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Score: 97%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Gearbox Software
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 4
Genre: First Person Shooter/ RPG/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Borderlands is much more than the sum of its parts; for a game with this many parts, that's really saying something. For those of you who let this gem slip under your radar, Gearbox Software's latest game is a brilliant fusion of elements from two proven genres. The developers have dubbed it the world's first "Role-Playing Shooter," and they're right to do so. Think about it: shooters have gone from Run-and-Gun to Stop-and-Pop. Borderlands has forged a new link for the genre's evolutionary chain: Shoot-and-Loot. The idea is great enough, but the execution is spot-on. There's one ridiculously huge dollop of icing on this ridiculously decadent cake: this game was designed from the ground up for four-player co-op. Not only is Borderlands one of the best games of 2009, it is unquestionably the definitive Xbox Live cooperative experience.

When the first screenshots of Borderlands surfaced back in 2007, the world of Pandora looked like any other postapocalyptic setting. Later in the game's development cycle, the artistic direction took a stylistic turn. The development team willingly sacrificed what realism the game could have had in order to flavor the entire experience with a not-so-subtle pinch of insanity. Borderlands looks cel-shaded, but I'm not sure I'd use that term to define every aspect of the game's visuals. The characters look great, the explosions are pretty, and you will never, ever, ever get sick of seeing the death animations. Electrocuting a raider will take the skin off of his face and cause his eyes to bug out. The top of his skull pops like a cork and the brains spill out like red champagne. A single sniper shot from a high level character reduces every low-level enemy into an unrecognizable clump of viscera, but it also launches the aforementioned gore sky-high. It's great stuff.

I have very few complaints about the sound design. First off, the voice acting is fantastic, and I'm not necessarily talking about the main characters. When an acid-spewing rocket takes a guy in the face, he screams as if he's actually being reduced to a pile of goo. The Claptrap robots are also really funny, whether they are insulting you or fearing for their lives. If you're not causing mayhem in the wastes, Borderlands sounds rather dull. You'll often hear the same little guitar riff when nothing's going on, and it makes the game world feel more desolate and lonely than it really is. However, when you're engaging legions of enemies, the soundtrack swings into gear with something appropriately intense.


If the inhabitants of the planet Pandora adhere to any particular creed, it would have to be "Survival of the fittest, ::expletive of choice::!" It's a depraved world where morality makes even less sense than it does in BioShock's Rapture. Bandits and mercenaries murder as a means of conquest, and the indigenous creatures are driven by the impulse to consume everything. Mordecai, Lilith, Roland, and Brick are clearly not in their right minds. They have been lured to Pandora with rumors of an alien Vault: a trove of untold fortune and technology that is only opened once every two centuries. The story is a bit on the throwaway side, and the fizzler of an ending is a bummer. However, the narrative exists only to keep you fully grounded on Pandora. The planet has an authentic feel to it, and the struggles of its denizens range from laughably mundane to morbidly humorous. Just be sure not to ignore the text in your quest log.

After you choose one of the four characters, you are turned loose in the wastes. Across the world, you'll find quest givers, bounty boards, special vending machines, and much more. The game is set up like Diablo: you adventure around the world, killing enemies and acquiring a considerable amount of loot. Most of the game's best weapons can be found in the field, from boss drops and hard-to-reach crates. As you kill enemies, you will level up and grow stronger. Borderlands delivers an abundant stream of goodies, and this is part of what makes the game so great. Even if you find some weak drops, a quick visit to a vending machine can turn that into money, which you can use to purchase new equipment and upgrades.

Each character in Borderlands is essentially a class type, and each have their own abilities. Roland is a soldier class who can deploy turrets. If you spec him appropriately, he can actually heal his allies... by attacking them. Mordecai is a hunter who owns a deadly bird named Bloodwing. Lilith is a siren who can perform a Phasewalk. A Phasewalk briefly increases Lilith's running speed, but it also renders her invisible. She can explode into and out of the Phasewalk with some impressive area-of-effect damage. Lastly, there's Brick the berserker. He likes to punch things to pieces while screaming incoherently. Once you reach a certain level, you'll be able to find valuable Class Mods as loot and in vending machines. Class Mods grant you stat increases as long as they're equipped.

