Finally, a videogame with the balls to depict the generic post-apocalyptic wasteland as it really will be: utterly boring and lifeless. Borderlands takes place on Pandora, an Arizona-like planet where the bleakness is offset by its cel-shaded-esque appearance. Though Pandora is mostly deserted, bandits, mercenaries, and other hired guns troll its surface in search of the Vault, an intergalactic piggybank filled with untold riches and awesome technology that a supposedly advanced species had the foresight to abandon for the sake of plot. If this all sounds like a lazy rehash of last year’s revolutionary Fallout 3, hang on: Borderlands cribs further by having you navigate through the game from a first-perspective perspective and leveling up your stats in a shooter. Hell, you’ll even see a humming robot and a bobblehead in the first 30 minutes.
Borderlands distinguishes itself by being a small-scale MMORPG, enabling up to four players to band together in pursuit of the Vault. While the game is playable offline in a solo campaign and in a split-screen mode, irritatingly challenging, dull boss battles (like a giant solder who shoots fire) assure that the only true way to play is online with others.
But Borderlands is far from perfect online. Enemies become incrementally tougher depending on how many players are in action, but this has a two-pronged effect: From the outset, you can join up with an astonishingly higher-leveled party, stand still, make a sandwich, and just soak up experience and weapon-proficiency levels while literally doing nothing. Alternately, you can get sidelined by dangerous foes while your party completes a mission without you, leaving your character’s campaign stalled until you’re high-level enough to beat it yourself. Without voice chat (which is reportedly coming with an update—audacious for an online co-op game), you’re ultimately at the whim of whatever jerks you get paired with. Occasionally, you’ll luck out with a group of higher-level folks who will shepherd you through with gifts of fancy weapons and protection, but usually, you’ll get some dicks who just want to duel as a break from the monotony of looting for more gear.
And there’s plenty to loot for. While the game’s four classes and skill trees are interchangeable, Borderlands’ millions of randomly generated guns are like snowflakes, from the flaming submachine guns to the shock-inducing sniper rifles. It’s just too bad that the rest of Borderlands lacks anything resembling that much firepower.