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Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Take Two
Developer: Gearbox Software
Release Date: Oct. 26, 2009 (US), Oct. 30, 2009 (EU)


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PS3/X360/PC Preview - 'Borderlands'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Aug. 14, 2009 @ 9:00 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.

It's been a long time since we've seen an attempt to mix FPS and MMORPG genres. Games like Call of Duty implement leveling systems, but they're not quite comparable to an actual RPG, instead functioning as reward unlocks. There have been some popular attempts at FPS/RPG combinations, like BioShock, but they've all been of the single-player variety. Borderlands is a unique attempt to combine the action-packed gameplay of a FPS with the online loot-finding fun of a game like Diablo or World of Warcraft. The end result is something rather unique.

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 character who has been drawn to the planet to earn his fortune and figure out the location of the vault.

Borderlands is built to be somewhere between a FPS and an MMORPG. The basic gameplay is a fairly traditional FPS, with players wandering, aiming and firing in real time; you can even hop in a vehicle and drive around. However, the layout of the world is a lot more akin to a modern-day MMO title. Players, either alone or with a group of friends, will travel around the world, taking on quests in order to gain rewards. During our E3 demo, we were tasked with eliminating a bunch of wolf-like monsters (Skags) that were bothering an old man. While this may sound like a traditional World of Warcraft quest, remember that this is being done in full FPS style instead of turn-based combat. Even the enemies are built like MMORPG enemies, with each one having its own levels and stats. Occasionally you'll even encounter "epic" enemies, to whom the game grants the title "Badass." You'll be doing more than just shooting these enemies, though. Certain enemies may fire back, requiring you to duck or hide behind cover, and others have weak points that you'll have to exploit in order to defeat them. Killing enemies will make them drop loot, and the bigger the enemies, the bigger the stash of loot; it's even tagged with specific colors to signify its rarity.

Although Borderlands plays more like an FPS than an RPG, it still has a host of RPG-like customization features. There are four classes in the game — Hunter, Siren, Soldier and Tank — with each filling a common niche in the FPS genre. Soldier is the default class and should feel the most comfortable to players who mostly play FPS games to run and shoot. Siren is a stealthier class and is capable of cloaking. The Hunter class will focus on indirect combat and can eventually get a pet, which will fight alongside. Finally, Tank is a beefy class, dedicated to taking damage without stopping. In addition to your main abilities, each character will also have various Diablo-style skill trees to level up their characters. For example, the Tank can choose to invest in Blaster, Brawler or Tank skills, which means you can choose to focus on distance combat, close-range melee combat or absorbing damage, respectively. The Soldier can focus on his combat skills or invest in medic skills to support his allies and be a better team player. The Hunter has pets, but he can also become a long-range sniper. The end result gives players a lot more customization than they might expect from an FPS.

The customization doesn't stop with your characters, either. First-person shooters are known for having lots of guns, but Borderlands takes this to a ridiculous level. For a modern FPS, you can expect somewhere between 10 to 20 weapons, and that is considered on the high end. Borderlands has over one million unique weapons. This staggering number of weapons is done by using a special method of procedurally generating new weapons on the go, allowing for a tremendous variation in your possible loadouts.

Weapons can vary in a number of different ways. For example, some may fire rockets while others may fire shotgun shells, lasers, darts or even invisible blasts. Some may be made of wood or metal, and others are made with a strange alien technology. You could have a shotgun, a revolver, a sniper rifle, a bazooka or any combination of the above. There are a number of different manufacturers of guns in the Borderlands world, and the person who made your gun can usually give you a hint as to its looks and basic features. Thanks to the procedurally generated guns, you'll never be 100% sure what you're getting until you try it out. This means that there is a possibility of unbalanced weapons making their way into the game, but if you're lucky enough to randomly get an ubergun, then the developers think that you deserve to keep it. You can even customize weapons to change their attributes.

Borderlands is a game that's meant for a group of people play together. You can adventure alone, but the game is best played with a group of friends who can use their powers to complement one another. Enemies will change depending on the level and number of people in your party.  If you want to get the most loot and most experience from defeating your foes, you'll have to make sure to bring along a full team for the ride. Of course, from time to time, you'll want to duke it out with friends. Borderlands isn't a PvP game by default, but players have the option to air their grievances with one another on the field of battle. There are choices. Those looking for something structured will want to seek out arenas, where you can have sanctioned battles, either free-for-all or on teams. If you're eager for a battle right then and there, two players can choose to initiate a duel almost anywhere. All they have to do is engage in a melee attack to "slap" one another, which will activate a barrier that allows the two to have a one-on-one duel to the death.

Perhaps the most noticeable change from Borderlands since the previous year's E3 is the drastic change to the game's art style. Borderlands used to be designed more like most FPSes, with realistic-looking characters and tons of gritty and realistic art styling. This year, it's changed a bit, with the entire game taking on a new cel-shaded art style. "Cartoony" isn't quite the right word for it. The game isn't quite as animated-looking as Team Fortress 2 or World of Warcraft, but it looks a touch closer to a comic book than an animated feature. This distinctive look does a lot to distinguish it from most other FPS titles.

Borderlands isn't exactly an RPG, but it's not wholly an FPS either; it combines the features of both to form something rather unique. Those looking for an action-packed FPS will find a lot to interest them among the wide variety of guns, powerful enemies and PvP arena battles. Those who are interested in the RPG elements will be right at home with the branching skill trees, tons of loot and a wide-open world to explore. There are plenty of great FPSes and plenty of great RPGs, but the two genres meet so rarely that Borderlands is shaping up to be an extremely interesting game.  The fact that the title focuses on allying with friends and blowing the crap out of enemies doesn't hurt its case, either. For those who are looking for a good online FPS that gives you lots of customization options or a good Diablo-style offering that uses more than your mouse-clicking skill, Borderlands is looking to be the game for you.

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