Fond Memory: How Borderlands Renewed My Faith in FPS
As with most of the games that I love, Borderlands was a happy accident that I never thought would happen. When it was first released, I'd heard about it, seen it in magazine, heard friends tell me it was great, but I never had any interest in the game itself. It was a first person shooter. Most people who know me know that I'm rubbish when I can't see my feet, and that has translated into hate. Love, hate. Hate, love. It's a really fine line!
Borderlands was developed by Gearbox Software and released on October 20th, 2009 by 2K Games. It's a First Person Shooter RPG, where you take on the role of a Vault Hunter, in search of a legendary Vault, said to have untold riches. You set out across the savage world of Pandora, led by the mysterious voice of a blue faced woman that you hardly ever see. That, and her mouth never moves when she speaks. Creepy.
Where was I going with this? Oh, yes. Borderlands. The last game I played before dropping into the interplanetary badlands was Fallout 3 and New Vegas, and I was itching for something a little more on the dystopian side. I really enjoyed Bioshock 1 and 2, so naturally, when I asked people if there was another game along the same vein, many of them pointed me towards Pandora. I found it at Gamestop for $20 in late 2010, and figured why not? As always, I was late to the party.
Even after I bought the game, watched some reviews, and had a moment to absorb some gamplay footage on Youtube, I still wasn't convinced that this was the game for me. As I said, I don't like first person shooters. We don't jive. I think it may be because I'm really into fantasy, not so much into Sci-Fi, and almost never play anything that's too realistic. I need magic, a weapon that can cast epic bolts of lightning, and other not-of-this-world contraptions of chaos to satiate my gaming itch. That's just me though. Guess I'm not that hardcore...
I stared at the strange figure trying to shoot himself with his fingers, wondering what I had just spent my money on, and popped the game into the PS3. I had an inclination that I'd be returning it soon. Then the opening, hand drawn, movie started playing. It was nicely narrated, and it was enough to hold my attention. All right, so far not so bad, I was digging the style.
An ugly dog, or Skag as they're referred to on Pandora, opens its face, predator style, and BAM! Roadkill. Ain't No Rest for the Wicked by Cage the Elephant begins to play. Holy crap, from that moment on, this game had my undivided attention.
You choose from one of four Vault Hunters. Brick is a muscular Berzerker that uses his fists in place of shoguns. Well, not shotguns for hands, I mean, like, he uses fists. To punch things. Instead of guns. Not...well, moving on! Mordecai is a Sniper, with a pet hawk named Blood Wing that swoops down on foes and pecks their eyes asunder! Lilith is a Siren, a being with the power to Phasewalk, which means she dives into another dimension and deals ass whoopery in a state of higher consciousness. Or something. Lastly! Roland is a Soldier, with the ability to set automatic turrets and guns to protect himself during heavy skirmishes.
I chose the Siren, because I love her Phasewalk ability! It always got me out of tight situations, since I was able to become practically invisible and could zip about like a Jedi Knight on acid! Later on, she has the ability to cause lightning or corrosive damage while phasewalking. Oh, and she can also grow phoenix wings the more she kills, which sets anything that comes too close on fire. That is what I'm talking about! Roasty toasty, people. Roasty toasty.
The best aspect of Borderlands are the visuals. It's sketchy, cell shaded look is absolutely beautiful! It was like watching a piece of artwork moving in 3D. Absolutely wonderful to look at! Also, the character designs were really nice, too. From the four main hunters, to the enemies, the creatures, and the bosses, I loved the exaggerated proportions, the bright colors, all the flashy special effects, and all the dirty little scribbles and pen strokes. I'm a sucker for anything artistic.
