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May 25, 2010

Borderlands - Video Game Review (Single-Player Only)

Have you ever played a game, felt like you were having a blast dismembering lots of bad guys with your bullets, and then just over half-way through starting thinking to yourself "Man, this is getting tedious!" For me, Borderlands is that game. I came to realize that, as much fun as I was having, this may not have been the game for me because it was starting to feel like a bit of a grind to the finish. This game is definitely designed for co-op play (up to 4 people can play together on Xbox Live), so I also felt like I was kind of missing something (none of my friends play this type of game...c'mon, Steve!)

Borderlands is kind of a cross between a first-person shooter and a level-grinding, Diablo-like clone. While there is a story (you're dumped on the planet Pandora to find the Vault, a potential treasure-trove that can only be opened every 200 years), the meat and potatoes of this game is the funky combat system. It's definitely a first-person shooter in that sense, with enemies coming at you with great regularity (or shooting at you from a distance).

The amazingly cool thing about Borderlands is the wide variety of weapons that you have the opportunity to use. There are lots of weapons available on Pandorda, with everything from a sniper rifle that shoots corrosive bullets to a combat rifle that shoots electrical bullets that help take down an enemy's shields. Blast weapons, fire weapons (especially useful if you buy the Zombie Island of Dr. Ned DLC, as zombies are pretty much immune to any other elemental effects), revolvers, rocket launchers, you will be subjected to an almost endless stream of weaponry! Don't start drooling, now.

Almost every enemy you kill will drop something, whether it's money, a weapon, ammunition, a shield, or whatever. You will spend a lot of time looking at the ground to see if you can pick up what's there. There are also waste dumps, chests, boxes, and other lootable items that contain the same stuff. It's pretty much a looter's paradise, and if you've been itching for a game where you get to collect stuff, Borderlands is definitely your game. Just make sure everybody's dead before you start scouring the ground. Just in case.

Each character type (there are 4) has its own "Action Skill," which can be useful in combat. I played as a Soldier in my one playthrough, so I had a turret that I could set up that would start help me if I was being overwhelmed with bad guys. The Action Skill lasts for only a short period of time and then it has to "cool down" before it can be activated again. It can definitely come in handy, though.

While you can definitely get critical hits (which impact with appropriately gory effect) when you're shooting at your enemies, the game seems intended to be a scattershot affair, spraying bullets here, there, and everywhere. There's nothing funner than having a horde of enemies coming at you and just mowing them down en masse. At least for a little while, anyway. It does become a bit tedious after a while, and even more so in the Zombie DLC.

What makes it even more annoying is that the enemies respawn at an irritating rate. If you clear an area, rest assured the next time you pass through there, those same enemies will be back again. I started killing them for the experience points and loot, but after a while I became so frustrated that I just rode right on past them (since in most areas, you can drive).

This brings up another annoyance, too. The save system can be brutal. The game automatically saves whenever you walk near a New-U Station. If you die, you will respawn at one of those (for a fee that's a percentage of the money you currently have) and have to move forward again. If you exit the game, it will also save, and you should appear at the nearest station. But that isn't always the case. There are some missions where you have to fight your way through a complex until you get to the final Boss battle. There's usually a New-U station right before the Boss.

I was having trouble with the Boss and decided to come back to it later. Next time, I booted up my machine to discover that I had to fight my way through most of the complex again! After that happened, I decided that I would never turn the game off if I was in the middle of a mission. It was just too unpredictable. This was difficult sometimes.

The graphics for Borderlands are beautifully done in a cell-shaded style that almost looks like a cartoon. This doesn't take away from the visceral feel of the game, though it does modify it somewhat. There's nothing cooler than watching a bandit take a sniper bullet to the head and having it splatter into a bloody mess, or to see a Lancer's arms or legs get shot off. I think it might not be as "cool" if the game had more "realistic" graphics. I love the style, and it gives Pandora its own unique flavour.

I also loved the humour in the game, though most of it comes through audio logs that you find. There is no dialogue in this game. Instead, the purpose is pure, intense combat. But even that can be funny. The game also revels in its humour with enemy names like "Mutant Midget Psycho of Badass Brute. It's hilarious watching a shotgun-wielding Midget Psycho shoot at you and get blown off his feet.

All of the above is great for a while, but eventually I found it all become mind-numbing. I wanted to finish it so I could finish the story (and finish the Zombie Island DLC because I had paid for it) but I found it less and less fun as I went along. Perhaps that would be rectified if I played it cooperatively.

But I didn't, and a single-player experience shouldn't become more of a job than a fun endeavour. I was getting sick of the same Spiderants showing up every time I went to visit Dr. Tannis (though the game levels your enemies as you increase your level, so they get increasingly tougher). I was getting sick of the bandits and skags that kept respawning at the New Haven exit. It was just more of the same, with greater and greater loot to pick up.

Don't get me wrong. Borderlands is a fun experience, and if you love the loot-filled, experience point-gaining grind of games like Diablo, then you will love this (if you can get past the first-person shooter aspect of it). This game is perfect for the right mindset. I thought I had it. And I did for a while.

It just got boring.

Note: The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned is a great addition to the game if you're not already bored with the action. Plan to use a *lot* of ammunition, though, as those zombies truly do come at you non-stop in some areas. That part got even more tedious, making me want to avoid certain areas that I would have to traverse. If you like Borderlands, you'll love it. If you find that it gets old, then this DLC will get *really* old, really quickly.

I did find it funnier than the main game, though.


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