Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition Review

Due to my obsession with themes, I decided that I would play two very different Unreal powered First Person Shooters, which were published by 2K, and have upcoming sequels that are releasing nearly 3 years after the previous instalment in the series.  So here is Borderlands, a cult hit FPS with RPG mechanics in the form of status, levels, and quests.  After selling the majority of its 6 million sold units, I rented it during a trial that I had with Gamefly.  My impressions of it then were overshadowed by the glitch where the Level Up logo was stuck on my screen between the fourth and fifth level.  I certainly have a lot to talk about with Borderlands and its DLC, 7 pages in fact, so let’s get onto it!

Borderlands Game of the Year Edition Review
Release Date: 20/10/2009
Platforms: Xbox 360(reviewed), Playstation 3, PC
Price I Paid: $19.99

The storyline of Borderlands boils down to one to four adventurers go to a desert planet known as Pandora, in search of a mythical vault that it suppose to have the greatest loot of all.  And the best way to get clues to find the mythical vault, is to do odd jobs for everyone with a unique voice, or a bulletin board.  So, the main character, or characters if you have friends with free time, is/are forced to go do repetitive missions in a repetitive environment, while fighting repetitive enemies.  Every mission has a description, but stopping a frantic FPS with RPG elements and forcing the player to read, is just a really bad idea, especially since it is just faster to go through the content, and pick up every mission you can grab.  The environments in the main game consist of mountainous desert areas, cave areas, trash yards, rocky areas with sand, a few urban environments, and a mountaintop for the final battle.  Meanwhile, the enemies include bandits, psychopaths who are often on fire, turtle dogs, pterodactyls, giant ants, squishy beatles, magical guardians, a military organization with bulletproof shoulderpads, and purple lobsters.  

While that might sound somewhat diverse on paper, this is the kind of game that is made for multiple playthroughs, so the exclusion of anything that is not brown, seems really dumb to me.  There are a decent chunk of foes, but I was a one man, or woman as the case may be, genocide machines.  Oh sure, my little dimensional hopping Siren class adventurer did die a few times, but I still probably had a 250 kill to death ratio if you don’t count the times the game slapped my face for going off of its map system.  But as a shining light from this blanket of disappointments, I do like how you get a chance to quickly kill an enemy after you die, in order to get a second wind.  

However, things like the mere act of killing a midget, no seriously, they are called midgets, become mundane very quickly, and even though numbers are going up in terms of your character’s XP, or their load out of two to four weapons.  It would be easiest to say that Borderlands uses an MMORPG form of leveling, with a lot of quests and random foes to fight, going through a crapton of environments, and constantly upgrading your equipment.  Well, the latter is how I think it should work.  During level 20-35, I only alternated between using about 10 guns within 4 slots, which probably shows how the random weapon generation has a few kinks to work out.  I have no problem with collecting massive quantities of loot and then collecting money for the other stuff, but when I have 4 million dollars, use a Submachine Gun that requires me to be above level 21, and are fighting level 35 enemies, I think you messed something up pretty badly.

I also have a minor gripe with the game giving me weapons that I had a weapon proficiency level at 0, 80% of the time during the last 2 hours of the main game.  I know that you want me to try everything Borderlands, but with a Repeater(Pistol), SMG, Combat RIfle, and Sniper Rifle, I was set for most situations.  And a Revolver, Rocket Launcher, or Shotgun sure won’t do squat to make me feel like more of a badass.  Also, why even bother giving me grenades, if they actually screw you out of getting XP for your weapons?  I’ve had this problem with a lot of games, I know that grenades wreck up everything in real life, but shrapnel apparently only harms you in the Borderlands.  Although, I do think that the different elemental guns supply some very welcome variety.

