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Borderlands review

AT A GLANCE
  • Collecting weapons
  • Splattering bandits across the sand
  • Four player co-op
  • Bland quests and characters
  • Running out of ammo
  • The repetitive repetition

Borderlands lacks the charm of Fallout 3, Mass Effect, or Half-Life 2, but it does offer a crap-ton of ‘roided-out bandits, effed-up dog things, giant spider demons, and screeching pterodactyl beasts to shoot with a crap-ton of guns. And that’s really what it’s about – finding weapons and shooting things with them. You have to assign a skill point now and then, and there’s kind of a story, but those things don’t matter much. You can skip the text description of every quest in the game, because they will always consist of the following steps:

A. Go somewhere.
B. Kill some shit.
C. Flip a switch or something.
D. Kill some more shit.
E. Success!

It’s a bit like an MMO in that respect. Quest-giving characters yammer like schizophrenic cassette players, barking out the same few lines every time you enter or exit their domicile, and vacantly assign you quests which you will not read the descriptions of. The bulk of the game is a combat grind, and everything else just exists to offer a modicum of structure. And if this all sounds horribly negative, keep reading – Borderlands is not a bad game, and for some, the heavy focus on combat and loot collecting will be a plus (it’s not as if it hasn’t been done before…talking to you, Diablo).


The story

You’re one of four vault hunters on the wasteland Pandora. Naturally, you’re looking for “The Vault,” a legendary location packed with alien technology and riches and stuff. Oh, and there’s a grainy, scan-liney woman trying to help you find it. That’s about it. This is all explained in a stylish and very cool cutscene at the start of the game.


Above: Sexy! 


Above: Neat! 

And then the excitement takes a hit as hard as the dog beast in the screen above. After the character selection and gameplay introduction are over, the once promising characters are reduced to a few catch phrases, your robotic guide quickly becomes annoying (and thankfully leaves you alone, mostly), and the devious Doctor Zed, who is introduced with great style, turns out to be a cardboard cutout (and so do the rest of the NPCs you’ll meet).


Above: Cool! 


Above: Text… 

And what of the grainy, scan-liney woman?


Above: Cortana? 

She just reappears throughout the game to let you know that you’re playing it correctly. Which means befriending the locals by killing bandits and performing errands for them which also involve killing bandits (and sometimes dog beasts). The excitement level does ramp up again, but not thanks to any more examples of the style displayed in the first ten minutes of the game – it’s a shame that such a cool feeling fades so quickly. After the opening, it’s entirely the gun collecting and combat that make the game worthwhile, so we won’t even mention the story again.


The guns

It’s all about the guns: combat rifles, machine guns, sub-machine guns, shotguns, sniper rifles, revolvers, pistols, rocket launchers, and many that can’t be categorized or that we ought not to spoil. And of each type, there are multiple manufacturers, models, bonuses, and elemental modifications. Seriously, there are a lot of guns.


Above: Discovering a quality weapon stash is a very satisfying feeling 

Your skill level in a certain weapon type will rise the more you use that type of weapon, and you can use any weapon with any character (though your character’s skills are geared toward certain weapon types). All of the weapons have merits, and you’re best off not constraining yourself to any one or two weapon types. You could try getting through the game purely with sniper rifles and pistols, but you’d probably get frustrated and pick up an SMG or shotgun eventually. But that’s not a problem. As you progress through the game, you gain more inventory space and weapon slots, and you should have room for roughly one weapon of each type. Plus, you’re pretty much forced to try new weapons, as you’re very likely to run out of your favorites’ ammo eventually.


Above: Choosing what to keep and what to toss is the most difficult decision in the game 

Ammo is actually pretty plentiful. Everything drops ammo, and there are lockers and crates full of it. But when you do run out, it’s a real bitch. Certain long firefights will definitely deplete your supplies, leaving you to search around for crates (while being shot at), or retreat to a vending machine to purchase more. This isn’t a huge detractor, as these situations are only momentarily frustrating, but it will probably irk you at some point.


Above: Some weapons have been modified to deliver extra damage and effects, like this static shotgun 

And weapons aren’t the only loot. There are also shields, some of which offer special resistances and healing properties, grenade mods, which drastically change the way your grenades behave (bouncy, sticky, teleporting, health leeching…whatever you want, there’s a mod for that), and class mods, which boost specific skills and introduce new ones. There’s a lot of stuff to collect on the barren world of Pandora.

