Review by Suprak the Stud

"Bordering on Awful"

You know when you're chewing a piece of gum, and at first it is all flavorful and delicious and you want to run to your neighbor's house and kick down their door so you can tell them and their frightened children how much you love strawberry bubblicious chewing gum? But then all at once the flavor molecules in the gum start murmuring to each other about the terrible work conditions before deciding to unionize and abandoning your mouth in protest, leaving you chomping on a bland, flavorless wad of silly putty and wondering to yourself what kind of good and merciful God would let this happen to your mouth? And after you manage to pry your jaws open and scrape the cold, dead carcass of the gum from the roof of your mouth, you immediately feel the need to wash your mouth out with vinegar and Tabasco sauce just so your mouth doesn't feel like it just was stuffed full of Death's gym socks? That pretty much sums up why Borderlands is the equivalent of videogame chewing gum. The first couple of hours are great, all juicy and exciting, and after you start leveling up and getting new abilities and guns you don't want to turn it off. But then everything turns into flavorless paste, with every bite just like the last, and before long you realize you're playing the game not for any real sense of enjoyment, but because you got suckered into a routine. Borderlands is one of those games that just gets worse the more you play it, and I'd recommend avoiding it in favor of one of the other, better games in this genre.

There is a story in Borderlands, but only in the same sense that there is nutritional value in celery. Yeah, it might be technically there, but you'd be better served reading the instruction manual or the back of a shampoo bottle if you're looking for a more riveting plot. You play as one of four vault hunters, and before you can even disembark on your voyage to murder the entire population of the planet you just arrived on, a mysterious woman starts contacting you through your thoughts telling you that YOU and ONLY YOU can unlock the mysteries of the vault. Which is sort of awkward, considering whatever three characters you didn't pick are sitting right next to you and seem like perfectly good candidates for the job. Better than you, in fact, because they don't hear voices in their head and follow their orders without questioning them. Five minutes in and I knew this is either the set-up to a poorly contrived plot or the moment a budding serial killer finally snaps, and in this case it happened to be both.

You start off the game on the planet Pandora in search of the vault, something vaguely defined that comes with the promise of riches and women, so it is basically the Pandoran equivalent of a Ponzi scheme. At the beginning of the game, you really don't have much of a clue as to where to look for the vault or what you're doing besides the orders given by some ghostly woman that may or may not be a hallucination. And if there is anything about hallucinations that I know for a fact, it is that they are always totally 100% legit and trustworthy. She sets you off to talk to someone who knows a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who knows a girl who has heard of a girl who knows a guy who's cousin once had dinner with a guy that talked to a girl that went to high school with a guy who played in the same band as a guy who got a venereal disease from a girl who ordered a snack from a hot dog vendor that lived on the same block as a guy who might once have heard something about the vault from some guy who had insanity Tourette's and was in the middle of a fever dream.

But before he'll talk to you he has like three tasks he needs to do, and he isn't going to do them himself because he's got other things to do like sit around in the same location and repeat the same two or three lines to anyone dumb enough to walk up to him and ask for help. Complete his errand for him and he'll point you in the right direction of the guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who knows a girl who has heard of a girl who knows a guy who's cousin once had dinner with a guy that talked to a girl that went to high school with a guy who played in the same band as a guy who got a venereal disease from a girl who ordered a snack from a hot dog vendor that lived on the same block as a guy who might once have heard something about the vault from some guy who had insanity Tourette's and was in the middle of a fever dream. And that is the precise moment your eyes will roll back into your head as a sign that your brain is rebelling and refuses to think about the stupidity of this whole thing any further. This game is less of a cohesive story and more your quest to go out and complete all the chores for the people of Pandora, with the stuff about the Vault just thrown in there to string all the quests together tightly enough to cover up the fact that the actual story of the game could have been written on the back of a Wal-Mart receipt and the author would still have complained that you were wasting paper.

The banality of the quest is somewhat of a shame, because the dialogue in here is actually not terrible, when one of the rare chances comes along where you actually get to hear it. The game has sort of a quirky funniness to it, and the voice acting and delivery are all fairly good. This makes the whole thing even stranger, because clearly they paid for a writer at some point, and presumably he or she did something other than jotting down a couple of funny lines and then going outside for a three month smoke break. Any of this cleverness is mostly buried by walls of boring text blocks, as they must have paid their voice actors by the word. While the voice actors themselves are all competent, they are even further marginalized by walls of text serving as your task description while they stand in the back ground, muttering about all the time they wasted attending acting school. Because of this, there really is only one character worth remembering from your travels on Pandora, and that is only because some of her missions force you to go out and find audiologs of her. Everyone else is relegated to a handful of throwaway lines that are, on occasion, mildly humorous. Some games spend time developing characters as a way to draw players in to the narrative. Borderlands opts instead to make armpit farts while showing you thousands of guns with slightly different numbers.

