25 Reviews

Borderlands

Headshots and experience points, together at last. But will this lead to eternal love or a messy divorce?

This shotgun shoots rockets. This rocket launcher sprays acid. This sniper rifle sets fire to its target. These grenades make it rain electricity. Rain electricity.

There are very few games that are quite as psychotically enthusiastic about killing guys as Borderlands is - if this were a man, it would be locked up and kept away from society for the rest of its natural life.

It's not a man, of course. It's a very silly game about shooting very silly people with very silly guns. Half first-person shooter and half roleplayer, it's an attempt to pair up two of gaming's most compulsive elements: killing and collecting, repeated for hours and hours on end.

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Does proven fun + proven fun = double-fun? Well, it's refreshingly colourful, it's huge (around 100 hours if you don't ignore all the side quests), and it's forever showering you with new toys. You'll enjoy yourself. But that's not the end of the story.

Say you take a quest to go and kill a load of guys/angry alien wildlife and you're rewarded with experience points, cash and/or weapons. Pretty standard fare in an MMO or hack 'n' slash RPG, but the twist is that you need to be a good aim too.

It sounds like as winning a formula as action videogaming could possibly offer, especially once you throw in a random weapon generation system that means there are, in theory, millions of different guns.

The trouble is, the vast bulk of those guns feel, well, the same. Your heart will leap when you spy a rocket-loaded shotgun or a rocket launcher that fires three explosives at once, but when you shoot it a Mutant Midget Psycho's tiny head, the effect is only ever seeing a blue armour bar and/or a red health bar decrease.

There isn't much sense of impact or carnage, just of whittling down the hitpoints. You pull the right trigger to fire, and a split second later a health bar reduces a little or a lot. It doesn't feel like those two things are entirely related.

Sometimes, they're not - whether it's dodgy hitboxes or invisible dice rolls, a perfect shot occasionally fails to achieve anything. If this were Guitar Hero, you'd be checking the screen sync was right every ten minutes. The controls generally feel a bit off, especially in the fiddly button-pushing that's necessary to collect loot and open the omnipresent crates, which severely disrupts the flow and pace. You end up spending more time cleaning up than you do fighting.

Fortunately, the violence is much more satisfying when you're in one of the insta-spawned, identical vehicles. They might eschew the roleplaying elements entirely, but being a high-speed vehicular action game suits Borderlands' look and tone much more than comparing reload speeds on two machine pistols.

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Inevitably, you're only allowed the buggy in certain areas and can't customise it beyond colour and a very limited weapon choice, but this enforced car/foot variety keeps the game fresh.

But the quests, the bread and butter of your exploring and levelling, aren't terribly varied, and even the core storyline - about gaining access to a mysterious alien vault on the decrepit planet Pandora - isn't much more than Go Here! Now There! Now Here! It can feel a little like playing World of Warcraft on your own, but with more explosions. Enemies even visibly respawn.

That said, it comes alive in co-op play, where you're all ganging up on giganto-beasts, manning the turrets in each others' vehicles and comparing the four different player classes' abilities.

Co-op is the game's best opportunity to really sing - when played solo, it's rarely ever more than a tuneful whistle.

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