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What makes Han Solo cool? Why does Mad Max excite us? What is it about Firefly that makes us want to sign up for the interplanetary mercenary lifestyle? It’s hard to say for sure, but the pull of a wild frontier, danger, excellent toys, and rich rewards make for irresistible TV, movies, and games.

The admirably busy Gearbox has its grimy hands elbow-deep in a similar mash of genres. Borderlands plays like an action shooter, but there’s plenty more to it. “We describe it as an RPS - a role-playing shooter,” says Gearbox President Randy Pitchford. “It’s a hardcore action game, but we want to develop our characters, we want to get more powerful, get better stuff, better loot.” In other words: experience points for kills, missions, and exploration that gradually unlock new abilities.

You’re a fortune hunter on the planet Pandora: a vast, dusty rock at the edge of known space. Previously, mining prospered on Pandora, but some ’orrible beasties are waking up from the giant planet’s decades-long winter and colonists are fleeing en masse. Only bandits and the hardier settlers remain, along with the likes of you - plucky adventurers. “You don’t want to go out there unless you’ve got a good reason,” says Randy, but we do: rumors abound of a pristine alien vault, home to incredible technology that’ll make you richer than Trump.

You pick your character from one of three archetypes: Mordecai, a “hunter,” who specializes in sniping; Roland, a more typical mercenary type “soldier”; and the mysterious Lilith, a “siren” whose magic-like abilities are under wraps for now. Beyond the starting abilities, as you level up you select the areas you want to specialize in. As you use certain types of weapons or equipment, you gain expertise, making you more accurate or effective in the field.

Your character is persistent, but your game isn’t necessarily. You can jump into a friend’s game with your character, gain levels and pick up loot, and hop back into your own. Or play through entirely in co-op mode, where Gearbox plans to make room for four players.

Much has been made of the game’s supposed half-million-plus guns. Well, it’s true, and it’s pretty awesome: the game randomizes loot drops and the content of containers similarly to what you’ve seen in Diablo. So, you’ll get a certain weapon base model, with a certain scope, certain ammo type, modified in a certain way… and you’ll never see the same weapon twice. We expect lots of showing off.

+ Sci-fi first-person action blended with RPG-style leveling, co-op multiplayer, and randomized loot.
– Promises to be a co-op blast, but will the single-player game pale by comparison?

Sep 26, 2008