Borderlands plays like a first-person shooter, but there is a distinct role-playing system buried underneath the action. Every number crunch in Borderlands is on full display; if you're plugging away at an enemy with a machine gun, you'll see numbers flying everywhere. In addition, critical hits can only be achieved by pulling off skill shots, be they headshots on humanoids or hits to a creature's weak spot. Fighting with a certain weapon type will increase your proficiency with it, causing you to be more accurate and deadly. All things considered, the role-playing elements are extremely well-implemented and give the game quite a bit of depth.


Within the first ten minutes of your first game, you're going to stumble into an area you're not meant to be in... and you're going to pay for it. Not much, mind you, but enough to give you a taste of things to come. Borderlands has a variable difficulty level that doesn't give you control over it. Don't worry, there's a good reason. Whenever someone joins your fight, the enemies will become more powerful. Whenever someone leaves your party, the enemies will become weaker. It's a nice scaling system that offers a persistent challenge.

Borderlands offers a unique approach to death. First off, if you lose all of your shields and health, your character will fall to his/her knees and bleed out. A party member can revive a fellow mercenary, provided he/she is willing to get into harm's way. If nobody's around, it's still not the end of the road; Borderlands features a clever "Second Wind" mechanic. Should a dying Vault Hunter manage to kill someone before the end of the bleed out period, he/she will get up with a minimal amount of health. The more you fall, the faster you will bleed out. If you die, you respawn at the nearest outpost. The only thing you'll lose is money, and a fraction of your stash is taken from you to cover the costs of your body's reconstruction.

It took me roughly sixty hours to complete the game and see all there was to see. Granted, I did a lot of grinding with my buddies, but you will probably do the same. Once you finish the main quest, you can either stick around and complete any unfinished quests or start a new game with the same stats and equipment. Don't expect to blast your way through the lowbie area with no resistance; enemies are stronger the second time around, and the "Badasses" are replaced by "Bad Muthas."

Game Mechanics:

The E3 2009 trailer for Borderlands makes the absurd claim that the game contains "87 bazillion guns!" Since Gearbox designed an artificial intelligence that generates the loot, the claim is likely valid (or would be, if bazillion was an actual number). Indeed, Pandora is heaven to the man who dreams of things that go bang and boom. You'll find guns with special abilities; some will set enemies on fire while others will melt them like the Wicked Witch of the West. Most of the weapons you come across are garbage that you'll want to get rid of, but that doesn't make opening a weapon crate any less exciting.

Borderlands is fully aware of its influences, and treats each borrowed component with nothing but reverence. In addition, the game is loaded with clever nerd-culture references, from the Achievements and in-game challenges to the enemies themselves. For example, you'll fight a road warrior named Mad Mel in the Dahl Headlands' version of the Thunderdome. Fans of The Lord of the Rings will appreciate a cleverly-renamed arachnid.

The influences don't stop on the surface. Borderlands uses a carbon copy of Call of Duty's control scheme, which is a brilliant decision in its own right. Additionally, the color-coded loot system of World of Warcraft identifies the rarity of the innumerable items scattered about the wastelands of Pandora. To top it all off, the game's more powerful enemies are given the not-so-stock MMO title of "Badass."

As you kill enemies and complete quests, your character will level up. Each level awards you a skill point, which you can distribute to any available square on your character's particular skill tree. Each character's skill tree has three main paths to go down, and you can experiment to find what's right for you. If at one point you find yourself unsatisfied with what you've created, you can always respec for a set percentage of your money.

Borderlands is a riotously fun game that takes two genres and makes them into something much more. The action is explosive and the rewards never stop coming. If you don't like this kind of stuff, you have forgotten what it means to be a gamer and deserve to be cast into a skag gully teeming with Level 50 Bad Muthas. I know that this year plays host to what's likely going to be the biggest game launch in history, but by no means should you even think about giving Borderlands a pass.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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