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View Full Version : Borderlands: A review and retrospective look at FPS/RPGs



Zoombie
10-27-2009, 12:28 PM
I wrote and posted it for my blog, but only 7 people read that. And so, here we go!

###

A few years ago, a game by the original developers of Diablo and Diablo 2 came out. It was called Hellgate London and on the surface, it was awesome. Slick graphics, interesting idea, endlessly randomized and addictive.

There was only one problem: It...kinda sucked.

Actually, its funny that I say 'one' problem, when really, it was a plethora of minor mistakes that brought the game down, like a multitude of nanobots chewing an elephant to death. The first was the music and sound: Nearly nonexistent music combined with flat and boring sound effects do not a compelling experience make.

Now, sound might not sound like a huge deal (ha) but it really makes a huge impact. Sound design can make or break atmosphere in a big way. We're aural and visual creatures, and playing a game that serves great graphics and yet subpar sound is a great way to yank someone out of the experience. I mean, the basic gunshot sound in Hellgate was so flat and dull that I barely wanted to pull the trigger!

And no, swords sounded no better.

The second problem was theme. The opening intro movie, the monster design, the graphics, all of it pointed towards a very specific theme: Dark post-apoc, with grim everywhere. But then when you actually *play* the game, and *talk* to the NPCs, your ability to take them seriously as characters dies a quick and painless death, shot through the head by a quest givers that goof it up so much you'd almost think you were in a parody. In fact, most of the written lines WERE written like a parody.

But the game does not feel like a parody when you trudge through the bombed out ruins of London. In the end, it all felt so unreal and flat that I didn't care two whits for anyone or anything.

And the third and final problem was the randomization. Randomization is awesome, as it gives a game added depth and interest. The problem was...yeah, gun A and gun B might have totally different stats and be unique gemstones in the wild wild world of spreadsheets...but they both look, sound, and act the same in game. The armor might have different stats and abilities, but when they all LOOK like the SAME GODDAMN boring futuristic power armor I just want to stab myself!

And don't get me started on the levels. Oh the levels...yes, they were completely random, good job! But they didn't feel like...places. They felt like...random mazes. That worked for Diablo and Diablo 2. Want to know why? Because we didn't *know* Tristriam like the backs of our hands, and even though the maps were random, they still *felt* like a *place*.

In Hellgate: London, you do not feel like you are in London. You do not feel as though you are in any recognizable city. They could have called it Hellgate: Liberty City...but even that would be inaccurate, for Liberty City still feels like fucking Liberty City.

No, a better name would be Hellgate: Generic. Cause in their attempt to make an endlessly random game, they ended up with...well, an endlessly random generic mush.

And so, it seemed like the FPS/Action/RPG hybrid was doomed, with only the distant Diablo 3 and the occasional third party games like Silverfall to come and give us loot gathering, sword slinging addicts something to do.

...and then.

And then...

And then came...

Borderlands.

And let me get something out of the way, right now: Borderlands is *FUCKING AWESOME*. If I were to describe it in a single pithy sentence, I'd say "Hellgate: London done right (in space).

The game takes place on Pandora, a distant and shitty planet of dust, bandits, and aggressive wildlife. However, on Pandora there is rumored to be a Vault containing infinite wealth and treasure and alien technology. So, logically, you play as one of four treasure hunters who has come to Pandora to find the Vault and get stinking filthy rich. Unfortunately, there is a hostile planet between you and the Vault...

Fortunately, you have the help of 87 bajillion guns.

Yes. Bajillion.

And guess what? They were serious. There are literally 87 bajillion guns in this game, subdivided into 6 categories.

So, we have...

