First Look At Borderlands

borderlands_malachi.jpgIt's funny what can easily turn one on (and off) to an upcoming video game. In the case of Gearbox Studios' just announced Borderlands, it was Game Informer's teaser cover blurb that described the 4-player co-op shooter as "Diablo meets Mad Max" that whet my nerd appetite. Gearbox themselves pitched the shooter as "Mad Max meets Indiana Jones."

Reality, however, levelled off my personal expectations, as the game seems to be more accurately described as "Hellgate: London meets Firefly meets Pitch Black". That's the reality of it, a franchise step down that's very grounding. But is that necessarily a bad thing? Jesus. No. While Borderlands may not be a wet dream blend of two uber-franchise favourites, it still has plenty going for it—over 500,000 guns for example. Bullet point alert!Half a million guns may seem like a bullshit claim, but it's the Diablo II-style item randomisation system that makes such a thing possible. The debug build of Borderlands that Gearbox showed us had a nice cheat that let the dev team fire an endless stream of random guns when the Xbox 360's select button was held down. After showering the ground with a few dozen guns, just to illustrate how different they all were in appearance, one could see where the Diablo came in.

In addition to thousands upon thousands of firearm combos, ones that vary in capability based on their stock, colour, material, sight, barrel size, chamber and a handful of other stats, it was clear that gun nuts will drool over the game's gun gamble feature. There's clearly plenty to play with here.

That randomised content also applies to the game's other usable items, including armour, helmets and even whatever you've got stashed in your garage. We saw a half-dozen or so unique looking vehicles, some with mounted turrets, some with tank treads, all of which sported a well-used look.

Borderlands also features randomised "level" layouts when one is removed from the New Haven's confines. We were shown some of the game's co-op action as two of the Gearbox guys tooled around in one of the ATVs, encountering an unfriendly group of fellow settlers looking to make their own fortunes on the planet of Pandora. This ultimately played out with an firefight that saw the characters Gearbox controlled taking out a trio of bandits in a Mad Max-style battle caravan.

While some of your encounters will be with your fellow human transplants who have sought shelter at the edge of space, you'll also come face to face with Pandora's original inhabitants, the Rack.

The Rack's emergence from hibernation will drive much of the game's storyline and we were shown a few moments of how some of their reveal will pan out. I'll save you the spoilers, but Borderlands looks like it will satisfy sci-fi fans with its narrative.

The only complaint I'll issue about the game's presentation is that the visual design didn't quite live up to my individual aliens-plus-desert bandits tastes. I was genuinely hoping for Mad Max 80s-era flamboyance, all shoulder pads, facepaint, grime, and feathered feral mohawks. Instead, some rather me-too futuristic character design prevailed. Probably shouldn't have gotten my hopes up—it's dangerous.

Plus, I saw that giant vagina mouth monster coming a mile away, guys. And I really wish I hadn't.


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