Thursday, January 7, 2010
"Borderlands" delivers great gaming
Developed by Gearbox
Published by 2K Games
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3 and PC
There are a few things I have to have in a video game to earn my praise and respect. For one, don't make me wait for action - train me as I am getting shot at - not bore me with long, drawn-out cutscenes that aren't skippable - or make training fun, quick and painless. Second, give me solid gameplay with a decent storyline. Third, make me want to play it over - and over - and over again.
Initially, I wasn't really that impressed with "Borderlands." There, I said it. But after playing co-op with a buddy over Xbox LIVE, my perception about the game - and co-op - in general, changed big time.
Set on the planet Pandora, gamers get to choose what class (soldier, beserker, siren and hunter) they want to start the game as. Each class, of course, has certain advantages. For brute strength, go with a beserker. For a more saavy style, go with a hunter. Want to give elementals a hard time? Go with a siren. For a person who goes in, guns blazing, kicking butt and taking names? Soldier all the way.
From there, gamers will set out on an interesting voyage to discover the Vault. Be warned: You will invest a lot of time into this game to fully enjoy it. While you can hop right into the game and bust caps, you won't really start to appreciate the game until much rather along in the story.
You start out learning about your new *home,* a pretty wide open world. You have to do small tasks - clear out bandits, buy grenades, kill a boss - to trigger the basic store systems (ammo, weapons and health/shields) and various jobs. You will also find out quickly that most offworlders, including the animals, don't like you much.
Your enemies aren't very bright - the enemy AI starts a few levels below you and gives you a fairly low learning curve. On the higher levels, though, the AI isn't forgiving - at all.
A few missions into "Borderlands," you can unlock other areas - Skag Alley, Dahl Headlands - where you can find other missions and jobs as well. Some of the jobs are retrieving items, like a device that powers the 'Catch-a-ride' machine, which creates dune-buggy like vehicles for players. Once you complete more missions, you can use teleporter stations to travel all over the game's world.
Arguably, the most interesting aspect of the missions - and the world, for that matter - are the enemies you'll face. From bandits - and boy, can they trash-talk - to rakks (large pterodactyl-like birds) to the fun-loving skags - you won't be disappointed with the challenges they present. You'll also face a heap of aliens too. Before you do - and there's a couple of levels with them - you better eat your Wheaties and prepare for a fight and a half.
The weapons are also pretty cool. You acquire weapon slots from repairing Claptraps on missions to new areas (it's actually a mission). Once you find tools to work on the machines, they whiz to life and reveal rare weapons caches to you. In the expansion, "Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot," which costs $10, offers a bank where you can store your weapons (up to 40 slots). More on that later.
The weapons vary in the damage they can do - from elemental weapons, to caustic (chemical) weapons and good ol lead slugs, you'll have a virtual smörgåsbord of lethal ways to slay enemies. On your first playthrough, the weapons are powerful enough for the enemies you face. However, on your later and higher playthroughs, I'd recommend ditching those weapons for weapons on the level you are playing on. With each playthrough, the enemies level up - and weapons from previous playthroughs will lose their effectiveness big time.
Also, some of the more advanced weapons and shields require higher levels of experience to operate.
You will also have a skill slot, unique to each class. For me, as a soldier, I was able to deploy a chain gun to swat baddies. On lower levels, the minigun would make them mad. As I leveled up, so did my minigun skill. It's a great distraction tool - you can deploy one to draw enemy fire, sneak around and catch the enemy from behind. At higher levels, the minigun can heal, deploy additional ammo and even fire missiles.
You have to have situation awareness - you need to know that each enemy has a different approach, forcing you to swap weapons to handle the threat.
The graphics ... hmmmm. The game is cel-shaded. Look at the pics - it looks like they are animated, right? Those graphics took me some getting used to - but ended up really winning me over. They work well with the game - the body chunks flying past you are priceless.
