The very last game I saw at Games Convention 2007 was Gearbox's sci-fi FPS Borderlands. Having been secretly in development for the past 20 months, the team headed by Randy Pitchford felt it was time to blow the lid on what is shaping up to be a hugely promising and ambitious FPS. Sadly development still has a further 15-18 months to go, but I got to see a fairly lengthy game demo to see just what gamers will be getting come winter 2008.
The game takes place on the frontier planet Pandora, in the area known as the Borderlands. This is a rough, lawless state, where nowhere is safe and everyone is looking for a way out. In a neat twist, the settlements are actually the ships that deliberately crashed into the planet, drilling in and forming a home for the colonists. The area is hostile but the planet has a liveable atmosphere for humans.
What the colonists didn't know when they landed was how the planet's seasons work. Due to the planet taking decades to get around its star, each season lasts for years. They landed in winter, during a time when the planet seemed rather hospitable save for the weather, but it's now summer and a few nasties have started to come out of the woodwork.
You play as a fortune hunter, on the look out for something of significance with your crew. While this aspect of the game wasn't really expanded on in the demo, the guys at Gearbox described the main guy as a cross between Indiana Jones and Mad Max, and it made sense. What followed included elements of adventure, desert driving and some good old fashioned action.
'...the game will feature over half a million different guns. Just take that in for a moment and think about it.'
Due to the thaw that took place when summer arrived a new species has turned up, named the Rack. These are first encountered when you run into some creatures known as skags. These are basically the scavengers of the race, hunting in a pack in the same way that you'd expect hyenas to. They're not hard to take out if they're alone, but with friends they're quite a threat. In our demo they didn't cause too much bother and we moved on to the game's mission structure.
While there will be an overarching storyline, with missions that move this along, the game's RPG elements come to the fore with the many missions given out by the NPCs. As ever, these side quests earn you money and stat increases. We weren't shown exactly what your character will be able to do with high level stats, but the devs did speak about being able to leap onto buildings, suggesting that you'll gain some form of superhuman ability.
Next up in the demo came a look at the vehicle sections and the game's co-op play, as the journey to the supposed Rack nest started. In the final game up to four players will be able to play through the main campaign, but for demonstration purposes we made do with two. The two players walked over to one of the buggy-like vehicles to the side of the building and got inside - one taking the controls, with the other on the guns.
What followed was a highly exciting, high-speed run across a desert-like environment, with enemies constantly tailing the buggy. We only got to see the action from one point of view, but what was on show seemed far more than an open space to traverse while the game loaded the next big area. While clearly still early it also served to show off the game's physics, with the buggy being sent flying high into the air when hit by an enemy missile and enemy structures built into cliff faces exploded impressively when our demonstrators managed to hit them.
As fun as the driving looked, attention soon moved to the meat of the game: the combat. This is where the gathered journalists started to doubt the words of Randy Pitchford and when you read the following sentence I'm sure you will too: the game will feature over half a million different guns. Just take that in for a moment and think about it. We didn't have to think about it as the demo player proceeded to spew hundreds of guns all over the floor, each being different in significant ways.
The dev team's objective is to make it so you don't need to think about if a weapon you see is better than what you already own. Just looking at it should be enough, with details like the type of material used and the sheer size being powerful visual indicators. It is of course hard to believe such a grand statement won't result in a slightly disappointing feature when we finally get our hands on the game, but if it works as billed gun-touting sharpshooters everywhere will no doubt get quite excited.
Early impressions are certainly positive, with the gun-play looking up to par with what you'd find in a more streamlined FPS. Combined with the openness of the environment, which seems to have a scale similar to that of Oblivion, Borderlands could be something very special indeed. My interest was peaked by the conclusion to the demonstration, with the Rack nest being found. Far from being what the colonists expected, the nest turned out to be a giant living creature, with smaller beasts using it as a mobile home. Assuming that's the kind of encounter we're likely to come across when Borderlands is released late next year, those half-a-million guns should come in very handy indeed.