This might not matter to some people, but the fact that the characters and plot get as much attention as the least talented Baldwin brother at a Screen Actor's Guild meeting makes it kind of hard to care about what is happening in the game. Assorted bandits show up and need to be dealt with, but after a while everything starts to blend together. There are some murmurs here and there that a certain guy in the area is particularly dangerous and that he is making life hard for the four random characters in town, but it is sort of hard to care for their plight when all you know about them is that they are useless and possibly cemented to the ground in a cruel prank gone wrong. All of the villains start blending together, which is understandable when all you know about them is that they are bad and like guns. I know there were different bandit leaders in different areas of the games, but I couldn't pick one specific one out of a lineup if one of them came along and stole my pile of garbage and rocks (the chief exports of Pandora). There is some minor twist at the end, but at that point I wasn't invested enough in the story to care. The instruction manual gives more information about Pandora and the characters than the game itself does. The game seems to just give up on the plot entirely, hoping instead that the gameplay will provide enough motivation to carry the player through until the end. If I had to sum up the plot in one word, I would choose bland, followed by boring, empty, and then random snoring noises.

The gameplay fairs significantly better than the plot, mainly due to the astonishing fact that it exists. Borderlands attempts to meld the runny, shooty action of first person shooters with the grindy satisfaction of RPGs, and for the most part it does a fairly good job. You have one of four characters you can pick from, each one with a slightly different gameplay style. They all use guns and in reality the differences between the characters are pretty much limited to their special abilities. There's a guy with a bird, a guy who punches a lot, and a girl that can phasewalk and turn invisible, and if you're still trying to figure out which one you should be, then either you're a huge fan of birds or are terrible at making decisions. Leveling up makes you more proficient with weapons you have been using, gives you more health, and provides you with an ability point that you can sink into your ability skill tree. It certainly isn't as deep as some similar types of games, and there really aren't too many different kinds of builds you can make for a character. There are enough points that you end up filling most of the tree regardless of what you start with. So, this is less about character customization and more about slightly changing what order you learn things in. Still, the sense of progression is nice, and for the most part the skills end up being useful regardless of which character you pick.

So while I am willing to ease up on my red pen a bit and give Borderlands a solid "B" for concept, it is only because I was saving all the ink for later on when I now have to grade Borderlands for variety. Now that I have all that ink saved, I can scrawl a big fat "F" right across its forehead using the last of my red ink, along with some of my tears and bile. There are claims of over 40 hours of gameplay, which is technically true I guess but the last 39 are pretty much the same as the first one. This game has forty hours of content the same way a zoetrope has forty hours of film and you can watch the horsey gallop around all day if you want, but me and all my friends that don't require a drool cup are going to get bored after it makes its first lap around the track. This game treats variety the same way as members of a southern country club in the 1960's, and the developers shooed all of these scary ideas out of the door before the mulled around the window, making disapproving sounds and murmuring about how the presence of other gameplay elements would hurt the property value.

But my problem isn't that this game is just shooting. Lots of games are just shooting, and me and them get along just fine. The problem is that it is all the same shooting, over and over again, until even Charlton Heston would admit that perhaps there is a bit too many guns. You could go to any point in time that you played the game at random, and you would not be able to differentiate it from any other. If someone was editing your gameplay footage, and accidentally swapped in the thirtieth hour immediately after the twentieth, no one would notice except for some minor changes in background. After you play the game for the first hour, you've already met pretty much every enemy you're going to meet in the entire game. You've got guy with gun, bigger guy with gun, and guy with knife who never really learned the lesson that loudly announcing your presence and charging a guy with a gun isn't exactly the best battle plan. That's it. That is nearly the entire enemy list. The game that has more guns than a separatist Montanan cult has only a handful of enemy types that are used ad naseum throughout the entire game. Sure, sometimes you fight dog creatures or crabs, but mostly you just fight boredom. The encounters all just sort of blend together, and I hope you find shooting the first raving lunatic in a hockey mask satisfying, because you're going to repeat that experience a couple of thousand more times before the game is over.

