Borderlands – hands-on

The voice of Gearbox’s founder Randy Pitchford cuts through the air: “These players were coming up to the crest of a hill and this wall of flame shot up. Some dude emerged and had an Alien-style flamethrower under his arm, and I was like: ‘What the f**k’s that?’”

Even the creator of Borderlands still gets surprised, shocked, and stands slack-jawed at what’s going on in his own game – when that happens you know you’re in for a treat. The gimmick here is that the bespoke software created for the game generates the weapons randomly. There are over a million variants on shotguns, machine-guns, flamethrowers, pistols, grenade launchers and every other stock death-dealer you’d expect. So many, even Pitchford still struggles to predict what the game will throw-up next.

It’s one of Borderland’s key strengths: the ability to surprise on every turn. Our play of the near-finished code was testament to the game’s ability to dumbfound. We began near the start: our character had been set up using the in-game ‘gene generator’, which had echoes of Fallout 3 about its connection to the game world. Even the simple task of creating a character’s name, class and look is rooted in the game’s universe.

Our tutorial began by following a small robot called Claptrap (terrible name), who soon becomes established as the game’s touchstone for advice, missions and fluff about the alien world of Pandora. A few shootouts later in the town of Fyrestone, and we’d rescued a Dr. Zed, repaired a Med Vender and shot our fill of Skags – a cross between attack dogs and giant beetles. They like human blood.

There’s a nod to Fallout 3 that can’t be avoided, and there’s a sly wink to BioShock too. The game’s world is open to an extent (central hubs are linked by new hubs loaded in as you enter caves and canyons) and detail is rich and constant. Whether it’s the vending machines that dispense ammo, weapons, health, upgrades and combat items – or the eccentric Wild West-style characters, everything helps create a sense of place not felt since BioShock’s watery wastes.

Thankfully the action is masterfully brutal and holds the whole game together. It’s something Pitchford is making every effort to express: “We started with a first-person shooter and came to it with RPG elements, not the other way around,” he explains excitedly. “We took the ideas of growth and choice that define RPGs and added them to the FPS genre, so while a normal FPS would give you one type of shotgun, we give you all the shotguns; one may be short with a wider shot, another is longer for more accuracy, one has two barrels; another has four…” You get the general idea.

That choice doesn’t affect the game’s balancing or gunplay - every weapon, no matter what the game randomly offers you when dropped by a defeated enemy, handles beautifully. The early weapons - an old rusty automatic rifle and a pistol - crackled wonderfully with each pull of the trigger. The old rifle spat bullets chaotically while the pistol was more accurate with softer sounding shots. Every time a bullet hit home the enemy squealed and looked for cover as their lives drifted skywards in little numbers… 8, 12, 11, 14, dead. Borderlands is a shooter, but it’s also an RPG.

The better your accuracy, the greater the damage, with every enemy having weaknesses. For example, the Skags are best shot as they leap at you with their jaws open, exposing the soft flesh of their mouths, and later on, larger Starship Troopers-esque, pincer-wheeling monsters appear with a soft spot on their backs. Hit these to ignite the phrase ‘CRITICAL HIT’ across the screen.

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  • Godstrike3020 - August 30, 2009 4:58 a.m.

    this game is ganna be one of the most revulutionary games ever, nothin could beat this game
  • Spybreak8 - August 28, 2009 3:50 a.m.

    I gotta say I read only half of the first page and browsed through the rest. I don't want to spoil anything, so want this! lol repatcha "Saigon neptune"
  • shockolate - August 27, 2009 1:13 p.m.

    looks ballin
  • crumbdunky - August 27, 2009 10:55 a.m.

    GR-don't call Fallout3 a "shooter" when the aiming mechanic is so broken as to be totally insulting. VATS was sh1t as well, imo. In actual fact this looks like being a whole lot better at the hybridisation of the RPG and FPS genres than F3-which, imo, was the most overrated game I've ever played and after loving the first two Fallout games that's really sad. I know the look of Vorderlands has split folk but I think it adds something by taking the game away from the Fallout/Killzone/Gears brown world.Looking forward to this one actually.
  • cart00n - August 27, 2009 9:23 a.m.

    Already pre-ordered this puppy...
  • Samael - August 27, 2009 3:51 a.m.

    I hate the super-cluttered HUD, but otherwise I'm interested.
  • DarbonX - August 27, 2009 1:51 a.m.

  • erreip199 - August 27, 2009 12:48 a.m.

    is it possible to reobtain a weapon set uve used before? like building another copy of ur existing weapon so u can still use it when original wears out
  • Ninja-KiLLR - August 27, 2009 12:08 a.m.

    i really want
  • Dexsus - August 27, 2009 12:01 a.m.

    Oct 23rd can't get here fast enough.
  • shadowless92 - August 26, 2009 11:49 p.m.

    WOW i want this so bad i wonder when ill get my xbox back from my mums safe lol
  • Mittenz - August 26, 2009 11:09 p.m.

  • Makk_Mizzy - August 30, 2009 10:26 a.m.

    I will say if there are more achievements online than offline Im not going to buy it because I don't have LIVE! That would be so koo' if it was like Left4Dead 2 where you can achieve all of the achievements online or offline, I will wait to see!
  • Wonderwolf - August 29, 2009 7:14 p.m.

    I really want it!!
  • Csheroe - August 28, 2009 3:01 p.m.

    Pre ordered yesterday. Sweet.
  • Tymiegie - August 27, 2009 10:23 p.m.

    I am truly pumped for this game. It reeks of uniqueness. Even the cover is special. A guy with his fingers to his head like suicide. Can not wait.
  • demonDogg88 - August 27, 2009 12:17 p.m.

    i am soooooo going to love this game!!!!
  • Liquidocleot32 - August 27, 2009 11:41 a.m.

    This Game Looks Amazing, although the characters are nothing special. lol my captcha is weasel fusion
  • shadowmike75 - August 27, 2009 5:55 a.m.

    at erreip: Weapons dont degrade or break.
  • BlackIce575 - August 27, 2009 12:40 a.m.

    it might be OK i might rent it but that's it