They say the clothes make the man. But on planet Pandora I think it’s the guns that make the man. And the woman too. After all, it doesn’t matter what gender you are or what you wear when midget psychos begin spewing out of a corrugated-tin shack like demented clowns tumbling from a nightmare car. As the little axe-waving maniacs come giggling, the only thing that matters is having the right gun.
Borderlands describes itself as an RPS — a role-playing shooter, combining a role-playing game with a first-person shooter. The result is a game in which guns define players more than any other statistics. Normally in a shooter, anyone who picks up a shotgun is potentially the equal of anyone else who has picked up the same type of shotgun. But Borderlands randomly generates hundreds of thousands of weapons, each with unique statistics, and scatters them through Pandora’s post-apocalyptic landscape.
Guns are available for shooting from long distances or close up.
Some guns ignite their targets on fire. Others corrode armor. Some guns fire fast while others boost the bearer’s hand-to-hand damage. There are even defective guns that challenge the bearer with frequent misses and low-level damage. From the BLR4 Nasty Repeater to the TMP8 Cold Torment, there’s a gun in Borderlands for any kind of fighter.
Where most RPGs classify characters according to archetypes derived from a narrative fantasy tradition, the character classes in Borderlands take their cue from videogame combat. Spatial navigation, distance, firepower and defense are the key elements in a shooter, and so the characters are divided into four classes that exploit each aspect of this. The female siren, for example, can turn invisible and freely navigate the game’s elaborate battlefields. And the berserker can render himself impervious to attacks while getting close enough for hand-to-hand combat.
There are no blind statistics such as “strength” or “intelligence.”
Instead, each character is given ratings in the game’s various types of firearms. Whichever type of weapon is fired most gets steady improvements throughout the game. It’s a shooter system that results in complex, personalized gunslingers. Players don’t have to worry about many details other than their weaponry. They simply need to decide who they want to be, then arm themselves accordingly.
THE GOOD: Shooters have long favored cooperative play, but roleplaying games have rarely figured out the formula. Borderlands allows players to seamlessly move from playing the game solo to joining each other in the quest for Pandora’s legendary treasure. The more players (up to four online or two on splitscreen) who join the adventure, the bigger and badder the enemies become, and the rarer and richer the guns and treasure they leave behind.
THE BAD: The post-apocalyptic wasteland setting of Borderlands invites comparisons with Fallout 3. But where that game was full of oddball characters and locations, Borderlands feels like a vast shooting gallery where firefights can leave a bloody trail stretching across the desert for miles. Instead of storytelling and dramatic choices, Borderlands — for better or worse — has only a steady escalation of firepower.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Borderlands obliterates the boundaries between shooter and RPG, delivering dynamic, dramatic firefights defined by personal choice.