And it isn't just the enemy types that are repetitious, as the entire game is plagued by this sameness. It is like the entire staff of the game was suffering from some sort of short term memory loss, and as a result they just kept making the same ten minutes of the game over and over again. The fact that the enemies vary little from beginning to end is bad enough, but the quests and environments also feel like they're repeating themselves and after playing the game for a couple of hours I was starting to worry I got stuck in a time loop. Nearly every quest is some variation of you going to a location and killing ten to twenty of the same enemies you killed in the last quest, and the only thing that breaks this up is having you go around and do the same thing but picking up some items along the way. This might be fine if you really, really enjoyed the first quest and wanted to do it about a hundred more times, but I felt like the game was punishing me for something, like I offended the game by showing up late and now it was going to make me do laps until I was sufficiently sorry.

And just in case you weren't already starting to nod off, Borderlands somehow makes things even more repetitive by using the same environment over and over again. I get that this is some dystopian planet, but surely someone, somewhere had managed to construct a house that wasn't made entirely of garbage. There had to be one guy that has access to lumber and a hammer and wanted to use it on something other than someone else's skull. The developers must have found some loophole to pay the artists by the number of colors they used and forced them to focus on only one, because it looks like every shade of brown was employed but nothing else. The ending portion is a little different, but almost all of the other backdrops could be removed, mixed up, and replaced at random and nobody would notice anything different. So the game has you go through the same boring quests fighting the same boring enemies in the same boring locations, and so it should come as no surprise that as a whole the game is just kind of dull. There is some fairly decent core gameplay here that sort of gets ruined by the fact that there isn't anything interesting to do with it. It would be like if someone got a brand new sports car but could only use it to drive down the same three blocks that were filled with nothing but foreclosed houses and crazy people talking to pigeons about the best way to cook celery.

The whole thing is made worse by the fact that the game is so incredibly easy that most of the quests are entirely unnecessary. You level up so quickly that most of the sidequests are extraneous at best, and a complete and utter nuisances at worst. I went through and did all of the sidequests I could find, because I am a completionist and feel dirty if I leave some poor NPC devoid of the six pieces of trash they're asking for. The effect this ended up having was that after doing the first two or three in an area, I was entirely overleveled and plowing through enemies like they were suffering from brittle bone syndrome and spontaneous exploding skull disorder. Breathing in their direction would cause five or six to combust into clouds of blood and surrender, and they might have well just charged into battle carrying bb guns and waving white flags. And it wasn't like I was grinding either; at times I was actively trying to avoid the enemies because they just weren't worth my time. This ends up being true for almost all of the sidequests, as the loot you get from them is almost never worth the time you waste doing them. There is no penalty for skipping them other than an annoying robot messaging you every five minutes about how there are more quests available for you. So, I take that back, there is a pretty HUGE penalty for skipping the quests, and there is no way to get the robot to shut up and inform him you didn't need to do that quest an hour ago when you were five levels lower, so there is no way you could possibly want to do that quest now.

Maybe this game just isn't for me. I don't have that part in my brain that gets excited whenever I find a new weapon with slightly higher damage and ammo capacity. A lot of MMORPGs are this way, but I never really saw the appeal. In this game, you go out and complete quests and kill enemies to find better guns, which you then use to go out and kill enemies and complete quests. Ignore the plot, which shouldn't be hard as it is pretty easy to ignore something that only shows up every other hour or so before politely coughing to try and get your attention and then darting behind a door because it got shy. The real driving force in Borderlands is getting a better gun, which you use to kill enemies, which you kill to find a better gun. There never seems to be any payoff, and the lack of variety combined with no real sense of accomplishment makes Borderlands something that no game should be: boring.

But, lets say for the sake of argument that you suffered some cranium injury and actually like that sort of gameplay, in addition to bright colors and lolcats. The problem is that there are much better MMORPGs out there. Nearly all of them, in fact. There is not enough variety amongst characters, levels, or gameplay for Borderlands to even sit at the same table as the true giants in the MMORPG genre. The only thing that seems to differentiate Borderlands at all is that all the characters use guns instead of the weapons typical to MMORPGs. So if you ever were playing one and found yourself wishing you were also shooting something at the same time, then Borderlands might be worth checking out (and an asylum might be worth checking in).

