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Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Take Two
Developer: Gearbox Software
Release Date: Oct. 20, 2009 (US), Oct. 23, 2009 (EU)


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PS3/X360/PC Preview - 'Borderlands'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Sept. 4, 2009 @ 4:57 a.m. PDT

Borderlands is an extraordinary cooperative experience, allowing for multiple players to share the same game experience simultaneously online. Players can freely join or leave each other's games at anytime, or choose to play in the full single-player mode. Borderlands features life-like character animations, impressive real-time physics, and customizable vehicles.

Borderlands is set on the desert hellhole planet known as Pandora, which is one of the pits of the galaxy. However, it makes up for this by having vast stores of technology and minerals, which also makes it a popular destination for treasure hunters, pirates and various other fortune seekers. The biggest prize is the mysterious Vault, a legendary storehouse of goods said to be worth a staggering amount of cash. Players take on the role of a bounty hunter who travels to Pandora, trying to find the secret of the Vault and strike it rich.

Borderlands plays exactly like most modern FPS games. The analog sticks control your movement, the right trigger fires, and the left trigger allows you to aim down the sight of the gun. The right bumper tosses grenades, and the left bumper uses your character's special ability. Borderlands also uses a combination health and shield system. Each character has a shield bar that functions very much like the Halo system; it will drain if it's damaged, and if you go for a little while without damage, it will regenerate. If you lose all your shields, your health will start to take damage. When your health is completely drained, you slowly start to bleed out, but you can still fire your weapon.

If an ally rescues you before you bleed out completely, you'll stand back up. Alternately, if you manage to kill an enemy while crippled, you'll gain a second wind and get back onto your feet with some shield and health restored. If you've played any modern FPS title, you should have no problem picking up and playing the game. At the same time, this title shouldn't be confused for a traditional FPS.

Borderlands is filled to the brim with RPG elements. The game is basically Diablo combined with an FPS title. Players do damage to enemies in classic RPG style, with each blow doing a certain amount of damage — your character's equipment and stats — to the enemy's HP. When killed, enemies drop experience points and loot, which can be used to further power up your characters. Each character has a series of equip slots. You can equip up to four different weapons at once, as well as modifications to your armor or grenades, which change various aspects of how they function. One armor upgrade may give you a larger shield bar, another may mean you take less damage from certain kinds of attacks, and a third may have terrible shield defense but will slowly regenerate your regular HP. You can make it so your grenades stick to things, bounce off things, explode on contact, or even make a grenade with smaller grenades inside. Your character's customization options are tremendous.

By and far, the greatest customization comes from the game's weapons. There are seven kinds of guns in the game: Combat Rifle, Eridian, Launcher, Pistol, Shotgun, Sniper Rifle and Submachine Gun. Each weapon has its strengths and weaknesses, most of which should feel quite familiar to FPS veterans. Pistols are fast and accurate but weak, shotguns are great at close range but terrible at distance, sniper rifles are slow but ridiculously powerful, etc. Eridian are alien weapons, which are powerful but rare. Weapons also can have different elemental effects, which means that you can have a pistol that sets enemies on fire or a shotgun that does corrosive acid damage over time. Any player can use any weapon. Some are more effective in the hands of certain classes, but anyone can keep a sniper rifle or launcher on hand. The more you use a weapon, the greater your skills get with it. There is not just one kind of each weapon in the game, but thousands. Weapons and equipment are randomly dropped and randomly generated, much like loot in Diablo. Kill an enemy, and he may drop a cheap submachine gun, or he may drop a super-rare machine gun with special elemental effects. The variation in weapons is tremendously huge. There are certain special guns you may find from completing quests, but mostly, the best stuff comes from lucky drops.

There are four classes in the game: Berserker, Hunter, Siren and Soldier.  The Soldier has the ability to deploy a temporary turret wherever he desires. While this turret begins with just the ability to shoot enemies and form a convenient barrier, it can be upgraded to do a number of other things, including supporting and healing your allies. The Hunter has a pet hawk that he can summon at will to do serious damage to nearby enemies. Like the Soldier, the Hunter's hawk can be upgraded to grant special bonus effects whenever it is summoned; it can eventually attack multiple enemies at once. The Siren has the ability to Phasewalk, which allows you to deploy a powerful burst of energy that damages everything around you. At the same time, the Siren becomes temporarily invisible and can move significantly faster than normal, but is incapable of using weapons. She can perform a powerful stealth melee attack on enemies, but this pulls her out of the Phasewalk. The Berserker, as you'd imagine, has the ability to go berserk. Activating this causes his vision to be clouded with a red mist, and he loses the ability to use guns. Instead, he'll use his bare fists to brutalize enemies. While in a rage, the Berserker's fists do ridiculous amounts of damage, and he is extremely resistant to all forms of attack. This allows him to simply wade into enemy lines and begin to tear enemies apart. He isn't invincible, though, so while the Berserker can take a lot of damage while berserk, he can eventually die.