But once you get past the stats, and an stupid compare system that puts your currently equipped guns on the bottom of a list, Borderlands is a pretty enjoyable and frantic FPS.  The guns feel nice, as much as that is the kind of thing that a serial killer would say.  Enemies do not fear you until you’ve killed everyone they ever knew, headshots result in criticals, and the numbers that enemies bleed when you hit them, prevent the game from feeling like you are accomplishing nothing.  I also really like the shield system, giving you a nice regenerating cushion, but keeping a solid bar of vulnerability in the form of health, with the only way to increase it being leveling up.  Although, whenever I died, the two healing kits I had were never used, because the only parts that kill you are because of bad design, like fighting 2 level 16 badass(or elite) enemies when you are level 14 and can’t see anything since they are behind a wall and have cover.  When they toss a grenade that I could not see, I don’t feel like it was my fault, take a cue from Uncharted and have a graphic indicating what I grenade is.

Oh, and the vehicles, the cars in this game control like a tank.  I know that may not be a big problem, but I like to look where I’m shooting, not where I happen to be aiming the car, I like to have the left and right of my left analog stick actually do something, and not have the only way to move forward being straight.  It really isn’t a big deal, since you could just run around and get more XP, but during a vehicle centered area, you need to fight a boss that one hit kills you without a car.  I died four times on this guy, because I could not see anything that was happening.  I later figured out that the best way to fight him was to fire rockets at his car from the entry point, and never actually enter the arena until he was dead.  I know that multiplayer fixes this, but if your single player campaign has problems like this, I hereby order you to provide a friend for me to play with and call Pillock.

I guess I would describe this as more of a convoluted and less subtle mess than Bioshock’s smooth leveling and very tense at times combat.  I understand that Borderlands is the kind of game to play with friends, but then make it a multiplayer only game.  Splitscreen with a horizontal cut looks awful to me, and if I had some friends online, then I would have at least a few more page views.  It actually gets pretty desensitizing killing wave, after wave of dudes, and I know this may be minor, but why do you never fight any woman in this game?  I understand that you need to alter the models for female troops, and you don’t want to make a game where you demean women, which Borderlands surprisingly avoids, at least in a blatant sense.  But it made this entire game about hillbilly bandits trying to shoot a girl until she is unconscious, and then turn her into the tribe sex object, and cut off the lower half of her legs to keep her from running away.  I know that is dark, but this game contains a lynching of a man, who later comes back as a zombie in the first DLC, so that he can ask for 435 brains, none of which you can carry from quest to quest, and he splits them up into 5.

I think that was suppose to be funny, but due to the lack of children, I can only assume the the Midgets you shoot in the face are actually children, so good job there.  I wouldn’t actually even be thinking these things if the game did actually try to be funny, and not make me laugh at a woman who went insane and talks to her tape recorder due to over a year of crushing loneliness.  Oh, and there is a little comic relief robot who expands your weapon storage if you save him from death, he is amusing for the first few minutes, but then he starts humping things and repeating dialog.  The game might just be trying to be dark humor but no, it really doesn’t work.  Claiming that I am expendable might be clever the first time, but after the fifth time I hear it, I realize how true it is.  the barren and semi-cel-shaded dumpster of Pandora is filled with respawning enemies, and there is nothing like going out to kill the same level two dogs that you’ve been killing for 8 hours by punching them.  I refuse to call this game a sandbox, despite the excess of sand, because it has nothing to do outside of grinding and doing missions.  There is no real interaction with the world, and despite the driving plot, I never feel like I’m doing anything if I go back through a cave and see the same enemies plotting my character’s rape, even though she is just looking for skulls, and would pay them if she could. 

And the dialog loops, I heard nearly every bit of combat dialog during my first run in 2010, and after hearing my character comment on how she’s really good at killing a decent sized town worth of people, it started to feel hollow.  Yes, Borderlands makes genocide boring, and you are killing anything with a red health bar on Pandora, it is genocide.  Sure you don’t kill 1% of them, but it is a “plot” point that your character has been killing everything with guns that shoot fire, lightning, poison, or just explosions.  And speaking of plot, let’s just say that the ending really does remind me of the creators, Gearbox’s first title, Half-Life: Opposing Forces, with an even more abrupt ending, good to see that Gearbox is making the same mistakes 10 years after the fact.