Pistols: Automatic Pistols, Semi-Automatics, Revolvers...
SMGs: SMGs that shoot fire! SMGs that shoot rockets!
Combat Rifles: 3 shot pinpoint bullpups, full on machine guns
Launchers: Rocket launchers that shoot rockets that shoot lightning!
Sniper Rifles: I have a sniper rifle that can take the head off a bandit at 100 meters. Also it lights the bandit on fire.
Shotguns: Acid. Shotgun. ACID. SHOTGUN. THERE IS AN ACID SHOTGUN

And this is just a *fraction* of the guns available. And guess what...they all look different, sound different, and feel different. The sound effects are good, the guns behave in interesting ways...though some do feel similar to other guns, they all manage to mix it up often enough that it does not feel like you're just using the same weapon with different skins.

Oh, and did I mention the grenade mods? Basically, you can carry 3 grenades (that capacity can be upgraded up to 6, I believe) and you can equip a grenade mod. The first and grenade mod you get is a "MIRV" mod.

When your grenades explode they launch other grenades.

WHEN.

YOUR

GRENADE

EXPLODES

IT LAUNCHES

OOOOOOOTHER GRENADES!

There are acid grenades, flame grenades, bouncing betty grenades, sticky grenades (complete with gun toting cowardly midgets for you to stick them too), telepoting grenades.

Oh yeah.

Teleporting grenades.

Now, you have every gun you could possibly want...who do you get to shoot it at? Well, I'm only partially through the game, but so far the enemies are fairly entertaining. There are two main types: Human enemies and alien enemies. Aliens are the wild life of Pandora, including scaled dog like critters to burrowing larva in the ground to flying sky monsters. Each of them have a weak point you can hit FOR MASSIVE DAMAGE and they all look very cool.

Human enemies are visually less exciting, most of them being nothing more than regular bandits. However, their guns and the nicely squishy way they explode when you drop a MIRV on them is always satisfying.

Now would be a good time to mention the graphics: They're colorful, stylish, and cell shaded. Now, if cell shading is not your thing, you might find this annoying...but personally, I think it really works with the quirky, off beat tone that they are trying to set.

See, that's another thing that this game does right that Hellgate did wrong: Tone. The game is quirky and offbeat from the first five seconds of its BRILLIANT opening to the shotgun toting midgets to the grindhouse movie style intros too all NPCs and boss monsters (fans of Tarentino will get a kick out of these).

The music is also fantastic, by the way.

Anywho, the gameplay is an entertaining and simple mix of gunning and RPG. You shoot bad guys with guns, they die, you pick up loot, equip the better stuff, sell the crappier stuff, level up, gain abilities that let you do cool things like turn invisible or make robotic turrets...we've seen this all before. However, its done so well and married perfectly with the FPS elements that the term Role Playing Shooter really applies.

...

Oh yeah, also, there's 4 player Co-op


Its not going to move you to tears, and its not an amazing artistic statment, but its not trying to be. All its trying to be is entertaining and charming and funny, and it blew me away on all three counts.


...dude, I just got a revolver that fires acid bullets.


Highs: Charming graphics, great music, awesome gunplay, lots of guns, simple but effective RPG, polished and unbuggy.
Lowers: Walking from place to place is a grind, and the driving segments are merely a side show. I'd have preferred they just give us fast travel so we can warp to the interesting parts rather than have to drive a cruddy buggy around.
Bottom Line: If you like shooters? Buy it. If you're needing an action RPG fix, buy it. If Hellgate: London appealed despite its flaws, BUY IT!


Score: 8.5 out of 10 bajillion guns.

tarcanus
10-27-2009, 09:22 PM
So.....pretty much it's just like every other, "let's blow shit up and shoot and kill and maim in various gory ways with far too many different kinds of guns, not all of which will ever be useful, but might show a nice gory, unique animation" game out there.

I'll make sure to avoid it. Thanks for the heads up.

Cranky
10-27-2009, 09:42 PM
My hubby just bought it and loves it. I'm sort of lukewarm on it, but I'll give it a few more tries before I give up on it. Love the cartoon-style graphics, though.

BigWords
10-27-2009, 10:38 PM
*adds to shopping list*

Jcomp
10-27-2009, 10:52 PM
Nice review. I am intrigued.

whistlelock
10-27-2009, 11:10 PM
So... pc game or console?

