Far too many developers have failed at applying Diablo‘s loot-grinding philosophy to a new property. Others have failed at applying this philosophy to an entirely new genre. Despite that, it seems like nothing was going to stop Gearbox Software from trying to create its own loot driven first-person shooter, one that wasn’t bogged done by a complex story, moral decisions or dialogue trees. Borderlands is Gearbox’s swipe at the jugular; a game that focuses specifically on loot, fast-paced action and high replayability.
Borderlands is full of style, character and humor. Funny descriptions, well-written and executed voice overs and fantastic cel-shaded graphics are immediately visible at the class selection screen, setting the tone for the rest of the adventure. Even the tutorial–normally an incredibly tedious and boring process–is laced with comedic moments thanks to a robot named Claptrap, who ends up being the best sidekick of the year.
After receiving a gift from the automated companion, players are presented with the an incredibly clean yet highly functional HUD and a fairly large junkyard to explore. From there, you can locate and start missions, kill random buggers for experience points, check out a few of the local shops, and begin to mold your character into the titan that you want them to eventually become. Gearbox took that extra step in the tutorial by explaining why gaming conventions like respawn points, loot piles, ammo caches and even the HUD appears in this world, showing their attention to detail and polish from the get-go.
The goal of Borderlands is to wreck as many baddies as possible, as nearly every mission is based around killing everything in sight. The experience that you gain while doing this nets you upgrades and new abilities, also allowing you to collect bigger, better loot and new hyper-powerful weaponry. There are thousands of weapons available to pick-up or purchase throughout your journey, with wild combinations like acid-rocket shotguns and flame-spouting pistols adding a constant feeling of freshness. You can select from one of four character classes at the outset of the game, and all of them are well balanced and highly specialized, shoving layers of depth into Borderlands‘ first-person shooter framework. Many of the quests may be dull and redundant in design – fetch this, kill ten of that – but the world of Pandora and the execution of these ideas keeps you coming back for more and striving to reach that next experience level. The fact that the entire campaign can be played cooperatively online makes this even sweeter, as the action truly thrives when others are brought into the mix. Sadly, the story-centric missions appear infrequently and lack substance, almost to the point that you forget exactly why you’re fighting.
Sadly, Borderlands biggest failure isn’t its lack of a thoughtful narrative or the appearance of some throwaway quests. As annoying as those bits can be, the title’s lack of PC polish is easily its biggest downfall. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with Gearbox wanting to extend its target audience to the console realm, but they claimed that the PC version was delayed to better optimize it for that platform. That was clearly not the case. The menus of Borderlands PC reek of consoleitus, as the chat options are terrible, the mouse wheel isn’t supported in situations that you assume it would be, you can’t drag and drop weapons into your inventory, and there are no keyboard shortcuts for functions that need them (like healing). The PC version feels like an afterthought.
It’s unfortunate that Gearbox didn’t let the PC version of Borderlands stew for a bit more, as its potential to be a first-person Diablo is apparent in the action. Instead, it has delivered a game that, while fun as hell, is tarnished by a thousand small gashes. If you’re grabbing Borderlands on consoles, you should expect a perfectly-optimized, high-powered lootfest, but PC gamers should prepare to barrel through some aggravation if they want to enjoy the splendor that awaits beneath.
|Our Rating for Borderlands|
A fun (but flawed) loot-whoring experience that allows you to SHOOT PEOPLE IN THE FACE (Critical!)