Review by Thirdrail1

"Borderlands Full Review"

When I was a little kid, I had this book where everything was fortunately, unfortunately.

Unfortunately, he fell out of an airplane. Fortunately, there was a haystack where he landed! Unfortunately, the haystack had a pitchfork in it. Fortunately, he missed the pitchfork! Unfortunately, he also missed the haystack...

That's pretty much the story of Borderlands too. The game is a long interlocking string of "good news, bad news" moments.

The graphics are so-so (it doesn't even have anti-aliasing as an option), but the artwork is stellar. Sadly, there isn't very much artwork, and the game repeats the same handful of objects and textures over and over and over. At first everything looks great. Then it looks alright. By the halfway point, the alien planet Pandora has become an adventure in visual monotony.

The character designs are neat, but there are only four of them, and personalization is limited to a few broad palette swaps (it's the character customization from Advanced Wars on the DS). There's not much difference between the four archetypes. It actually makes a much bigger difference who you play in, say, Gauntlet, than it does in Borderlands.

The missions are plentiful, but there's no depth to them. It's like taking missions from the kiosks in Star Wars Galaxies. Go kill ten things and report back. Go collect six scattered items and report back. Occasionally, when the game is feeling really "outside the box", you get to pull some levers. Then report back.

The setting is rich in concept and wholly interesting, but goes completely unexplored in favor of endless shooting and paragraph long, text-only, mission briefings. The one or two NPCs that have speaking parts are well voiced and amusing, but interaction with them is limited to canned exposition/character development (think Bioshock tape decks).

The shooting is clean, and the engine runs very well, but the lack of different targets makes even the endlessly repeating background scenery seem interesting. Even mediocre PSP titles have a wider variety of enemies than Borderlands... pretty sad for a pc game that's taking up 7gigs of HD space.

The vehicles are cool and fun, but there's only one of them. Even when they give you a second vehicle to choose from, it's a sick joke, because the new vehicle looks and performs exactly like the previous one. Like so much of Borderlands, it makes you feel like you're playing an early beta of what will one day be a killer game. Except it's not in early beta, it's in full retail.

The much discussed Diablo/Too Human loot system is the one area of the game that shows any real variation. There really are a ton of different weapons. The random loot you find as drops or in containers is much better than the special named loot you get from big NPCs, but there's so much of it that I doubt you'll really care where you got anything. Honestly, when you play the game, it feels like Gearbox spent 75% of their development cycle just creating the guns. They have FAR more variation than every other aspect of the game combined.

The best part is the multi-player, where you get to run around with (up to) three friends as a team. Except of course the net code for Borderlands is horribly broken, so what should be the best co-op gameplay since Left 4 Dead turns into a stuttering nightmare that plays like something from the middle of the 56k era. ((Note, I bought the game on Steam, and play it with the same people I've been playing L4D with for a year, so we're all well aware of what our connection should be. It's definitely Borderlands, not us.))

So, Borderlands... what it does is fantastic, but it doesn't do very much. If they'd spent more time developing their story, their setting, the online code, and the character generation, Borderlands would be a solid contender for Game of the Year. Sadly, all they really seemed to care about was their random handgun generation, so what we ended up with was a game that sprints to be a FPS grinding chore and never looks back. This is the most potential I've seen wasted in any game this year. Too bad there's no award for that.

My advice to everyone is to skip Borderlands for now. In its current state this is not a game you should pay more than $20 to play. Maybe $30 if it gets some high content DLC. There's just so many excellent games out right now, and we're barely halfway through the holiday release schedule. Even if you adore post-apocalypse (like me!), you'd be better off buying and playing all the extra content for Fallout 3 than you would be slogging through this incredibly stylish victim of game design anemia.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 11/03/09

Game Release: Borderlands (US, 10/26/09)


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