AAG Feature: Borderlands vs. the world - A Preview of 2K's Latest Smash Hit!

23rd October 2009 - There is no doubt that Borderlands has gained some momentum in the last few weeks, seemingly generating hype and a mass following where there was none before. People have been jumping on the wasteland band-wagon left, right and center and with such ambitious objectives it is easy to see why.


By the time you read this, Borderlands will have dropped. Chances are you are playing it as we speak and hopefully it has been worth the wait. Information is already available on the first round of DLC, so let’s jump in and see exactly, what bang you get for your buck.


84 Bazillion guns and counting

There is always a healthy amount of skepticism when a game purports to having 17 million randomly generated weapons to choose from. Either two things happen; every gun is 'the same' with only a few gems far and wide apart or every gun is so different to each other that balancing issues ensue and no gun works perfectly well.


Note also that they have only ever said 'guns' and not weapons, meaning that with vehicles, melee and probable explosives, there’s a helluva lot of fire power on this desert local.


Too Human infamously promised similar statistics and failed epically, creating a menu system of every item is the same but with different colors; Mass Effect followed similarly with Armor all but identical to each other. Other games still, like Fallout 3 simply were good enough that they didn't need to make such ridiculous claims despite having some of the most unique weapon crafting this side of the century. Borderland's isn't even out yetand already it may have bitten off more, than it can chew. 

Procedurally generated terrain

Another buzz word not properly used in games today is the idea that the landscape and terrain can not only be deformable and destructible but also that each time you enter an instance or dungeon it is different to the last time. Loot drops are random, location of objects and enemies differ and at any one time, you have no idea where you are. This is a steep call, when games like Hellgate, created by ex-Diablo developers no less, fail to make an impression with a whole procedurally generated game. Red Faction 2 had some success destroying all and sundry, so with a Mad Max-esque back story, things for Borderland look promising. However there is a limit to the number of art assets any one game can bring so it won't be long before one box starts to look the same as the next.


Four player co operation

Meet, Brick, Lilith, Mordecai and Roland; four bounty hunters identical no matter who you are. Gearbox have promised a ridiculous amount of clothing and weapon drops, so in theory each character should at least look different. Also each class has a basic tech tree to level up, but at the end of the day, one sniper will be the same as the next. Hopefully limiting player creation allows for a stronger story and single player campaign and although this is best played with all four characters this involves communication with friends to make sure that someone is at least the demo man, the sniper, the scout.


A brief look over the classes also reveals that perhaps the scout, over the heavy and sniper will be favored simply for the shotgun/assault combination.


It would be nice to see if Borderlands allows for branching or changing classes across the board, so long as it doesn't suffer the fate of Fallout 3 where the later DLC guns were so unrighteously unbalanced.


Further, given Borderlands is a shooter in the vein of such post-apocalyptic westerns as Mad Max, the classes and subsequent descriptions leave little to the imagination with cookie-cutter designs. Team Fortress doesn't even have to worry.


I choose you! Instances

On the back of four players co-op comes the news of player-instances and virtual duels. This is welcome news indeed, for a FPS RPG that is not an MMO. For all the acronyms used, it was getting hard to find the role playing in amongst all the weapons but being able to party up and then hop on line to challenge others sounds like it should add depth where there was none. Moreover multi-playing basically includes roaming the wastes completing quests while at the same time, other parties are doing the same thing, in the same game! Fallout 3 obviously, was lacking in this scenario and it would have been great to come across fellow survivors and trade loot. This open-world non-linear approach unfortunately points to a weaker and less structured story, though one filled with a large range of characters and npc to interact with.


Recent console games like Sacred 2 have implemented a similar approach but not so with fully realized first person shooters. If Gear Box, can pull it off this might be as close as MMOs come on the console. 


Cell shaded Graphics with a sick sense of humor

Not last, or least are the graphics, conceivably the selling point to a game which is such a mixed bag of development ideas. Last seen in Prince of Persia, Crackdown, XIII; cell shading graphics are not as new as the stats would have you believe.


Moreover the graphics are the reason for a delayed development on Borderlands, which will either do it wonder or have people crying foul over low polygons and simple AI. Given that Gear Boxes'  technique involved is “unique”, employing a cell shaded outline over detailed materials as opposed to the usual flat textures, the result of bright colors can not helped but be compared to Halo, skewing the whole game away from said realism of Fallout and into more immature territory.


The adult imagery and blood, combined with a hardcore sensibility of violence continues to raise Borderlands above the norm though, with a slick

graphic novel interface and wicked sense of humor.

More loot than you know what to do with

On top of the plethora of guns, Developers 2K Games and Gear Box have promised many additions to pimping out the characters and weapons available. There are a variety of shops and NPC to converse with and buy new equipments and mods to trick out the gear, while the procedurally generating dungeons should provide plenty of differences. To their credit Borderlands does have a few unique twists with mini Bosses and Major bosses referred to as “Bad Asses'”. Even if Borderlands turns out to be a mash-up of WoW with Aliens that may not be such a bad thing, at least on the console versions. 


Point Lookout with Dr Ned

Actually titled: “The Zombie Island of Doctor Ned” this first batch of DLC is already ready to go. While some are crying foul that perhaps it was omitted from the final game and, really should have come with launch, the obvious inspiration of another post-apocalyptic shooter can not be understated. Point lookout was the third DLC for Fallout 3 but Gear Box has stuck with the familiar and produced a zombie island escapade for the first release. Surrounded by water, fighting the un-dead, has the XBOX and PS3 seen enough zombies this year? Gearbox thinks not. Uninspired or original, only time will tell.  It was refreshing to take a bullet to the rampaging red-necks of Point lookout armed as they were, with spades and pipes; we can only hope Dr Neds' are just as fun.


Limited limitlessness limiting online limits

Initial impressions make it hard to know where Borderlands sits. Clearly a first person shooter but with some more than average role-playing elements. Character creation is base but the amount of loot is overwhelming. A successful attempt to emulate Diablo, but with all the flaws of a weak story and a lot of grinding. Some clever humor and slick visuals should help it rise above the rest, but poor AI and enemy types means the difference between Saints Row and GTA IV. While one is abundantly true to form, the other is an enjoyable over the top crap-shot of carnage and adult humor. If you didn't get the inference; Fallout 3 is to GTA IV what Borderlands will be to Saints Row.


A strong contender for Game of the year and probably the closest thing to Firefly Sci-fi fans will get; after the  TV show was canceled- Mad Max, eat your heart out!


The coverage keeps coming next week, with a complete review and our first post-wasteland impressions thanks to a review copy from our good friends over at 2K Games.


Article Written By Ian Crane