The combat

Borderlands’ enemies are all variations on a few themes. For example: effed-up dog thing puppies, effed-up dog thing adults, effed-up dog things that spit acid, giant effed-up dog things, giant effed-up dog things that breathe fire, and so on. Alright, they’re actually called skags, and you’ll fight a ton of them, along with various form of bandit, psycho, Rakk (the aforementioned pterodactyl-beasts), antspiders, and more (spoiler: sentient aliens).


Above: Effed-up dog things…or “skags,” if you like the name they chose better 

Enemies always come in groups, and the attack strategies are pretty standard. Stay back and take out the group patiently with ranged weapons, or sprint in and decimate several enemies at a time with shotguns and SMGs. Try to score critical hits (headshots for most humans, any part of the body not armored for animals), use cover to allow your shields time to recharge, and utilize your character’s special ability.


Above: A typical bandit, just before the head vaporizing 

The ranged approach can be advantageous because the enemy AIs are sometimes a little busted. Animals will always chase you down. Certain bandits, however, are constrained to their areas, and won’t leave for any reason. Instead, they’ll just pace back and forth and spray bullets in your general direction. In that case, you’ll have all the time you need to hide and recharge between volleys (though enemy shields do recharge over time, so keeping the pressure on is important).

Despite that and a few other nitpicky bugs, the AIs are pretty successful, and there’s enough behavior variety to keep the fights interesting. Regular bandits stay back and take cover. Bruisers walk forward as if your bullets are made of rubber. Psychos sprint straight for you, clutching live grenades, lighting themselves on fire, or tossing axes in your direction. How fun for them.


Above: This guy doesn’t look very scared of us 

The game’s difficulty is mostly self-regulating. If you’re stuck on a mission or boss, you can keep at it over and over, and you’ll eventually level up and have an easier time. There’s very little penalty for dying – you’re set back to the last “New-U” station you passed, and pay a fee. Recently-killed enemies stay dead, and quest objectives stay checked. All you have to do is get back to where you were and keep fighting. And you can always enlist the help of friends (or strangers). Four player co-op is really the game’s shining moment.


Above: When your health is depleted, you’re given a chance to revive yourself by scoring a kill from the ground 

Most importantly, the combat is fun. Shotgunning, detonating, and knifing waves of ‘roid-raging bandits, squashing skags in rocket launcher equipped buggies, bringing down absurdly massive bosses with bouncing grenades and rocket launchers – it’s all enjoyable enough that the repetition is forgivable. But you must realize that this is all there is. It’s wave after wave of the same enemies, then waves of slightly more difficult enemies, and so on. It’s a bit of a grind, but grinding through a hostile wasteland with three friends can be a lot of fun. And it does feel nice to level up and discover new, more powerful weapons.


Above: With each level comes a skill point to assign to one of your character’s specialties. If you regret your decisions, you can always reset your skill points for a fee 


Above: This video is representative of a large portion of the game

The look

Borderlands is bold looking. It’s not quite as bold as MadWorld, but it’s prettier, and looks just as much like a playable comic book. You’ll be pressed up against the scenery just to get a good look at the textures. It doesn’t disappoint with the gore, either.

However - and it’s not a huge “however,” but it has to be said – the environments do feel samey. They all have certain distinguishing features, but after a while, they start to blend together into a mush of deteriorating shacks and rocky landscapes. Still, Pandora is a well-imagined wasteland, and is worthy of at least one long trip.


Above: The very first town you enter 


Above: 22 levels later, and looking just a little similar 


Is it better than…

Halo 3: ODST?  Signs point to yes. We swear we’re not reviewing games with a Magic 8-Ball - this is just a challenging comparison. Borderlands is bigger, more complex, more diverse, and is generally a newer experience, but ODST is built on an established and already well-liked universe, whereas Borderlands’ Mad Maxey, Tank Girlish planet and non-story become a little “meh” after a while. Though so do Halo’s, depending on who you ask.

Fallout 3?  Don’t be ridiculous! …Though it might be nice to mash them up. A game with all the charming layers of Fallout 3 and the weapons and combat of Borderlands might work very well. But as it is, Borderlands is a game with excellent mechanics and not a lot of soul, so despite its entertaining combat, it’s far from a challenger to Fallout’s status.