There is just a lack of levity in this dull sounding, repetitive, dull looking despite the cel-shading, repetitive, number crunching, repetitive time sink.  It may be fun with friends, but countless games offer a good co-op experience, that is as much of a selling point as the fact that its case is actually solid.  There is little to no levity, and it gets pretty desensitizing when there is no reaction to the act of murder, which is committed ad nauseum.  It is a bland shooter with its shining points coated by garbage, and a lack of weight to anything that you do.  Bioshock made every kill feel like it mean something, but in Borderlands, just the opposite is true.  Oh, and if you are using the Unreal engine, take the extra second of loading, so objects actually have texture on them, for the love of god.  If you want a fairly enjoyable shooter, and have some friends, I guess that it could be a pretty fun series of weekends.

Oh, right, the DLC.  

The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned Review:
As the title implies, this expansion is about a zombie island, and one where they take a somewhat different visual direction.  While the graphical style is the same, there are actual trees, hell, the game itself makes a point about how most people on Pandora have no idea what a tree is.  And while the lack of knowledge over simple vegetation in Chrono Trigger to be wonderfully executed, it was to provide something for the player to work towards.  Here, this is not a real dystopia, it just makes the planet look more like a garbage dump.  But the trees lose their shock value, because they are trees for crying out loud!  And even if they were beautiful, or I could remember their leaf patterns, the environments need to be dark, since this is a zombie area after all.

But there is one area that I want to mention, and that is Dead Haven.  Now, I understand that game designers need to balance time with resources, and that making an area can be difficult.  But they reused the largest urban area in the game, added a sunset filter, filled it with zombies, changed the starting location, and then took off for lunch.  Now, I actually really enjoyed the original area of Old Haven, but the fact that they would sell this to people, and use it to show how there are actually two islands, despite the lack of horrible looking water around Dead Haven.  

The rest of the areas are fine, but the fact that zombies are the new enemies cause a few problems, the first being repetition.  One of the quests that I got required me to kill 10 zombies with a headshot, so that I could get their brains and feed them to some guy in a chair.  I did that and then he asked for 25.  I did that and then he asked for 50.  I did that and then he asked for 100.  I did that and then he asked for 250.  This is horrible design.  If you kill any zombies with headshots outside of this mission, then the brains you get do absolutely nothing.  And if you want to quickly turn in your quest, then you get to eat shit, because the quest giver is past no less than 8 waves of zombies.  I spent an hour collecting brains, and then I had to turn the game off after saving my progress.  And why did I do this?  Because I like doing every quest that I am given.  And if you have an achievement for something, then I assume that the designers find doing this quest line to be something that will increase one’s enjoyment with the game

As for the zombies, they are far less of a threat than any enemy I encountered beforehand.  They are slow and their only threats are in terms of numbers, even the psychopaths who run up to use while holding a handaxe only actually run if you do not shoot them enough.  They try to mix it up with Frankenstein monsters, but they show a huge problem with releasing this after the final area.  Not to spoil much, but there are enemies with armor and shields before the final boss.  Corrosive and electric weapons do extra damage on those foes.  But zombies are resistant to electricity, while the Frankensteins are healed by it.  And corrosive damage?  It does nothing to them, because I guess that acid does not burn dead cells.  This does not create tension, it just makes Gearbox look very stupid.  And while I could have stored some good non-electric weapons in the bank, that is part of the next DLC pack.

But what really gets me about this zombie island, is the story.  While the game is actually a bit funnier than the main game, it still feels very poorly delivered and mean spirited.  Nobody gets lynched, but having a character from Scooby Doo, that is just random and stupid.  Stoners are not funny, neither are prissy adventurers.  The plot centers around Dr. Ned, who is Dr. Zed, the medical supplies salesmen, in a manner that makes Dr. X from Mega Man 6 look like the biggest shock in games since you learned that you were the bad guy in Knights of the Old Republic.  I understand that they are trying to channel some B Movie vibe, but half the writers apparently did not know that was the goal.  

However, the best part of this whole DLC pack is when you fight the final boss, because it is so nonsensical and random.  It turns out that Dr. Zed is the bad guy, he made a bunch of zombies, and he transformed himself, in a sequence that makes Arkham Asylum’s final boss seem well structured and believable.  And then you fight a generic monster in a giant stomach, because why the hell not, and then encounter an equally as sudden ending.  Somehow, trees did not make this less repetitive, just more mundane and boring since it is just easy and all too samey in the end.