The other strongest aspect was the dialogue. Whether it was listening to the amusing banter coming from Scooter and his “Catch a Ride!”, or the quick voice stabs of the enemies (“Let's pound some meat puppets!”) Borderlands was just a joy to listen to. Patricia Tannis was my favorite! Oh, the audio recordings, how I love thee. I also liked Claptrap from the very beginning! I know he wears on a few peoples nerves, but I always loved him. I saved as many of Claptraps as I could through out the game, and it was always a delight to find one. He, er it, I guess, is spunky, energetic, and added to the quirkiness of this game. I travelled across Pandora, just to hear the next character speak. It was always funny and interesting.
As for the gameplay, Borderlands is a first person gun fest, with an endless combination of weapons to choose from. You have the ability to run, jump, throw grenades, switch out weapons, and pick up new items. You know, standard FPS fare. The biggest draw for Borderlands was the ability to upgrade and level your character up, via a skill tree, RPG style. Each class had 3 skill trees at their disposal, with a level cap of 50. This gave you the freedom to choose the way you would play, and it would give you a way to set yourself apart from the rest of the gun toting bad asses you'd come across.
Up to four players can join you, either through network or local play. During my stint in Pandora, I stuck purely to local play with my wife. I served up some carnage with my deadly Siren, while my wife ate the faces of the wicked with Mordecai and his eye-ripping hawk, Bloodwing. We made a pretty good team, and we laid waste to the world of Pandora, a husband and wife duo, killing in hopes of uncovering legendary glory, and the loot of a thousand worlds! That's a Treasure Planet reference, by the way.
Sadly, as much as I loved this game, it did have it's drawbacks. For one thing, textures seemed to load really slowly in some areas, so a lot of the time I was just staring at blobs of color. It wasn't too distracting, but it did take me out of the game every once and awhile. Also, in moments when you'd zoom close to a characters face, you could see pixelated shadows and textures, which was slightly jarring, but not enough to kill the game.
Also, the world seemed so cold, and despondent. I didn't feel like Pandora was alive. Okay, outside the towns, the creatures and inhabitants gave the game scope, but I mean when it came to interacting with NPCs, I felt absolutely no connection. There was no life to them. You couldn't interact with some of the townsfolk, who just stood around, which was sort of a let down. They may as well have been background elements. And even the people that were important to the story didn't say much of anything to you, except for what the mission dictated.
Speaking of characters, I was looking forward to actually meeting Scooter, and especially Patricia Tannis and Marcus Kincaid! I was expecting dialogue options, moments of learning about them and their past, and questing in their name! Yet, when you finally come face to face with them, they don't speak, they hardly acknowledge you, and you learn next to little about them? It made me sad. I thought I'd actually found some friends...
And as I said, the dialogue is wonderful. But as the game chugged on, and I neared the final moments of my journey, it seemed like the writers ran out of steam, because things became less funny, less interesting. There weren't any interesting voice quips, and we went from characters like Nine-Toes and his “Three balls” to Krom, who just looked like one of the standard enemies? I mean I could pick out a handful of Psychos who had more character appeal than he did.
Which brings me to the biggest issue with Borderlands: the ending. Warning, spoilers ahead! My mission to find the vault in Borderlands was an amazing one. I tore through Pandora. I was going to engrave my name in history! The legendary vault and all the riches were mine. Then you actually find the vault, and it’s a prison for a huge, galactic space monster? Okay. Good twist. I didn’t see that coming. But no explanation of the vault, or why the squidy was in there? Nothing led to these events, or were even hinted at through the rest of the game. There was absolutely no closure of any kind.
And after the battle, what do you get? You get to explore a Pandora that has not changed. You don’t get anything worth noting from the vault, which was one of the biggest disappointments. You get a pat on the back, and life goes on. For those who actually experienced this dismal attempt to wrap things up, you understand what I'm talking about. It was really disappointing.
Borderlands was a wonderful game. I'd play it over Halo and Call of Duty, any day. That's just me. If the ending had been better, and the writing consistent from beginning to end, Borderlands could have been one of the greatest gems of all time. It's still one of my favorite games, I just wish it had a little more depth when you reached the end. Would I play it again? Absolutely.