Borderlands (Xbox 360) review
"Iíve only ever played Borderlands cooperatively, so I canít really comment on how it holds up as a solo experience. Iíve heard mixed things Ė some say itís fine, while others think itís boring as hell. Maybe it is; maybe if youíre thinking about investing in Borderlands but wonít have anyone to play it with, you should reconsider. Itís not in my place to say. Usually, that alone would instantly doom the gameís chances of reaching greatness, because Iíve always said that multiplayer..."
Iíve only ever played Borderlands cooperatively, so I canít really comment on how it holds up as a solo experience. Iíve heard mixed things Ė some say itís fine, while others think itís boring as hell. Maybe it is; maybe if youíre thinking about investing in Borderlands but wonít have anyone to play it with, you should reconsider. Itís not in my place to say. Usually, that alone would instantly doom the gameís chances of reaching greatness, because Iíve always said that multiplayer is circumstantial, and that a game must be able to satisfy a single person if itís to succeed. But, man. Borderlands sure is a great co-op game.
Itís more or less the sleeper hit of 2009, having become particularly popular amongst the PC crowd, the community of which caters to a very social gaming environment. You can see why theyíd like it, too. Itís been excessively compared to Diablo, and while the two couldnít seem more different from a glance Ė one a dark fantasy, the other a cel-shaded hillbilly adventure Ė the parallels arenít as poorly drawn as you may believe. Borderlands appeals to those looking for the simple pleasures of questing and looting with a few (equally nerdy) friends. Itís a predictable game, but only in the sense that itís not doing anything new. Nor should it, really Ė Gearbox knew their audience, and they knew what their audience wanted.
It is more specifically an open-ended ďrole-playing shooterĒ (as the ads call it) set in a desolate wasteland, so to that end the game perhaps warrants more comparisons to Fallout 3. That wonít get you anywhere, though, because the tone is completely different. What ultimately turned me off of Fallout 3 was that the gameís somber, depressing atmosphere clashed with its desire to be an immersive experience Ė I was drawn in and immediately wanted out. Borderlands, despite being composed of many of the same ingredients, remains lighthearted throughout, colorful in both a literal and figurative sense. Its characters have exaggerated Southern accents and move with more grace and fluidity than was needed. The distinct cartoonish visual style and lively soundtrack give the game a feel all of its own. Itís anything but downtrodden Ė if anything, the more you play, the more time you want to spend in this world.
The game, unfortunately, has very little in the way of a story Ė or, at least, it doesnít spend much time on it. Something to do with tracking down a vault somewhere in the lawless countryside? Trust me, itís not important; the gameís eccentric cast more than provides a context for Borderlandsí escapades. Look up the hilariously expressive Claptrap robots on YouTube if you donít believe me.
Borderlands is certainly not the first game to mix the FPS and RPG genres, but whereas other games often combine elements of each without ever feeling as though they could function independently, Borderlands nails both. It certainly looks and feels like a shooter, with controls nearly identical to the Call of Duty games, and gunplay nearly as tight. But itís also unquestionably an RPG. Itís got that free-flowing, quest-based structure. There are four distinct character classes to choose from, each with their own unique traits and skill trees that cater to different play styles. And itís got lootÖ lots and lots of loot.
About that. There are reportedly over 17 million weapons to be found in Borderlands, generated from various color schemes, ammunition types and add-ons. You want scoped shotguns? Weíve got those. You say youíd like a sniper rifle that fires explosive rounds? Borderlands has you covered. Play with a friend and youíre likely to wave a particularly rare find youíve just come across in his face. Or you could recall that this is supposed to be a cooperative experience, and instead divide your joint findings based on how the two of you prefer your shooters. I took all of the sniper rifles for myself, while my roommate hogged the shotguns. Are you beginning to see how well Borderlands works as a multiplayer game?
I guess thatís the beauty of a good cooperative experience. Itís one thing to simply play alongside another human being, but an ideal co-op game really forces players to work together and rewards them with a true sense of accomplishment for having done so. Itís the player-to-player interactions that make Borderlands multiplayer such a success. Thereís a unique mechanic where a player who loses all of his health drops to his knees and is given one last chance to live Ė if he manages to kill an enemy before the screen turns black, he returns to life. The cooperative twist is that players can actually heal each other during this phase, leading to some unique strategies, like having one player hide behind cover to heal his friend, whoís in plain sight soaking up damage and killing enemies.
Or, how about this one: If you leave a fight, either voluntarily or through death, you respawn at the nearest checkpoint and the enemies (or bosses) you were battling return to full health. Most games do this, of course. The catch with Borderlands is that ALL of the players must leave a battle for the conditions to be reset, meaning that if someone were to die, they could return to the fight without losing progress provided at least one other player remains alive and present.
I have a reason for telling you this. At one point, my roommate and I were fighting an already-infamous boss: Mothrakk, an enormous fire-breathing moth. Alex Ė thatís my roommate Ė had already fought it while playing the game alone, so he knew that standing in the open was a death trap. As such, we hid under a nearby roof for the majority of the fight, stepping out to chip away at its enormous health bar whenever it was ďsafe enough.Ē It worked, until Alex got reckless and found himself bleeding to death just outside of the shelter we were using. I offered to run out and heal him, but he told me not to. He would simply respawn and return to the fight, he said. No problem.
But then I got reckless too, and I found myself in the dying position just as he did, before he was able to return to the fight. There were no enemies for me to kill aside from Mothrakk, and Alex was still a lengthy trek away from getting back to the battle. So I desperately pulled out my most powerful assault rifle and fired every round I could at the beast. I was close to killing it, but the screen was getting darker and darker. I kept shooting. The screen was almost black. Then it was black. And then, without warning, I returned to miraculously life, because one of the stray rounds Iíd blindly fired managed to land the killing blow to Mothrakk, ending the battle and bringing me to my feet once again.
That was my favorite moment of Borderlands, and it didnít happen to anyone else. Thatís what makes the game so great: Its most memorable moments (and there will be plenty) are player-made. Itís an experience so unique to every individual person that you could spend hours trading stories with someone else whoís played it. Maybe the appeal of Borderlands is entirely circumstantial, and for that you receive a word of caution. But under the right circumstances, holy hell is Borderlands ever a good time.
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