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"Goodbye, Jean-Luc, I'm gonna miss you. You had such potential. But then again, all good things must come to an end."
- Q, Star Trek: TNG

Borderlands: Find Your Very Favorite Gun

by Ken Newquist / November 11, 2009

"Six men came to kill me one time. And the best of 'em carried this. It's a Callahan full-bore auto-lock. Customized trigger, double cartridge thorough gauge. It is my very favorite gun." -- Janye, Firefly

That quote is the reason why Borderlands rocks. Sure, it's a competent shooter with some basic role-playing aspects thrown in, and yeah, it's got kick ass multiplayer campaign, but in the end, it comes down to the guns.

More specifically, it's about finding your very favorite gun.

Borderlands (Xbox 360, PS3, Windows) is a science fiction, first-person shooter set on the backwater planet of Pandora. Colonists came here looking for mineral riches; they found nothing. Most left. Those who remained are heavily armed psychopaths who hold their own against Pandora's horrific animal life. There are alien ruins scattered across the planet, and rumors of a lost vault teaming with alien tech. It's the vault that keeps bring people back to the planet, and which drive's the game's nominal story.

All of this serves as an excuse to go exploring, Diablo-style. I say "Diablo-style" because the game's all about killing monsters and taking their increasingly-cool stuff. Like Blizzard's action RPG of old, monsters drop all manner of treasure, mostly in the form of guns, ammo and money. The guns are a thing of beauty -- there are six kinds of guns, ranging from pistols to battle rifles to rocket launchers. Each has different damage, rate of fire, and accuracy stats, as well as certain special abilities (explosive rounds, shield-negating rounds, corrosive etc.). All of these guns are random (but level appropriate!) and there's an undeniable thrill to sorting through the gear looking for the next great weapon. From what I understand, some of these abilities can be quite spectacular (say, bouncing bullets that EXPLODE) which makes them even better.

Alas, I haven't found anything that cool yet ... but I'm still looking.

Why save the world when you can blow it up?

The game has a single player campaign, and I've had some fun exploring the wasteland on my own, but where the game really shines (probably because of the thermonuclear explosions being unleashed) is multiplayer. You can easily invite up to three other players to join your single player game, instantly transforming it into a multiplayer fragfest.

But just adding players to the campaign could be a recipe for disaster if the game itself doesn't scale. But oh, does the game scale! Each player you add makes the monsters harder, and increases the chance of rare weapon drops. When I played it with my friends, we went from fighting typical skags (warthog-like horrors whose heads split open, Tremors style) to FIRE-BREATHING SKAGS FROM HELL! We laughed our asses off as we struggled to figure out how to kill this thing, all the while watching as our characters burned.

Granted, this sort of thing is my gaming group's bread and butter. We love a good chaotic firefight, and Borderlands plays to that, but honestly I think anyone who enjoys a good co-op game, like Halo 3 or Left4Dead, are going to enjoy Borderlands

As with Diablo and other RPGs, you can pick from one of four classes (soldier, berserker, hunter and siren), each of which has three talent trees to choose from offering specialized powers. There are some oddities here -- the soldier doubles as the medic, and heals his allies by shooting them with magic bullets and the siren's powers are a weird mix of elemental and stealth -- but for the most part those powers play second fiddle to your guns. They're nice to have, but as a player, I'm more interested in the guns I can get at level 20 than the new power I can unlock.

Visually, the game reminded me strongly of interpolated rotoscope films (think A Scanner Darkly), in which you shoot, and then animate, a film. It's a vaguely cartoonish, highly stylized look complemented by hand-drawn backgrounds. Unfortunately, you're not able to truly customize your character -- aside from a few color tweaks, your soldier looks identical to my soldier -- but the look works. It reinforces the game's Mad Max feel and its over-the-top nature.

Final Analysis

Borderlands has quickly become my group's go-to game for online play, bumping aside Halo and Left 4 Dead (though both of those remain in our arsenal). I expect we'll be playing a lot more of it as winter moves in, and the inevitable snowfall cancels our weekly real-world game nights, and I don't anticipate getting bored any time soon.

Check out what my fellow Blackrazors had to say about the game: