I am standing over corpses: dead Skags, Mutant Midget Psychos and Badass Bruisers. Each one killed by a unique tool of destruction. I'm talking, of course, about guns. My guns - and my guns are different to yours.
I killed the Skag - a dog-like beast with giant teeth and a gaping, Predator-esque mouth - with a BLR Static Repeater: a handgun with a scope and a chance to electrocute enemies. I killed the Mutant Midget Psycho, a gibbering, squealing dwarfish abomination, with the GGN490 Solid Sniper Rifle: a devastating long range weapon with +150 per cent critical hit damage. But I saved the best for last. I killed the Badass Bruiser, a hulking tank of a man, with the SG330 Static Shotgun: a death dealer that spews out seven shells at once, each doing 29 points of damage. Each weapon is unique. Each weapon is different. But is this what Borderlands is all about?
Gearbox's science fiction shooter has caused quite a stir. Why? Because it's hard to classify. Humans don't like this. We like to order things, labelling them with clear and concise descriptions and placing them into grey filing cabinets. That's an RPG. That's an FPS. That's an MMO. Borderlands is none of these things. Borderlands is all of these things.
Borderlands is a science fiction shooter best played with friends. It's an FPS/RPG hybrid. It's Diablo in first-person. It's Hellgate: London, but better. It's Fallout 3 wearing XIII's clothes. It's Left 4 Dead with quests. Has that cleared it up for you?
The game begins with a choice that will be familiar to anyone who's played a role-playing game: what class should I play? In Borderlands there are four options: Roland, the soldier, deploys turrets; Lilith, the Siren, can become invisible; Mordecai, the Hunter, uses a bird like a homing grenade; and Brick, well… Brick is a tank who likes to let his fists do the talking.
At level one you begin your journey to find the Vault, a mythical place that promises wealth, power and women. It's hidden somewhere on the post-apocalyptic, 2000AD-inspired planet Pandora. You're a merc, dumped from the back of a bus onto the sandy roads and guided by a Cortana-like Guardian Angel who appears out of nowhere with warm words of encouragement. This is the set-up: a simple premise devoid of complicated narrative and fluffy plot. You're here to make your fortune in a brutal, alien Wild West.
Almost from the get-go Borderlands shows that it has taken what's worst about MMOs - the uninspiring quests - and used them to generate 60-odd hours worth of gameplay. Voiceless NPCs dish out repetitive quests of the 'go here and kill X/flip switch/grab item then come back for experience points' variety. Quest text goes unread. Background info goes unabsorbed. Clear, useful map waypoints make redundant the reasons behind your rampage.
Despite slight variations, all quests have one thing in common: they involve shooting the living crap out of Pandora's bad guys and bad things. Pandora's inhabitants are… a tad unhinged. To be honest, they're completely mental. From the Mad Max style goons high on psychotic love juice to the Skags, Rakk (demonic birds), insect things and creepy ghosts, the enemies almost steal the show. Borderlands is at its best when you're shooting stuff. The controls are tight, headshots are satisfying (despite the odd collision detection issue), the weapons carry weight, and the general FPS feel is just what you'd expect from a developer with years of Brothers in Arms development under its belt.
It's a shame, then, that it's all too repetitive. The post-apocalyptic environments, while colourful and buoyed by the comic book art style, soon feel samey. The enemies you kill, too, despite being well-designed and perfectly in keeping with the over-the-top tone of the game, soon lose their appeal. Skags are perhaps the worst culprits of this particular crime: when you finally get to leave the opening area, after a good few hours of play, you're more excited by the prospect of not aggro-ing any more of the bastards than by the thought of looting shiny new weapons.