In an age where shooters are all trying to outdo each other’s realism, it’s refreshing to hear Gearbox’s creative director Mikey Neumann tell us that, "realism can eat shit and die." This bolshy mantra is first made apparent in Borderland‘s new art style. It’s gone cel-shaded since we last saw it, making for a flashier, comic-book style vibe. This succeeds at streamlining the focus of the game from a gritty, desolate atmosphere to pure, raw fun.
Borderlands is a "Role-Playing Shooter" from Gearbox Interactive, the creators of Half-Life: Opposing Force and the Brothers in Arms series. It aims to combine the open-ended structure and leveling commonly found in role-playing games with first-person shooter combat and a healthy dose of co-op. Borderlands is primarily set in a desert wasteland of the hostile planet Pandora, where your rag-tag crew of treasure hunters is looking for a legendary alien vault containing unspeakable technology. Unfortunately, a lot of others are looking for this vault as well, forcing you to duke it out with them while also surviving the local wildlife. Thus begins your quest of exploration, looting, mission-hunting, and killing things, all of which will take you across miles of open terrain.
Arguably, Borderland‘s biggest selling point is that it will contain over a million different weapons. This may sound like an exaggeration, but it’s not. Each gun is comprised of multiple components that are randomly generated and cobbled together. As such, no two weapons will ever be exactly alike. You’ll also have the option to make your own custom weapons out of parts that you find lying around the environment. Creatures disappear and leave ammo and weapon parts behind, which is another wonderfully daft example of Gearbox’s reluctance to conform to the standards of reality. This custom nature also extends to different ammo types, of which there are plenty. The most noteworthy of these are the self-explanatory "healing bullets," which sound like great fun in co-op.
This sense of customization and variety will extend into Borderland‘s vehicle and enemy types as well. Given that the game’s terrain is so vast, you’ll be doing a lot of driving to get from place to place. The vehicle customization sounds complicated, but Borderlands allows you to just pick parts willy-nilly and slap ’em together. There’s depth for those who want it, but it’s hardly a prerequisite to enjoy the game. The enemies are randomized as well, with each having different sizes, properties, and abilities. The rep showed us a "scag," which is something like a feral hog. Some will shoot fire, while others will have different attacks.
Borderlands lets you play as one of four different characters, each with their own unique capabilities. For example, the Tank-class character–lovingly named Brick–can go into a "berserk mode" that makes his punches extremely powerful for a limited amount of time. Mordecai–the Hunter class character–can summon an alien vulture-like creature to assist him in battle. In addition to these special traits, each character has a skill tree that you can level up as you desire.
Borderlands offers four player co-op for the campaign, with online, two-player split-screen, and LAN options all being available. The interesting thing is that you’ll be able to hop into a friend’s game with your current character, play some co-op with them, and then keep any experience and items from that game for your own adventure. Thus, no time playing will ever be in vain.
It’s clear that Gearbox has set out to do one thing and do it well; create a compelling, addictive shooter with a lot of customization and variety. Borderlands feels like a single-player or co-op MMO in a lot of ways, in that you spend your time leveling up, collecting loot, making weapons, killing things, and having fun while doing it. While we have yet to see how much variety there will be in the mission structure or how often the story will play into the events, Left 4 Dead has taught that us that coop games don’t necessarily need those things to be fun. With polished FPS action,Fallout 3‘s epic scope, and a truly astonishing level of customization, Borderlands seems to be one of the best co-op shooters on the horizon. Look for it this October on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.