Mad Moxxi’s Underdome Riot Impressions:
Well, I never did beat this section, so I cannot call this a full review.  I’ll just say that all the DLC contains, is a bank for your many, many guns, a backpack upgrade, so you can carry three more things, and three maps where you fight enemies in a series of 25 or 100 waves.  The maps themselves are alright, and since the enemies are level scaled, it provides a decent challenge.  But what makes it interesting, is the random buffs and debuffs that the runner of these three maps, Mad Moxxi, chooses while throwing out about ten minutes worth of dialog for every situation.  It can be fun, but when you expect me to spend over two hours going through the same damn map, you are an idiot.  In addition to that, there are no new weapons, no XP is gained from killing waves of baddies, and no money is earned, even though I had $7 million in my pocket, I still felt like I was not getting anything done.  

There were also some name changes, oddly enough.  Psychos are now called Maniacs, there are now Bandit Ravagers and Murderers, and the Badass enemies are now called Muthas.  The also changed the names of midgets, but if this is for political correctness, why could this not be applied to the rest of the game?  I suppose that this could be fun with friends, but doing it solo is just very dull.  While the buffs and debuffs can be very cool, with the enhanced speed being my favorite when I need to fight a horde of Maniacs/Psychos, and the mandated weapons being my least favorite.  Seriously, do not have a round where the rocket launcher is the only weapons does any decent damage, not every player carries one around.  If you have friends and enjoy this game, you could get a fun weekend out of this, but everyone else should just avoid it.

The Secret Armory of General Knoxx Review:  Deciding that vehicles that controlled like cows, felt like paper-mache, and took less hits that your character were a great aspect of the first game, we got the third DLC pack.  The plot involves the playable character going out to raid some massive vault, but first they need to take down a weapon manufacturing/city occupation group.  To do this, they need to find another character, and backtrack between a large line, with one access point being in the middle, as opposed to having 3 points, but repetition is the name of the game.  But after you get past the new vehicle that has heat seeking bottle rockets, it is just fighting an expanded catalog of military troops.  None of them are particularly interesting, but the foes in other areas are.  I encountered a group of midgets, because that is what they are going with, they even have a town called Midgetville, and they were riding flaming turtle dogs while brandishing dynamite and katanas.  And since explosives are god in this game, nearly died twice due to the unnoticeable cherry bomb, but it made it a wonderfully fun section.  But my mood was spoiled after I was bum rushed by a Strider from Half-Life 2, who popped out of the sand and humped me while cumming out toxic ooze.  Nothing like getting raped by an enemy who is basically immune to my bullets, my bad for abandoning my car which refused to charge faster than 15 HP out of 2340 a second, but it was stuck on a wall due to the fact that is has no weight.

And when I got to the prison section, where I had to fight reskinned bandits, where the suicide psychos now had guns, and their role was filled by men in police officer uniforms.  But when I had to kill a homosexual/bisexual man named Mr. Shank, I couldn’t help but feel like the DLC missed its mark.  The DLC has gotten gradually funnier, a general who just wants to die for having to work with idiots who need ice cream days, and has a 5-year-old boss sounds good on paper.  But when he comes back in the next DLC, he maintains character by getting pissed that he has not died and won’t, since he’s now a cyborg.  

I should add at this point that while playing this DLC I tried doing what I did with Reckoning and Mass Effect 1, turn off the in-game music, since it was driving me to the peak of annoyance.  And even when I did not have music playing, I was having a better time than I was when the music slider was not all the way to the left.  Now, that is pretty embarrassing to this game’s composer.  If the game has licensed two songs for the opening and credits, why couldn’t they ask 2K for a few more?  

