast housing flocks of bat-like enemies, Borderlands has sparked our interest for a second time. Where previously it emanated nothing but dreariness and mundanity, it now broadcasts a confident and unique visual style.
Massive kudos must be paid to Gearbox for recognising and addressing the brown. Now if they could get J around to letting us play the thing...
Compare and Contrast
Alright, so it didn't look that bad before.
Though it's adopted a stark new visual style. Borderlands wasn't the worst offender when it comes to brown, dreary landscapes. Just look, here's a screen from over one year ago, featuring some of the weapons-laden vehicle combat Multiple players can hop into buggies, with one in the driver's seat and another manning the sunroof-mounted cannon.
During high-speed chases, you'll be able to leap from your vehicle to carjack your enemies - cars can transform at the touch of a button too. The Salt Racer, so named for it's high performance when speeding across the game's massive salt lakes, can adjust its front wheels to adapt to rough terrain.