Red Faction: Guerrilla?  Maybe. They’re both open-world shooters with vehicles, but they’re immensely different. Red Faction is about gameplay variety, choice, action, and Borderlands… isn’t the opposite of all that, but it’s much more calculated and paced. Your missions in Borderlands are accomplished by going to a marker and killing some bandits, not crashing through buildings, rescuing hostages and then blowing some shit up just because it seems fun. It’s difficult to say if one is definitively better than the other, so we’ll just say that if you like instant gratification, pick up Red Faction: Guerrilla.


Just for you, Metacritic!


Borderlands is a very entertaining shooter and a rather bland RPG. It rewards dedication with new guns and new things to shoot at, which is all kinds of fun for players who enjoy MMO-style progression. But if its charm and depth hadn’t been abandoned so quickly, it may have been absolutely brilliant.

Oct 19, 2009

More Info

Release date: Oct 26 2009 - PC
Oct 20 2009 - Xbox 360, PS3 (US)
Available Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Genre: Shooter
Published by: 2K Games
Developed by: Gearbox
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Mature Humor, Strong Language
PEGI Rating:
18+

79 comments

  • Death Wish66678 - April 1, 2014 12:12 a.m.

    This is definitely a classic and I still enjoy playing it. I have been a fan of the game since day one. I had an x gf steal my original copy but it's all good. I ended up buying goty edition and have all the dlc for it. So epic. I love this game. The only drawback is that traveling can get boring and difficult to find stuff on the map.
  • halowarfare - May 16, 2010 5:03 a.m.

    Running out of ammo?! I have problems with too much ammo, the game deserves better such as a 9 out 10. The car always glitches and that is my only problem with the game.
  • oreomonkey - January 9, 2010 8:16 a.m.

    demigod how many hot pockets did you eat while typing that
  • oreomonkey - January 9, 2010 8:16 a.m.

    Fallout 3 sucked nuts because of the way you shot the guns; if it had a cod type zoom i would have bought it but a pause the game choose which body part to shoot type bs is just stupid
  • Demigod - January 7, 2010 6:48 p.m.

    Wow this game is bad ass and funny because of some of the tougher enemy are labeled. (like badass corrosive skag) I haven't finished it but its crazy as hell. The character's abilitys are crazy. Beserker's are truely the type that says "I'm goin to go psycho on all these bitches!" The soldier is great with his scorpio turret's ability. The hunter I haven't used yet but my brother uses him and blood wing the halk is his ability. The siren is like a ticking time bomb with her phase walking by self-destructing, (without taking damage) going invisible, running super fast and then the second self destruction (without taking damage) and becoming visible. Team play is the best damn thing with this having your own ability to boost the team. You don't have to pick different charathers you can be the same and change their color and name instead of playing by the name roland, mordecai, lilith, or brick. you can duel in the middle of no where by melee team mate and them returning a melee hit or go to a colliseum and set up a battle. This kinda has the rpg import thing like bulder gate or champion of norrath, except it has to be at the main menu where it show split-screen instead of bring them in the middle of play. Who's ever the host/first player that's who's story is played. This game is like almost every game mix in a disc. It is actually a must have, no joke! I don't know why people are looking at it badly. I spent almost 3 days straight with almost no sleep. Its so addicting. Sure the case look like another game you'd be done with like halo 3 or army of two but NOT THIS ONE! The vehicle aren't all that but hey at least there is one. You can change the color of it and wither it has a machine gun or a rocket launcher on the top. You can have 2 people in one and you can have up to 2 vehicles. It has boost, lock on abilitys for one person in it, and a sheild that goes up when you level up. There are a lot of ramps to and every a race track in... I think its called Dalh headstone or something. You can't really set up fair races but if your messin around I guess you have some fun with a friend, not to mention a achievement for goin around the track fast. The guns... well its already been explained! Oh and to end this long ass comment (SORRY!) The missions, there is no way you can come up with there nothing to do on this. like guns but not that many, their are a load of mission but you could skip some and do the main mission but the exp, money, and sometimes a reward is well worth it. Well seriously this isn't all but I'm tired so it what ever. I'm going to play some more.
  • oryandymackie - December 19, 2009 8:57 p.m.

    So what happens after you've completed the main story? Are there still settlements inhabited by those psycho dudes who will attack you, or are you just roaming an empty wasteland? Can someone with experience PM me if you have the time?
  • Ricochet3438 - December 5, 2009 4:27 p.m.