Cranky
10-27-2009, 11:15 PM
I think it might be available on both, actually. We bought it for the PS3, but I saw this (http://store.steampowered.com/app/8980/), which suggests it's available for the PC, too.

Freelancer
10-27-2009, 11:35 PM
Thanks for the review.

Zoombie
10-27-2009, 11:46 PM
So.....pretty much it's just like every other, "let's blow shit up and shoot and kill and maim in various gory ways with far too many different kinds of guns, not all of which will ever be useful, but might show a nice gory, unique animation" game out there.

I'll make sure to avoid it. Thanks for the heads up.

Actually, the guns are all of varying usefulness. Its like any other action RPG (or clickfests as I callz them) in that there is a huge range of equipment, most of it average, with specials that shine. You sell the average and keep the specials, then use them in entertaining ways to blow the shit out of people.

Also, "might" show? If you kill someone with an enviromental effect (fire, acid, lightning, explosive...) then you always get a nice animation. Acid is particularly gruesome.

tarcanus
10-28-2009, 12:00 AM
Actually, the guns are all of varying usefulness. Its like any other action RPG (or clickfests as I callz them) in that there is a huge range of equipment, most of it average, with specials that shine. You sell the average and keep the specials, then use them in entertaining ways to blow the shit out of people.

Also, "might" show? If you kill someone with an enviromental effect (fire, acid, lightning, explosive...) then you always get a nice animation. Acid is particularly gruesome.


I apologize for my cynicism, and I really do appreciate the review since now I know this game's not my cup of tea, but this type of game (where reviewers don't even mention the plot and instead focus on the gory visuals and arsenal of ridiculous weapons (don't get me wrong, I love me some elemental weapons)) drive me away. I AM glad, however, that the gameplay sounds smooth. It's far too often the case that devs rush out a game and then the gameplay suffers.

Zoombie
10-28-2009, 12:10 AM
Well, the gaming industry is still maturing. And more than that...I only barely mentioned the plot because its a fairly simple one: There's treasure, go find it!

But you know what? It works! Its a simple story backed up with a charmingly bleak and yet fantastic art style...the whole game feels like Tremors meets Firefly meets 87 bajillion guns. That's what was advertised, that's what I want...for...this game at least.

I'm still slipping in some Planescape Torment and the Witcher on the side when I'm gun-shotted out.

Also, here's the intro...cause...well, the intro is awesome: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ai7pMPCDHpo&feature=fvst

Freelancer
10-28-2009, 12:19 AM
Well, the gaming industry is still maturing.
From story's POV, and I can tell you by my own experience, the gaming industry sucks. Why? Because they're believing the graphic is everything in a game and the story is the last. With the present mentality, the gaming industry is never going to grow up. There are only very few exceptions where the story was the backbone (i.e. The Longest Journey, Advent Rising, Mass Effect.). But what is a guarantee, never count for a good story in most of the cases.

Zoombie
10-28-2009, 12:29 AM
Its going to grow up with graphics reach their best graphicness. Once you can't get any better, people will demand different things done with art and style, the indi market will explode, and people will work on making better A.I, gameplay, and audio.

At least that's my prediction.

Freelancer
10-28-2009, 12:41 AM
At least that's my prediction.I hope you're right, because right now the gaming industry is slowly, but surely reaching the bottom. In the past I played a lot (Partially because I worked in this industry and it's demanded that), but right now none of the games are able to grab my attention (Mass Effect 2 and Starcraft 2 are the exception.). And the graphic is not going to reach the maximum in the next 5-10 years. I saw CryEngine 3 and it was far from perfect and that's the best nowadays (Unfortunately the games with CryEngine are sucks without exception as they're techdemos, not games.).

Zoombie
10-28-2009, 12:47 AM
Don't forget Dragon's Age!

And don't worry, with every year, it gets easier to make a game than it was before. The graphical capacity given indie games is astonishing. Look at Trine, that was a small group of people making it, but it has the polish and graphical powers of a modern game. And CryEngine stuff comes with better and better tools too. One can take that and make whatever you want with it.