Or hell, just use anything other than this ambient crap in a game where people bleed numbers!  Hell, the Mad Moxxii DLC had dubstep, which fit very well, so why couldn’t you spread that into the rest of the game?  I am not a huge fan of that genre, but every decent song can be used well!  Other than that, it has an quest that basically requires you to play a second playthrough.  Now, I love New Game+, and I think that it is a great way to persuade me into playing a game, but in a game as tedious as Borderlands, it seems absolutely loony.  And you need to use the same character, which kinda defeats the whole point of multiple classes.  

Overall, the new additions like a tank, cyber ninjas, enemies who selfishly hog the jet-packs to themselves, and a ton of new military foes who look like a mix of STAG from Saints Row: The Third and Cerberus from Mass Effect 3.  I hesitate to call it bad, but it just feels like more of the same, and we know that is what Borderlands was lacking in, more content to fill its already fat face.  

Claptrap’s New Robot Revolution Review:
Wait, new revolution? Word of advice, never call something new unless it is a working title.  Because 50 years down the line, it will just sound stupid.  Anyways, this is probably the best part of the game.  The idea of an Interplanetary Ninja Assassin Claptrap was shown during the main game’s ending, and now he became a dictator who brainwashed his subjects and forced them to assault a warrior who slayed turtle dogs the size of truck 20 levels ago.  But he saw the foresight to place tubes on people’s heads, and turn them into minions whose names all now end in Trap.  This actually removes the sense of Genocide that I felt a bit before, since I can justify that I am saving these bandits and soldiers from being puppets, they actually thank you for killing them.  

And Claptraps, which died by the hundreds?  Their personality is programmed and they can just be booted up in another body while I steal their former body’s parts for a crazy woman named Tannis,  who wants to build a time-traveling toaster, or something like that.  And while this does degrade into the same crap from the first DLC, with the brains, but those required headshots, and it was far away, which Tannis is right next to the spawn point.  She is more amusing than the depressing figure she was in the main game, mostly because she is just nutty, rather than a person who talks to her tape recorder.  

In fact, the DLC is actually fairly humorous, I actually liked the little robotic Claptraps, but I thought their dialog was repetitive, here they spout the lines often enough to get a bit annoying, but they die in two bullets and drop pink panties and pizzas, so all is forgiven.  All you really do is go around a hub town, do errands for somebody who wants the Claptraps out of the areas he is managing, go to some more maps that remind me of the main game, including a massive maze area that is like running through intestines, and the literal starting area for the final battle.  After going through a mini-boss rush of the final bosses for the first and third piece of DLC, and one that is basically a boss from the previous DLC pack, fight a giant tank that can run over you if you get within 2 meters of its treads , is covered with turrets, and launches some suicidal Claptraps.  It overall ends on a bit of a whimper, but it was a lot more enjoyable to me, maybe that’s due to the addition of more cutscenes, namely in optional stuff, or just that fighting little robots is fun after I spent the past 50 hours killing fleshies as the Claptraps call them.  

Seriously, this game took me over 65 hours to complete.  But I had fun going through these wide areas which had nearly every enemy in the game, from Spiderants, Turtle Dogs, all kinds of Bandits, and military folk, purple lobsters, oh and hundreds of the killable little buggers themselves.  I can genuinely call this good, even though it seems to be more of the same, this pack seems to combine all the variety that this game had, with the exception of the Midgets and vehicles.  And y’know what?  I consider that a massive improvement

Despite all of the major design problems, ranging from awful vehicle controls, the fact that the music can often worsen the experience, and the repetition, oh the repetition, Borderlands is not a bad game, after the Claptrap DLC, I am tempted to call it good, but it just made me realize some of the finer points, and forgive its shortcomings.  There are a lot of things that can be improved upon, and I really hope that Gearbox realizes it with the sequel, and can actually get a decent soundtrack this time.  I complain, but the gameplay kept me entertained for the run through, and that is more than I can say about Reckoning, Darksiders, and L.A. Noire.  It is repetitive and probably will be a lot better if I had a friend who plays more than 8 games a year and did not already drop 10 hours into it with friends. There is fun, but it is swimming in the in its fat, and repetition.  

Above Average
There is promise in the title, but the execution is lacking in nearly every way.  Only appealing to select fans of the games genre.

Damn, I wrote a lot there.

Leave a Reply