    I thought that this game looked dumb from the start, this review just confirmed my suspicions
  • CreeplyTuna - November 8, 2009 1 p.m.

    this game plays like cod 4 mixed with ramped up graphics from XIII. if only you could create guns...that would make this game a 10
  • AuthorityFigure - June 29, 2012 8:03 p.m.

    Yeah I thought of XIII right away when I started this up.
  • GrandMoffBubbles - October 31, 2009 2:15 p.m.

    P.P.S. before you try this with your beloved weps try it with garbage 1st to make sure it works for you.
  • GrandMoffBubbles - October 31, 2009 12:08 p.m.

    p.s. make sure you name the in game character as a Bank otherwise you get confused like I just did, con sarnit!!
  • GrandMoffBubbles - October 31, 2009 11:50 a.m.

    I f*cking love this game. Great review Tyler by the way. This post is for all of you gun nuts that hate to sell or ditch lower level weps that you love (and wanna give to a different character you play as on the next playthrough) as you find better ones. Ok here goes, since this game does not have a bank (like MMOs), you need to create a Bank avatar your console of choice. I named mine "Phaser Bank" because I'm a Star Trek nerd (AIG is clever too if you hate Banks like I do!). Next step is to sign in as your higher lvl toon (Bad Dude),start the game, start split screen and then sign in and join as your Bank toon. This will require two controllers since we will be starting a split-screen MP match. Don't forget to press the "start" button to add your Bank toon to the game. When you set up your Banker toon you will have to go thru the first few lvls before you unlock your backpack. Once this is done you can follow the instructions above to start a split-screen match. Now that you have your Bad Dude and Bank toon on split screen, just have the Bad Dude drop the item that you want transferred and then switch to the Bank toon controller and pick it up. Logout Bank toon. Its that easy. I hope this was helpful to all you Borderlands weapon loot whores out there like me. I only recommend this action if you fall in love with a wep like I did. Oh, "Detonating Cobra", "Angry Sweeper" and "HVY29 Scoped Machine Gun" you are my babies and you shall find a home. By Bubbles, I vow this!!!
  • demonslayer76 - October 25, 2009 2:03 p.m.

    i would have to agree with jackthemenace. superhumans were a pain, and i didnt like fallouts combat that much, but i still liked the game since im an rpg freak too bad my moneys going to MW2, im a CoD freak too
  • FPSmonster - October 25, 2009 12:40 p.m.

    This game is just great. Can't wait for to come out on PC!It's funny how they made 87 bazillion guns.:)
  • patri0t - October 24, 2009 11:34 p.m.

    looks playable...
  • jackthemenace - October 24, 2009 12:23 p.m.

    if this is anything like fallout 3, i glady await it. i think it might even be better than fallout 3, because FO got a bit repetitive and the constant super mutant brutes really pissed me off...
  • greenwhine - October 24, 2009 10:48 a.m.

    i was extremly put of at the start of review and was out 2 stop reading till it said that i should keep reading, am glad i did, im definatly gonna buy it, my frend said taht the guns feel lk cod 4 so they obviously put alot of concentration in2 it all becouse cod 4 was god like with the guns and how they move
  • Spybreak8 - October 23, 2009 5:38 a.m.

    woah, Mr. Wilde's review gets mentioned over at Gamasutra: http://tiny.cc/5Xmce
  • Godstrike3020 - October 23, 2009 3:07 a.m.

    who ever said this game was bad your a joke every bodys lauhfin ha ha hah this game is crackdown and fallout 3 havin a baby and metalica and call of duty had a baby and to to babys grew up and they had a baby its name would be BORDERLANDS
  • HeavyTank - October 22, 2009 2:15 p.m.

    FPS RPG's?Are you kidding me?Most FPS's right now have some RPG elements...and online play, of course. @MikeHawk: "Because being a FPS with RPG elements set in a Wasteland isn't similar enough to warrant comparison?" No.Fallout's map is a post-apocalytpic Earth, and the inhabitants are (mostly) sane, and the weapons are custom-crafted, and there are nukes, and there are choices that will affect the story, and there are character creation options, and it's not focused on shooting everything that moves. I can name plenty more but I'm kinda bored right now.

Showing 1-20 of 79 comments

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