See, the capacity for games has never been greater, and people *are* taking advantage of it.

Just like the past ears of gaming, you have to shift through the shit and find the gems.

Freelancer
10-28-2009, 12:52 AM
Few of my friends and former colleagues are working for CryTek and... well, as some of them said, don't count for a miracle. I also tried Crysis Warhead and it wasn't good at all, just beautiful.


Look at Trine, that was a small group of people making it
I liked Shadowgrounds from them. It's remembered me for Crusader - No Remorse. Trine was good, I liked it, but somehow I never finished it.


Don't forget Dragon's Age!
I saw the videos from it, but I wasn't fascinated from it at all. I don't know why. Maybe I start to be bored from traditional fantasy. But I'll give it a try. Now, the only thing what for I'm really curious is Borderlands.

Zoombie
10-28-2009, 01:01 AM
I actually rather liked the Crysis games in a kind of action movie popcorn game.

And well, the thing that's hooked me from Dragon's Age was that its kind of trying to be like the Witcher. More mature and deep and stuff. I don't know, its worth a shot.

So, really, just don't lose hope for the future of gaming. I wasn't alive in the beginning days of gaming (being only 19) but...my studies into the shitty games of the past have kinda shown me that...well, its always been like this.

A bunch of shit comes out, and a few are awesome. The few that are awesome survive to modern times and are remembered fondly, while the rest of them are so abjectly forgotten that they don't leave a cultural mark.

I mean you have to be a *special* kind of bad to be remembered past the zeitgeist. Like E.T for the Atari or Custards Revenge.

But most bad games are completely forgotten. I mean, do you remember Terror T.R.A.X? Sewer Shark? Or Phantasmagoria 2?

The only reason I remember them is because...um...I watch the Spoony Experiment.

Freelancer
10-28-2009, 01:08 AM
like the Witcher.
Witcher is one of the game which is on my computer at the moment. The second is the button smasher, but perfecto Arkham Asylum. :)


So, really, just don't lose hope for the future of gaming.
I left my hope in this matter years ago, presumably between the walls of the developing company. :)


But most bad games are completely forgotten.
Unfortunately good ones are also forgotten many times and the mainstream games remains. And in many cases the good franchises are also turning to mainstream games. The best example is, Resident Evil 5, which was a damned poor sequel after RE4 in my opinion. RE4 is one of my favorite, I played it many times, but as I finished RE5, it's got an instant uninstall from my computer.

The only real reason is that I'm also interested in Borderlands, because I love cell shaded games. My favorite in this category is XIII. It had a damned good atmosphere, while the game wasn't that superb at all. There the atmosphere took everything and I hope Borderlands can do the same miracle.

Zoombie
10-28-2009, 01:12 AM
Well, I enjoy Borderlands grimly fantastic and weirdly western aesthetic, even if brown gets a bit old eventually. I hope later levels are less brown.

Zoombie
10-31-2009, 11:16 AM
Aight, I beat the game!

And guess what?

The ending actually honestly suprised me. Personally, I'd have liked for them to go in a bit deeper...the plot itself is light SF action fair, but its still interesting enough to carry a bit more.

But I still enjoyed it.

And am playing at again.

jinkang
11-04-2009, 10:25 PM
I left my hope in this matter years ago, presumably between the walls of the developing company. :)

Haven't played decent games for nearly a year so perhaps I'm not the best to say this (but I do keep track), while triple A titles may be going down hills, there are lots of new innovative games.

I think World of Goo is one that's fairly interesting. It's on PC I believe.

As per story/plot, I liked a DS game I played last year titled Hotel Dusk. Not so fancy graphics but very interesting puzzle. (likewise, my wife really enjoyed Professor Layton and the Curious Village, another DS gem)

So... as many as there are shoot-and-blast games like Borderland (which sounds interesting....), there are lots of new kinds out there.

BTW, I did play Hellgate London. If it weren't for technical difficulties, I'd have played on.. I really liked the premises.