Thursday, March 11, 2010

Borderlands, the Endless Game

504x_borderlands_box_art I picked up a copy of Gearbox’s RPG-shooter hybrid Borderlands on launch day after some prodding by Rob, and because all of the pre-release press called it basically a first-person Diablo with guns. I was reluctant, but I quickly came around.

Borderlands was one of our favorite games of 2009, not least because it was not a sequel to something in a holiday season that was predictably filled with sequels to stuff. We enthusiastically agreed to do a group review of the game, probably because none of us wanted to stand by while someone else got to gush about this game for a few hundred words.

We never got around to that review. It might be because we’re lazy, shiftless assholes with real jobs who don’t want to spend time reading each others’ writing. It could also be because we’re still playing this game.

The game itself

Borderlands is, like 98% of all video games, a Shooter of the First-Person variety (the other 2% is 1% artsy puzzle-platformers indie games, 1% other ). The twist in this case is the RPG part of the equation – you pick a character class at the game’s outset, your character levels up, you spend a lot of time allocating skill points, and you quickly become obsessed with collecting the loot that rains from your enemies’ dead bodies like candy from a piñata.

The game also plays a little in Grand Theft Auto’s sandbox, featuring a structure that is mostly mission-based (“go here, do this, repeat”) and generally ignoring story in favor of anarchical mayhem. The game does have a sense of humor just off-kilter enough to be endearing, even though it doesn’t seem like the game knows what it wants to do with its sense of the humor most of the time.

And there are cars, and enemies with ridiculous names like Badass Corrosive Skag, and your character can throw exploding punches if you really want him to. If you’re a fan of either shooters or RPGs, Borderlands’ barely-contained madness is going to strike a chord with you.

It’s dangerous to go alone

borderlands_e3_screenshot_6 It’s a blast to play by yourself, but where Borderlands really shines is in its cooperative multiplayer. Any of your friends can hop into your game and run and gun with you at any time without interrupting your progress, and the game’s only response is to scale the difficulty accordingly.

Occasional weird sync issues aside, this is where you find the true meat of Borderlands – playing with others adds a certain something to the game that it’s missing in the regular single player mode, whether you’re in over your head in a cave full of enemies or driving off into the distance, leaving your friend to curse your name and watch you disappear over the horizon.

This is the game that never ends

Second only to the multiplayer on the list of things I like about Borderlands is Gearbox’s aggressive downloadable content strategy – plenty and often. The first download, The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, was a solid reiteration of the game proper’s tropes set in an environment that was actually a little different from the one or two looks that the rest of the game had. The second, Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot, changed things up a bit by focusing on arena-style battles instead of free-ranging missions. The most recent piece, The Secret Armory of General Knoxx, moved the game into full-on World of Warcraft mode, raising your character’s level cap and adding new vehicles and weapons in with the requisite new missions and levels.

The WoW comparison, distasteful as it might be to some, is actually more apt than most – Gearbox’s Paul Hellquist gave an interview earlier this week in which he suggested the possibility of even more downloadable content to come, and a suit from Borderlands’ publisher Take-Two went far enough to say that new content is coming.

Couple those statements with the fact that Borderlands continues to sell well past the one-or-two-month window where most big games make the majority of their sales and the fact that all of the downloadable content packs have been Xbox Live bestsellers, and you’ve got yourself a game that isn’t going anywhere.

The review does end though, guys, sorry

clap Borderlands has its share of problems. Your cars frequently move as though they were filled entirely with helium, which is equal parts hilarious and frustrating. The graphics are serviceable but the game worlds are almost universally the drab gray-and-brown that game developers can’t get away from of late. The story is both nonsensical and inconsequential, and the final boss battle is the very definition of anticlimax. I hope I didn’t spoil anything for you, but if I did, I’m sorry I spoiled your disappointment by allowing you time to prepare yourself for it.

Those flaws are there, but they are part of its character, and part of what makes it the solid B+ game that we enjoy so much around these parts. I can’t recommend it enough, and if Gearbox has its way, I’ll probably not be able to stop recommending it to you for quite awhile.