So there I was, minding my own business last Friday night, when a friend of mine – a lawyer, I hasten to add – calls me up and, over the course of a half hour, literally tricked me into picking his wife up at the train station and driving her 35 miles back to his house through a massive end of the world storm, without my ever realizing that I was being manipulated. And he did it with Borderlands, which I’d bought over Steam. The PC version didn’t come out until the 26th, so I was patiently waiting. All that changed when Pete bamboozled me into collecting his wife with the bribe of co-op 360 Borderlands.
We played splitscreen on his large TV, I as Roland the Soldier and he as Mordecai the Sniper. I remain nonplussed by the fact that four-way splitscreen is impossible, but the reason why is obvious now that I’ve seen two player: the folks at Gearbox are pretty inept when it comes to splitscreen interfaces. Inventory screens scroll around, HUD displays obscure the action; the whole thing is generally clumsy, and none of these things are a problem on a single screen.
That one complaint aside, we played Borderlands from around 9:00pm to around 5:30am, straight, and our general impression was very positive. This game is grounded in a silly attitude, one that matches the “concept art in motion” style of graphics, which the Unreal 3 engine manages very nicely. We were never at a loss for things to do, and after the first few missions, the world opened up quite a bit, offering a range of quest options. In principle we took them all, maintaining a flourishing to-do list, because the fact is there’s nothing else but quests to do in Borderlands.
The 87-bazillion guns claim turned out to be exactly true. At one point Pete had a gun that set things on fire, and we’d only scratched the surface of what was available. The mechanism for comparing weapons and items (indeed, the inventory/character sheet system as a whole) takes some getting used to, and not being a WoW player I can never remember the color-coding quality ascension.
After I left Pete’s, I headed home and on Monday night I was able to play Borderlands on the PC, in single-screen. Now, despite the fact that Gearbox claims that the PC was their target platform, Borderlands features a lot of foolish interface options that require keyboard presses where a mouse click would be more simple. It’s not a huge issue, but it’s a sign of carelessness in an otherwise pretty slick game.
Another complaint I have is that the quest tree is the same every time. I basically have to jump through all the same hoops with my single player character as Pete and I did together, and if I were ever to revisit the game to try our another character – Lilith the Siren, or Brick the… Brick – it’d be the exact same again. While we don’t need a procedural quest generator along the lines of the gun mechanic, shuffling things for each character, as is going to happen in the upcoming Dragon Age.
All in all, though, my feelings toward Borderlands are, like most reviewers’, guardedly positive. It’s certainly not a perfect game, and unlikely to be remembered long term, but it has real potential as an online multiplay vehicle and should keep single players sufficiently entertained that they’ll get their money’s worth.
Oh, also: PC multiplay is through Gamespy, not Steam. I hate Gamespy, and so does everyone else, so if you’re planning to play online you’re better off doing so on the 360 or PS3.