While there are only four classes, each of those four classes has three sub-classes that you'll have to invest in, very similar to Diablo. Just because two characters are playing as a Siren doesn't mean that they'll play the same way. A Soldier can invest in Infantry, Support or Medic. A Siren can either be a Controller, an Elemental or an Assassin. The Hunter can focus on Sniper, Rogue or Gunslinger. The Berserker can be a Brawler, Tank or Blaster.

The basic structure of Borderlands is very similar to the kind of setup you'd find in World of Warcraft or Diablo. Players are asked to find quest givers, who will ask them to perform certain tasks. These tasks can range from clearing out a base full of rampaging marauders to finding rare plants that the quest giver needs to survive. You may have to hunt down a powerful beast or simply go and flip a few switches in a monster-infested area. In exchange, you get experience points, money and, occasionally, rare items. It's a very familiar setup, although it's certainly quite odd to see it attached to a first-person shooter instead of a point-and-click RPG. As the game progresses, new areas will be unlocked for you, and you'll come closer to discovering the secret of the Vault. Even if you should complete the game, you can do multiple playthroughs, allowing you to continue leveling your characters and adventuring with friends.

The world map in Borderlands is fairly large and divided into a number of smaller areas to explore. Like Fallout 3, you're asked to trek across the wasteland, going from place to place to complete your quests. However, unlike Fallout 3, you don't always have to do this on foot. Early in the game, you'll be able to activate a Catch-A-Ride station, which lets you summon a vehicle for your own usage. This vehicle can seat multiple characters at once and can be equipped with machine guns or rocket launchers. While inside, you're a veritable death machine, capable of blowing up enemies or running them over with ease. You can even use the afterburners on the car to leap over previously impassible gorges, allowing you to reach new areas or attack an enemy encampment from behind. However, you're also a much bigger target while in the vehicle, and heavily armed enemies could prove to be a real danger to a big truck instead of a small and nimble human.

While Borderlands has a ton of RPG elements, there are also a number of pure FPS tropes involved. For example, the enemies you face in the game all have weak points. Human enemies are vulnerable to headshots, so if you're good with a sniper rifle, you can play Borderlands like you would any other FPS and go for headshots to get lots of critical damage. Not all enemies are vulnerable to simple headshots, as the "skags" that comprise the majority of your enemies early on are not humanoid. They're strange armored wolf-lizard things, so the only way to do critical damage to them is to shoot them in the mouth when they open up to roar at you. While the RPG elements of the game do a lot to determine if you're going to win or lose fights, FPS skills matter too.

Borderlands is a multiplayer game, and the gameplay is mostly cooperative. Players are supposed to work together and complete the game's various challenges in order to succeed. The more people who play together, the greater the loot and prizes will be. Loot is loot, though, and not all players will be able to get the best equipment. If you're not playing with people you trust, you may see a Hunter grab the rocket launcher that you wanted. Fortunately, there are a few ways to allow for player-versus-player disputes. Two players can choose to initiate a duel by melee-attacking one another, which creates a temporary barrier that allows the two to fight unhindered. For those seeking something a little more centralized, the game also offers Thunderdrome-style arenas. Enter an arena, and you can have a deathmatch against other players or have your team take on an opponent's team in a variety of FPS-style games.

Borderlands is a first-person shooter take on the Diablo genre — one that stands out significantly from every other FPS on the market. Sure, all the common tropes of FPSes are here, but by placing them into an RPG perspective, things change a lot. It's one thing to have a rocket launcher, but it's another to have a special, rare rocket launcher that shoots acid-spewing rockets that also power up your character's special abilities. Borderlands combines the fun exploration of Fallout with the humor of Team Fortress 2 and the addictive loot collection of Diablo. The end result is a game that is just plain fun. Even the tired old "Kill x of y enemies" quests take on a new life when you're hunting down and killing those enemies with awesome headshots. Borderlands is shaping up to be an FPS with some real replay value, and a great game for friends to play together. Gamers who love collecting items or making the perfect character build will find plenty to fool around with here.

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