The first person shooter is in many ways a dying genre, especially for those gamers who have been playing all their lives. It’s a difficult genre to make something original and fresh. There are only so many ways you can use the concept of a man with a gun shooting at people before it gets old and over-used. The same could be said for traditional role-playing games, with their outdated use of turn-based battles and repetitive use of the same old formula. But when you combine the two genres something magical happens, and the result of such a merger is a game like Borderlands. For me this new trend in games is very exciting. We have already seen the phenomenal success of Fallout 3 and now we have Borderlands. Adding RPG mechanics to dead-end genres is a definite step forward in the evolution of videogames and it has so many applications, like Obsidian’s upcoming release of Alpha Protocol, a merger between RPG mechanics and the world of international espionage, one of my most anticipated games of the year. I think we have reached a point in human history where we have exhausted ourselves of original ideas, and the only real way I see of moving forward is to take old ideas and use them in brand new ways. Borderlands does just that.
The storyline of Borderlands is pretty much non-existent, more of a side note than anything, but it isn’t the story that makes this such a great game. Though to be fair the story is a lot better than most first-person shooters tend to have. As you arrive by bus on the desolate and lawless planet of Pandora you are given the choice to play as one of four characters, each with their own specialty and unique style of play. Mordecai is the Hunter class who focuses on sniper rifles and revolvers, and he also gains a pet bird of prey called Bloodwing who can be used in battle. Lilith is the Siren class, she uses a more stealthy approach to gameplay, is able to Phasewalk which allows her to move invisibly with great speed. Her specialist weapons are guns that fire elemental rounds. Roland is the Soldier class who can deploy a turret to fire at enemies and specializes in rifles and shotguns. Finally there is Brick who is the Berserker class and specializes in melee and explosive weapons. The character you choose doesn’t really change the story in any way, it only affects the way you play the game, since all of them arrive on Pandora with the same goal. That goal is the same as all the treasure hunters that come to Pandora, to seek the mysterious Vault that legend tells holds a vast fortune of alien technology and artifacts. Despite the lack of a story with any depth the quirky NPC’s you encounter on your travels make up for it. Borderlands has an undertone of dark humor throughout and doesn’t ever take itself too seriously.
Originally Borderlands graphics were developed to look much like you’d find in Fallout 3, but after the success of its rival Gearbox decided on a complete overhaul and cell-shaded the game, so if you loved the style of the highly underrated Okami and the reboot of the Price Of Persia series on PS3 this will not disappoint. The result is stunning. Rather than the depressing post-apocalyptic wastelands of Fallout 3, everything about Borderlands is incredibly colorful, meticulously detailed and beautifully unique. You will rarely feel like you’re treading over old ground, or feel like you’re seeing the same landscape no matter where you turn.
The music of Borderlands doesn’t stand out in any way, it is mostly generic but the voice acting is done well. The characters you meet throughout the game are appropriately redneck, the only real gripe with the voice acting are the Claptrap robots you meet which can be especially annoying. As you go about the game your character will make random amusing comments, particularly when you make a headshot or open a chest full of guns. But where the voice acting really stands out is with the enemies who shout out comments as they charge towards you that are both disturbing and hilarious in equal measures.
What makes Borderlands one of the best games currently on the PS3 is the gameplay. Primarily Borderlands is first and foremost an FPS so the style of gameplay will be very familiar. What puts it above all the rest are the RPG mechanics. You level up your character by gaining experience from killing enemies, completing quests and skill challenges. You are given a level cap of 50 and once you reach level 5 with each subsequent level gained you are allocated a skill point to assign to increasing a set of skills unique to each character that are separated into three skill trees. The skills available are things like improved weapon performance, resistance to damage, increased fire rate, increased bullet damage and health upgrades, all of which you would typically expect to find in an action RPG. In each skill tree is a set of seven skills, each skill can be assigned five skill points to level it up fully. At the beginning of the game each skill tree only has two of the seven skills available, the rest begin to unlock as you assign a certain amount of points to each skill tree. The game is not exclusively restricted to this type of leveling, you are also able to increase your proficiency with different weapon types by using those weapons in-game. What makes RPG’s so successful works brilliantly in Borderlands, the simple addiction of character growth through your own actions, and when those actions involve firing guns and shooting a lot of things dead it makes it a lot more exciting than sitting through dull turn-based battles to gain experience. What makes Borderlands even more addictive is finding loot, something you will spend a great deal of the game doing. It’s such a simple thing but without it Borderland’s would never have been so successful. Everywhere you turn there is something to be found, whether that is money, weapons, ammo, grenade mods, class mods, health vials, artifacts or shields. They are things you need, that are essential to playing the game, not just collectibles that unlock something vague like some concept art in the extras menu and, unlike Fallout 3, Borderlands is not littered with completely useless items. Finding and collecting loot ends up being one of the greatest parts of the Borderlands experience.
Being a FPS naturally means that guns play a big part in the game, but Borderlands takes it to a whole new level. The promise of millions of guns is no exaggeration. Borderlands uses a unique system for the creation of guns called the ‘Procedural Content Creation System’ which randomly generates the statistics for a weapon based on a vast number of variables, such as weapon type, accuracy, reload speed, ammo capacity, elemental effects and fire rate. Weapons are no rare find, they are literally found everywhere and I can guarantee that every weapon you use will feel unique. I have played Borderlands for almost 70 hours and have not once noticed any weapon I’ve picked up to be the same, or truly feel like another. Borderlands has such a massive variation on weapon possibilities it will leave you in awe, and it’s not just limited to firearms either but also to things like shields, grenades, and class modifications. Sadly, this near limitless variation does not apply to the enemies you face, there are very few types of different enemies but this in no way detracts from the game. Enemies are designed brilliantly with that dark humor injected into the design. In terms of human enemies you will be facing bandits, psychos and even midget psychos with shotguns that send them sprawling when they fire at you! There is also a lot of local wildlife to face, for example the dog-like Skaggs, the spitting fire ants, flying Pterodactyl-like creatures that dive bomb you as you pass and exploding slugs. Enemies are also not the standard fare you would find in other first-person shooters, in a nudge towards more traditional RPG mechanics each has a health bar above their heads that depletes as you chip away their health and for the stronger enemies headshots won’t necessarily kill an enemy with one-shot. With each hit you make the damage done will also appear wherever you fire a shot upon their bodies and is color coded dependent on the type of ammo you use which is an awesome touch to the game.