What seems to have been the driving force behind the popularity of this game are the multiplayer features, which are admittedly somewhat entertaining. Jumping in and out of games is easy, and you can either play with friends or join random games if you are smelly and no one will sit with you at lunch. Playing with friends does make the experience more enjoyable, if only because it makes it much, much quicker. Still, hitting two rocks together is more enjoyable with extra company, and at least banging rocks together is less repetitive. The game doesn't even execute the multiplayer that well. It has the foundation of MMORPGs, but doesn't include the best part of them, mainly that they are massively multiplayer. This game tops off at four, which is less massive and more a number smaller than five. All the things that people like about these sort of games, huge parties, individual character customization, in-game communities, are all abandoned, but they did keep the fetchquests and pointless item collection. It would be like if someone bought an SUV only because he or she likes the gas mileage. It is surprisingly empty without much to do besides the same boring quests you can do in single player. It doesn't add anything new besides duels, which are entirely forgettable. If you are looking for a good competitive mode, what you'll need to do is turn off Borderlands and find another game in your collection.

And then there are all the other minor annoyances. Driving is a chore and the cars never seem to move as fast as they should. They also were apparently constructed using cardboard and bird feathers, because they blow up if the neighborhood kids start throwing pebbles at them. After about the midpoint of the game, the cars start taking significantly more damage than the actual character driving it, so either Ford has started selling their Ford Exploding SUVs again, or my character in her t-shirt and jeans was more armored than a car. The game is also particularly ugly, which actually seems to be more of a design aesthetic than actual laziness. The graphics are alright on their own, but everything in this game is a big heaping pile of brown and gray garbage. Literal garbage, mind you, like old signs and random toilets. I get they were trying to go for dystopian, but you would assume somewhere someone might have planted a tree or two. But no, there are no gardeners or architects in this world, only mad, raving, murderous, littering lunatics. The jobs appear to either be murder or hiring people to commit murder (sort of a murder outreach executive), which makes it weird that by the time you land there is anyone left on the planet at all. This is all without even mentioning the stupid Clap-Traps, which have no surpassed Navi on my official list of videogame characters would I would like to see burned in a fire. Again, like the ugly scenery, I get the impression that he/it was intentionally designed this way, which somehow just makes it even worse because somewhere along the line, someone had to say "yes, this shrill, chattering robot is exactly what this game needs."

Unfortunately, I have very little positive to say about the game. The multiplayer isn't terrible, and the basic concept here is fairly solid, but honestly the game is just plain boring. A little variety would have gone a long way, but instead Borderlands tries to pad out the same hour or so of gameplay for the entire game. The enemies, the guns, the missions, nothing ever really changes. The locations blend together, and after playing through the first five minutes you know exactly what you will be doing for the next thirty to forty hours. Towards the end of the game, I was actually having to force myself to finish it. I just wanted to stop and do something more entertaining, like sit and stare out the window or have some dental surgery. There will be some FPS nuts out there that might enjoy this game, but I have a hard time recommending this to anyone else. Save yourself $60 by going to the local dump, climbing a hill of garbage, and throwing rocks at everyone as they pass by. And while you're there, you can bury a copy of Borderlands in the trash to prevent some poor, unfortunate soul from wasting any of their time.

Shotgun (THE GOOD):
+Basic mechanics for combat work well
+The blend of RPG and FPS elements make early portions of the game addictive and fun
+Decent multiplayer makes the game more enjoyable
+Some pretty funny writing at times

Musket (THE BAD):
-Boring, repetitive gameplay kills anything the game has going for it
-Non-existent story; entirely generic and forgettable characters
-Environments, quests blend together making each hour of gameplay identical to the last
-Very poor variety in enemies
-Game is too easy; sidequests are frequently useless fetch quests that don't give any sort of worthwhile reward

BB Gun (THE UGLY): There is an area in the game called the scrap yard, which is confusing because the whole planet is covered in garbage. How bad is the stuff in that area that even the citizens who have four broken toilets serving as lawn decorations are like, "No, you need to take that down to the SCRAP YARD. I don't want that befouling the decor of used metal and broken glass"? I was hesitant to explore an area that this planet had specifically set aside for trash, because I could only assume it was full of skunk diapers and Hannah Montana CDs.

THE VERDICT: 3.50/10.00


Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 12/05/11, Updated 12/06/11

Game Release: Borderlands (US, 10/20/09)


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