1UP illuminates us this morning with a review of Borderlands, Gearbox’s anticipated open-world shooter whose chief claim to fame is the procedurally generated weaponry that literally allows for something like twelve million firearm variants.
I bet you can’t guess what score they gave it.
They gave it a B+.
See what I did with the title up there? I kill me.
I have a bit of a thing for Apricus mundus iaculores (Linnaean for open-world shooters), given my well-documented S.T.A.L.K.E.R. obsession, my equally well-documented loathing of the abortion that was Far Cry 2, and my general disappointment with the fact that the open world shooter has not really come into its own yet, despite the fact that even shooter gurus like Cliff Bleszinski (Gears of War) and Harvey Smith (Deus Ex) agree that RPG is the future of shooter. Holy cow, that whole thing was one sentence.
What concerns me most about the largely positive 1UP review of Borderlands is that writer Thierry Nguyen compares it not once but twice to Hellgate London, a game so exuberantly horrible that words have not been invented to describe its craptassery. In my infinite wit I once compared the act of playing Hellgate London to a hangover or tax audit; upon further consideration, I must revise that view to state that playing Hellgate London is like enduring a tax audit while suffering from a hangover. And having your testicles smashed with a rubber mallet. Those without testicles, substitute the appropriate noun.
Seriously, Hellgate London was like the worst game ever. It ranks up there with Dungeon Lords, if you can imagine; a game that in my infinite wit I once compared to spending 45 minutes running a cheese grater over the back of my hand. Even Far Cry 2, whose creators should be tried in the Hague for crimes against humanity (in my infinite wit I once said that Far Cry 2 was unworthy of the atoms and subatomic particles that comprise its hideousness), wasn’t as bad as Hellgate London.
So Borderlands gets a B+, which in 1UP terms is about a 6 out of 10. That means IGN will give it a 9, which in IGN terms is about a 6 out of 10.
(Actually I just checked, they gave it an 8.8. So, progress on the credibility front from them. When it comes to translating the ratings given by the big outlets into Real World numbers, I recommend the Jaws rule for measuring sharks outlined by Quint in the novel: “I sort of averaged all the estimates and took off about ten feet.”).
Nguyen makes a point to say that Borderlands is by far at its best in multiplayer, and often dull or humdrum in single player. That’s a pity, but since Gearbox has always said that Borderlands was meant to be a shared experience I won’t fault them for it. What does frustrate me is that this game, intended for four, offers only two-way splitscreen on the consoles and no way to play four player on two TVs using two consoles. It may come as a surprise to Gearbox, but some gamers (me, hello) have friends they like to see in the real world from time to time, to drink inordinate quantities of alcohol and play multiplayer games in the same room. I almost never want to play online with strangers, because everyone online is a complete ass.
I Steamed Borderlands, on the basis that the PC is the appropriate place to play shooters, and because I’ll probably play it by my sad little lonesome anyway. And also because Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford recently made a fool of himself by exclaiming to Maximum PC that Steam, and by extension Valve, is untrustworthy and exploitative of small developers. Given that Gearbox owes its very existence to Valve (it started life making Half-Life expansion packs), this was an unwise move; moreover it’s so patently untrue that the only appropriate retaliation was to buy the game over Steam. So it’s a pity to hear Nguyen say that the single player is occasionally a slog, but all in all his review seems guardedly positive.
So the open-world shooter trundles on, still imperfect. Upcoming candidates include id Software’s Rage, which looks better than I initially thought it would, and of course GSC Game World’s S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat, about which I am so excited that even saying the title makes me squeal with girlish glee. But only time will tell if the format can realize its ultimate potential.
UPDATE: people we trust a bunch of a lot more than 1UP or IGN have weighed in on their own experience with Borderlands.