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Score: 95%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Gearbox Software
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: First Person Shooter/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:
When I first read about Borderlands a few months ago, I was somewhat interested. To be honest, several other games releasing around the projected time took forefront in my mind, so the newly introduced FPS franchise from Gearbox Software fit into my plans mainly as a stop-gap between these other, more compelling titles. All that changed when I fired up the PS3 and started the game for the first time. Almost immediately, I was hooked!

Borderlands takes place in the future, on the distant planet Pandora. Players take on the guise of one of four treasure-hunting mercenaries, recently come to Pandora on a quest to find the mysterious Vault, purported to be a trove of riches from an ancient civilization, enough to make the person who finds it wealthy beyond imagination. Pandora looks like someone paid a visit to Monument Valley, Utah and left it filled with garbage. This desert-esque landscape works extremely well when rendered using cel-shaded graphics. I was skeptical of this choice initially, but I will bow to the wisdom of the developers, as this style does a great job of showing off the detail of the environments while providing a perfect canvas for the over-the-top gratuitous violence that runs rampant throughout Pandora. The soundtrack of the game provides a perfect compliment to the visual appeal. From the introductory scene which features Cage The Elephant's hit song Ain't No Rest For The Wicked, the music is spot-on throughout. While mostly understated, it peeks at just the right moments, giving great auditory clues for when an unseen creature might be taking aim at the player. The voiceovers are all well done, often extremely witty, especially in regards to the amusing little robots known as claptraps. If I have to throw in a negative, it would be that some of these snippets of audio get repetitive, but that is a small concern, very small indeed.

There are obvious comparisons between Borderlands and Bethesda's 2008 Game of the Year, Fallout 3. Though many of the same elements are present, there are some fundamental differences that set the two apart. If Fallout 3 is an RPG with FPS elements, Borderlands is the polar opposite, an FPS with RPG elements. Instead of creating a character, players choose from one of four pre-fab characters, each corresponding to a classic class paradigm: tank, medic, wizard, rogue. Once chosen, players will have the chance to customize the character by choosing which skills to develop throughout the course of the game. Each character has three skill trees and players can mix-and-match these skills as suits their play-style. Make a mistake? Not a big deal, as characters can be respec'd for a relatively low sum of money. Players progress in a standard RPG style, earning money and experience by eliminating various bandits or creatures, usually in a visceral spray of bodily fluids. Seeing enemy heads (and sometimes the entire upper body) disappear in a red mist after a well-placed sniper round explosively exits the brain-pan just doesn't ever get old.

The RPG elements continue in-as-much as the story is largely quest-driven. As mentioned, players are on Pandora to find the Vault. The journey to discovery will be long and arduous, requiring many battles as the player searches, under the guidance of a mysterious woman, for various parts of the Vault key. What do players use to arm themselves in these myriad of battles you ask? Guns! Lots of guns! Borderlands uses a random item generator much like the one enjoyed by players in the classic Action-RPG game Diablo. Items are given a random set of attributes including color, build, ammo, ammo capacity and element damage. Gearbox states that there are more than 17,000,000 possible combinations. Completion junkies... good luck is all I can say! For loot-crazed players like myself, Borderlands is a cornucopia of goodness. Oh, and then there is the vehicular combat. Some much to destroy, so little time.

Gearbox apparently spent a lot of time balancing Borderlands, as there seems to be just the right amount of challenge. The player always seems to have a slight advantage (if playing within the given quest area), but not so much so that the game is a cake walk. Monsters which are too difficult will have small skulls that appear by their names, identifying them as creatures to be avoided until the player has gained a bit more experience. The occasional "badass" monster (so titled in the game) will spawn with the normal grunts, providing a substantial challenge to the player, especially until the ability to achieve critical hits is mastered. Even the normal monsters can gang up on you quickly. You will die, and somewhat often. Thankfully, this is not the end of the gaming experience. For a sum of money, based upon how much you currently have, the character is respawned at the last New-U station (read: checkpoint) that was activated. These stations are thankfully common, making the death experience not quite so painful. Even if, as happened to me several times, a nearby station was not activated and the respawn occurs far away, travel time is not too much of an issue. The maps are large, but not so large that traversing them, even on foot, becomes overly cumbersome. Borderlands features a great sprint system in which the character begins to run at the push of a button and remains doing so until the player stops him or her. There is no "stamina" to worry about, the character can literally run forever. But why run when you can ride? Almost every New-U station is located next to a vehicle spawn point, and players can get a new vehicle, at no cost, as often as they like, even customizing color and secondary weapon. Approximately half-way through the game, the player will undertake a quest which will enable the fast-transit system. Once done, players can travel between any previously visited New-U stations instantly. The only complaint I have with this is the fact that it is not introduced earlier in the game, but that is a minor consideration.

Borderlands does suffer from some odd camera angles at times, causing for some consternation during protracted boss engagements or close-quarters combat indoors. The menu/pop-up descriptions are also a bit cumbersome, making selectively picking up loot a bit difficult. Last in my rather slim list of complaints would be the vehicular control. While serviceable, it could have certainly used a little more tweaking and tightening. All said, these are minor issues and easily overlooked due to the overall entertainment value of the game.

Game Mechanics:
Yet another area where Borderlands scores high marks is in the basic mechanics. Controls are intuitive and easy, though at first glance in the manual, it does not appear so. Movement and camera are controlled using the Left and Right Analog Sticks respectively. Firing a weapon is accomplished using the (R2) button, while aiming is done with (L2). Each player has a unique skill which is activated using (L1) and grenades are thrown using (R1) - not (L2) as is listed in the manual that came with the game. All of the basic controls are explained in the early game tutorial which, unlike some stagnant tutorials in other games, is well incorporated into the storyline.

Borderlands is a wonderful single-player experience, but toss in more players and the fun literally explodes. The entire game can be played cooperatively, either in 4-player online play or in 2-player split-screen. Players can drop in and out without exiting an existing game. Unfortunately, split-screen does not allow for characters from multiple accounts, but I'm willing to overlook this simply because Gearbox actually took the time to include this mode, which is noticeably missing from many other FPS-type games on the market today. During Multiplayer games, players work together in battling the creatures, which increase in level and difficulty based upon the level and number of players. Loot drops also increase during Multiplayer. Vehicular combat also evolves, as one player can drive while the other mans the turret, or all players can operate their own vehicles independently. Don't like the way a friend is driving, one quick melee attack from both parties and a shield drops around the two players. Time for a little one-on-one smackdown. Once the duel is completed, the shield disappears and it is back to gaming as before. There is also a Multiplayer arena where players can compete with one another outside of the in-game parameters.

Even with all that I've mentioned above, there are still elements of Borderlands that I'll leave to be discovered by the player. This game, which grabbed me unexpectedly and has refused to let go, provides an addictive gameplay experience for fans of FPS and RPG genres alike. At a price of $49.99, it is certainly a bargain for the coming holiday season.

-The Mung Bard, GameVortex Communications
AKA Buddy Ethridge

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