Borderlands – the unknown Game of the Year

With Call of Duty, Modern Warfare 2, and Left for Dead 2 scheduled for November release dates, many other first person shooters aren’t getting much press. Every year, a few staggeringly good games get overshadowed by more popular games that receive almost all of the press coverage. Borderlands, Gearbox’s new RPS (Role Playing Shooter) is an incredible game that has been overlooked by many players in lieu of many other highly anticipated shooters. Borderlands is available on the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.

Borderlands is an incredibly unique experience that combines a first person shooter and a role playing game. Although many comparisons have been made to Fallout 3, Borderlands fully captures the essence of both genres.

The graphics were not engineered to look realistic, but have an almost cartoonish effect. The graphics make use of a technique called cell shading and fit with the presentation of the game. Although they definitely don’t look spectacular in screenshots, they are quite impressive on an actual TV.

Players follow one of four characters, all with different strengths, who are treasure hunters searching for alien loot in the desert wasteland of Pandora. As the story progresses, the characters delve deeper into the wasteland in search of “the vault,” a location said to house legendary alien treasure. Although there is a main story line, with quests that eventually lead to the conclusion of the story, the world of Pandora is entirely open and players can explore as they see fit.

The world of Pandora houses many creatures and enemies that are trying to keep you from progressing towards the treasure. As a shooter, the game incorporates a typical screen layout and the standard shooter controls. However what sets Borderlands apart from other shooters is the diversity in weaponry. There are over seventeen million different guns in the game. Yes, you read that right, 17,000,000. Granted, the guns are randomized from different parts, but the developers took special care into making every weapon model unique. It is incredibly unlikely that players will ever see the same gun twice.

The game incorporates a loot system similar to many RPG’s. Players of games like World of Warcraft and the Diablo series will be right at home with the loot system. Guns are indeed numerous, but Gearbox has made it incredibly easy to compare the guns and quickly select which ones are upgrades to what a player may currently be carrying.

Borderlands interface is set up around quests. Players may progress through the main story line or complete many of the side quests available for extra weapons, cash, or just plain fun. These quests are incredibly fun alone, but even more fun with friends.  Borderlands features two player split screen cooperative play, and four player cooperative online play. Both the split screen and online coop are of a “drop in, drop out,” style meaning that players can leave or join games at any time and the other player’s game is not affected. All loot gained while playing with friends can be taken back to the single player game.

The enemies are vast and are incredibly smart. Gearbox took a lot of time to carefully make every enemy behave in a different way then the rest. The enemies also become more frequent and difficult when more players are present. The difficulty of enemies scales as the player progresses and levels up. Borderlands definitely isn’t a cakewalk, but it isn’t so difficult to the point where it gets frustrating.

Although the story isn’t really anything to speak of, execution is where Borderlands really shines. The game is almost flawless and really feels like a full first person shooter and a full role playing game. I’ve heard that there are some framerate issues on large scale battles on the PS3 and 360, but I have encountered nothing to date. All the weapons feel right, and the controls are neither sluggish, nor too responsive. The unique graphical presentation really fits with the style of the game, and the humorous writing is a nice touch.

Borderlands is a gem of a game, and I would fully recommend this game to anyone that’s a fan of either shooters or RPG’s. It’s a shame such a good game has been mostly unnoticed. I’d give this game a 9.5/10, and although I haven’t finished it yet, I plan on putting many more hours into it. This game really immerses the player into the environment and is a blast to play. Although the game is much more fun with friends, it is a blast single player as well. All in all, Borderlands is really a complete package, and I think it will be able to compete with highly anticipated games such as Modern Warfare 2 for game of the year.