Borderlands is one of those games I’ve had my eye on for most of 2009, just because the concept seemed somewhat original – take Grand Theft Auto and use a futuristic, post-apocalyptic alien setting with a zillion guns in a FPS format – and I thought it had plenty of promise. Arnold did his review earlier but while it caused a great deal of controversy, this here is what you would call a “second opinion review.” Therefore, I won’t approach it in the standard way; i.e., breaking each section down in the usual format. I’ll just voice my thoughts after playing for a good part of the day.
First of all, I’d like to address some of what other gamers claim to be 100% positives in this game, many of which were taken from the Comments section beneath our first review. For example, I knew after playing for only an hour or so that Borderlands would quickly appeal to those who enjoy the non-scripted, sandbox exploration style…and I’m going to be brutally honest, here- I really don’t like these people. They tend to come from the PC side of things, where we receive freedom as a substitute for story and character development; they’re entitled to their opinion, of course, but they’re really pushy in their beliefs. They have it in their head that if a game is scripted and has plot points and storytelling elements that it’s automatically inferior to games that just allow you to wander around and do whatever you want. It’s the “freedom and choice is always better than any story we can follow” theory, and not only is it ridiculous, it’s annoying. These people rarely read and I find them downright insufferable.
That being said, I can easily understand why they would love a game like this, as it’s exactly how I described it in the introduction. But while the freedom-lovers will claim that everything remains fresh and original in this fashion, I have to argue. How “original” is it when certain enemies just keep coming back in the same areas? How “fresh” is it to participate in loads of secondary missions that have no bearing on…well, anything? Developers always go overboard in the “choice” and “freedom” idea, which often leads to a player finally saying to himself, “okay, I’m bored with all these meaningless missions now, so how’s about finding some story?” This happened to me, although I will freely admit that the gameplay does keep you interested, and the role-playing elements attached to your character’s development are excellent. Really, it does feel a lot like an “outworld” version of Deus Ex, which is just fine by me.
Now, moving on to the pick-up-item issue: I know you can collect all the items in the immediate vicinity all at once, but that’s not really what I noticed. What I noticed above all else was that, perhaps surprisingly, I was spending more time hunting for loot than I was fighting enemies. It finally got tedious to open random boxes and snag items off the ground; those in support of the game will say it’s a joy to deal with all that loot and it never gets old. Well, I wouldn’t normally find it tedious, either, but it did get to the point where I was just sick of trying to pinpoint the exact spot on the ground to pick up an item. It was all the more annoying when I usually found it was something I didn’t need or didn’t want, and I normally adore treasure collecting. I’m not going to say it’s a major drawback or anything, but just because you can drag in a bunch of items at once in the immediate vicinity doesn’t really mean much in the long run.
As for the rest, I think it’s plenty solid. The game is fun, mostly smooth, and extremely well designed. At first, one might think there’s too much “barrenness” but I’ve always been a fan of atmospheric experiences, and that’s really what Borderlands is (even if I’m not the hugest fan of cel-shaded visuals). Even though there’s a large amount of space and a general feeling of freedom, you never feel lost or bored; there’s always something to do and somewhere to go. Better yet, we always get the benefit of a nicely crafted difficulty/challenge scale: the player is pushed and encouraged to use everything in his or her arsenal, but we never feel helpless, you know? We feel satisfactorily rewarded by conquering a particularly tough mission and saying to ourselves, “man, I’m glad I saved up and bought that gun; I would’ve been dead without it.” Or, “it’s a good thing I upped that stat more with my last level up!” I always get a charge out of things like this.
And being a big RPG fan at heart, I just love how the main character progresses. What I decidedly do not love, however, is how this concept trips over the line into the FPS action, which results in a bizarre problem that may not bother some people. But with all the advancements made in shooters thus far, we’re all used to things like head shots and bullets doing more damage depending on where they hit an individual. Yeah, back in the Wolfentein 3D days, that would seem like space-age technology but it isn’t anymore, and I just couldn’t shake the irritation that went along with the HP in combat- why, oh why should a head shot – more often than not – cause the exact same amount of damage as a leg shot? That just doesn’t seem right to me; I don’t care what the game is. Then there’s the collision detection problem Arnold noticed and all I’ll say is that it does exist in some capacity, but I believe he encountered it more than I did. But I most certainly shot at enemies when up close and personal with a gun that has 93% accuracy, and missed with three consecutive shots. Sorry, but that is wrong.
It just didn’t happen to me often enough where I’d say, “yeah, that’s a crippling problem, I don’t wanna play anymore.” And I know Arnold didn’t say that, either; I’m just clarifying my situation. Lastly, there’s no doubt in my mind that the sheer amount of upgrades, items, weapons, and skills available is downright mind-numbing and when you factor in the four very unique characters, the amount of longevity here is pretty freakin’ high. The online and multiplayer worked out just fine for me as well, and I completely understand how something like four-player co-op can be a blast. But about the 50 gajillion possible guns or something like that: let’s just all admit that during a normal play-through, any player will only see maybe a few hundred. Yes, it’s true that there are millions of possibilities, but we don’t fire “possibilities.” We fire guns. It’s wicked cool that we could all end up with entirely different weapons than our buddies, but I’m not going to say it’s the primary appeal of Borderlands.
No, the primary appeal lies in its original style and atmosphere. It’s not really my bag but the game is solid despite a few technical issues in the PS3 version (hitching in the frame rate, especially upon the deaths of some enemies), and the design is really outstanding. If you go in expecting Diablo crossed with an FPS, you’ll likely be satisfied, but given everything I noticed, I will not place Borderlands in the upper echelon of 2009 gems. It’s a good game; even a great game for some people, but I don’t care what the loyalists have to say…my opinion, and Arnold’s, stands as is.
10/29/2009 Ben Dutka