Besides, the whole scavenging-for-toys aspect feels like it should work with the game’s plot. Borderlands’ backstory is still a bit vague, but essentially the gist is that you’re a hard-boiled treasure seeker on the alien planet of Pandora. Once upon a time Pandora was a happy place attracting flocks of human settlers and colonists, but eventually people realised that the planet was also home to a whole bunch of nasty creatures who only emerge during certain seasons. Anyone with cash hopped back onto a departing space ship, leaving an intergalactic Wild West for those who were left behind. You’re now searching for something called The Vault – a mythical stash of alien technology that’s; supposedly squirreled away somewhere on Pandora. Unfortunately no-one knows where it is, because everyone who finds the place seems to disappear.
Despite the RPG touches, Borderland’s gameplay tent looks to be firmly pitched in the campsite marked “Kaboom!”. In other words, it’s fast and brutal. Some of the quests shown off during E3 seemed to have an MMO-like feel, requiring the player to kill a certain number of Skags – angry jackal-like creatures that leapt about the desert landscape. Other missions seemed more like traditional action fare, with the players raiding a mine populated by trigger-happy bandits, laying down explosive charges to blow the place sky high. There was a decent variety of enemies too, even within the brief demo we were shown: spider-like insects, heavy gun turrets and midgets with axes. It all runs very slickly too, the arcade-like pace contrasting with the more chin-strokey elements like the XP scores and colour-coded loot drops.And thanks to the stand-out art style, it looks pretty damn sexy, too.
Lest we forget, this is a game that’s been designed for co-op play. While Brick was the only character I got a good look at, the four classes seem to be naturally designed to work with each other. There’s a sniper named Mordecai who apparently can befriend some form of alien pet, a mage-like woman who used alien psychic abilities and a fourth character who seems to be a general-purpose all-round soldier. You can drop in to a friend’s game at any time and join them as they play, then return to your own campaign with all the new kit you’ve found. You might expect some kind of system to prevent you from abusing this system, but Randy Pitchford himself has said that he likes to go back to the early bosses with advanced weapons, killing them in a matter of seconds. Why? Because it’s fun.
Clearly there are still lots of things we have yet to see in this game. It is known that vehicles play an important role, but so far we’ve only seen a two-man buggy that largely serves as a quick transport. It’s quite possible that randomisation will come into play here, and the same may be true of the game’s monsters – similar beasties will attack in different ways. It’d also be nice to know about how the competitive multiplayer will shape up, although we already know that you can challenge your co-op pals to arena duels by smacking them about during a game: punch your friend and you will “demand satisfaction” from them. If they respond in turn, you’ll both warp to some form of neutral battle ground and duke it out.
There were a lot of FPS titles at this year’s E3 – Home Front, Modern Warfare II, Singularity, Bioshock II, Halo ODST, Red Steel II and Brink, off the top of my head. The latter was probably the game that most stood out to me (though I didn’t get to see MW2 in person), but I must say that Borderlands certainly made a fairly lasting impression. It feels different and exciting, and it certainly looks stunning. If you’ve read my interview with Randy Pitchford you’ll know that he’s said a lot about taking risks, and it’s certainly fair to say that Gearbox is taking a gamble. However, as a man who likes the odd wager myself, I’d be happy to back Borderlands as a potential winner. Gearbox has a lot of decent experience in this genre, and if the new ideas work well then they should do, the final game should be well worth the wait.
Borderlands will be out later this year on PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.