The sounds are awesome - the trash-talking and the NPC dialogue is also funny too. Your character, be it a soldier, beserker or siren, will say funny phrases, such as "That has to hurt!" or "I love this thing!" and even "It's like having another soldier on the field" whenever I deployed the fantastic minigun.
The game in single player can take up to 30+ plus hours, well worth the $59.99 you'll pay for it. However, the co-op play over LIVE is the best part of the game. Say you are having a tough time with part of the game. If your buddy has the game and a Gold membership on LIVE, they can invite you to a party and help you out. The co-op mode is incredibly stable. When you invite a player to your game, both of you get experience points, which levels you up.
For me, though, what really amazed me was how far more advanced enemies were when I tagged along with an Xbox LIVE buddy playing "Borderlands." He was a Level 50 siren and told me to just stay back while he fought aliens. Not wanting to just sit back and spectate, I whipped out my high-powered rocket launcher and popped a few aliens. Oh, they didn't like that - didn't even damage them - and E.T. let me know how badly I had hurt his feelings. Two hits and I was gone. Granted, I was a Level 37, but it was like I was welding a pea-shooter!
I played the Duel mode with another buddy, like 10 levels lower than me - and it took him all day to dent me!
But - the co-op mode really made me sold on this game. When I finally leveled up to 50, playing with my buddy was even sweeter. This game alone changed my perception about co-op play - and designers should make every game they make with a co-op mode of some type.
Now, the negative. And it doesn't actually deal with the main game at all. The main gripe I have with the game is - the growing trend of offering weapon storage in the DLC packs. "Dragon Age: Origins" has a DLC pack that offers a bank - a place to store weapons, armor - but forces gamers to pay an additional $8, $10 for that option. That is unacceptable. I can't tell you the number of times I had to sell, drop, get rid of weapons and shields to make room for other items. With the Mad Moxxi DLC, you have three gladiator style matches with several hordes of baddies. However, the main draw without a doubt is the bank. That feature, sadly, should have been in the finished product. Plus, the other DLC, Zombie Island, offers some fun action but the draw is the Claptrap mission, which also offers additional storage.
From the days of video games offering items you can pick up, keep or sell, ("Fable" comes to mind) there has always been a longing to have a place to stash some niceties. Having banks to put a few extra weapons rocks, but making us pay for it is just wrong. It's like the argument from people about content that should be in games is held back to be released later on for more money. Please, don't go this route. In real life, you find some stuff, throw it into your house, trailer, car, truck, snow machine - whatever - but you have a place you can store the items and retrieve them later.
The verdict? 4.25 stars (out of 5) The game was one of my choices for GOTY - and I would have given it that honor, but MW2 held its ground. Yet, I have put more hours into this game and marveled at what the designers have created. It is a masterpiece. The hidden message, though I didn't touch upon, are rampant throughout the game. If you look close enough, you'll see messages - and some of them definitely apply to real life. The final battle - and the cutscene that follows - will spin you round and round.
Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot
The DLC offers gamers three gladiator-type tournaments - in various locales - all the prove to Mad Moxxi you are the man (or woman) of her dreams. You face hordes of enemies from the main game (I love watching Skags kill the Lance Engineers - or fight themselves) and offers some interesting twists. Some fights, like the Vampire mode - takes away your armor and is constantly sucking your blood. The other modes have you without clothes, or feature a weapon that offers more damage than normal. The final round features bosses. At the end of each level, you can retrieve health and ammo (it vanishes, so step on it) and the levels don't deplete ammo from your main story weapons (woo-hoo).
If you die and your partner dies, you have to restart the level. If you die - or your partner dies - and one of you is alive, you'll be teleported to a penalty box high above the action where you can - gasp - still fire down below. I have never loved dying so much!
In the end, while it is a fun DLC, the bank is the real draw. For several million, you can buy up to 40 slots to store anything you want to keep in the game. Sadly, you have to access the DLC to retrieve them as well.
The verdict: 3 stars (out of 5) - the modes are cool, but the bank should have been in the main game. After seeing the DLC, I was swayed even more to give the DLC this score.