Crispy Gamer

Games for Lunch: Borderlands

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Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
Release Date: Oct. 20, 2009
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web site

0:00 I remember thinking this looked like a Fallout 3 clone, when I saw an E3 2008 demo. Not that that's a bad thing... but still.

0:01 A broken robot that looks like an orange cone whirs pathetically on a cracked cement road. In the background, windmills. In the foreground, what looks like an emergency roadside phone.

0:02 As I pick up the controller and go to the main menu, the robot gets up and skitters around on it's single wheel. SO CUTE!

0:03 During the loading screen, the game tells me "when your shield is depleted, take cover and it will recharge." Wow ... only three minutes for me to hit a major pet peeve.

0:04 Cut to the inside of a bus with four archetypes standing around and the desert rolling by outside. "Next stop, Firestone Depot," says an unseen bus driver. "Time to gather up your stuff. Who's getting off the bus?" I can choose from Soldier, Hunter, Siren and Berserker. The bus driver says a piece on each of them. To the Siren: "And you, pretty lady? What can you do? Perhaps bake us a delicious cake." I'm amazed the bad-ass-looking Siren doesn't slap him. Anyway, the driver advises us that we can't just kill anything. "Don't be afraid to spend what it takes to get the equipment you need." I'll remember that. Once the driver's spiel is done, the excellent song "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked" comes on the in-game radio. NICE!

0:05 I go with Soldier for no particular reason. He seems well rounded, I guess? After a bit of loading, the little one-wheeled robot welcomes me. "Welcome to Fyrestone. I am CL4P-TP..." but I can call him Claptrap. He gives me a HUD that shows health, weapons, experience points and a compass. I bust out a huge-ass gun and follow him over a small hill. I'm quite the slow walker ... where's the run button?

Borderlands

0:07 The "New-U" Station will store my DNA -- a glorified save point, basically. I can change my name, but I decide to stick with the default of Roland. I can change my outfit's color scheme too, but since I can't actually see myself, I'm not sure why I'd bother. Oh, and I have $80 to my name.

0:09 Heading into Firestone proper now amidst some creepy Spaghetti Western music. As Claptrap fiddles with the entrance keypad, he's suddenly alarmed. "Oh no! Not again! RUUUUNNN!" He ducks into a hidey-hole as huge ATVs jump over earthen ramps. I fire at them through a gate and something blows up as they drive off. "Those bandits really have it in for us Claptraps. Target practice is not part of our programming. Aaaaaand... Open! YES!" Man, this little guy is just so full of life. I just want to eat him up!

0:11 Bandits shoot at me as I enter the town. Either they are very tough or I am an AWFUL shot. It's a bit hard to tell which, as I run out of ammo before I kill two of the three. I'm forced to lumber forward (I still don't know how to run) and use close-range knife swipes to take them out. It takes five knifes to the face to kill each guy. Five! I guess they're pretty tough, Meanwhile, Claptrap is cowering in the corner: "Please don't kill me please don't kill me..." Awww...

0:12 I take out another straggling bandit by holding down the left trigger to use my gun's sight. This makes aiming quite a bit easier. I like the way far-off enemies are actually blurry until I focus my vision directly at them.

0:13 Looks like the bandits drop money and ammo. Also looks like I have to actually look down and hit the X button to pick it up. Wow, is that going to be annoying.

0:14 I just noticed the little numbers that pop out of enemies when I hit them. Numbered damage: It's not just for role-playing games anymore!

0:15 I find a suitcase with weapons, but it costs me money to pick them up? Wha? Who am I paying this money to? Is it like a debit card? Oh well ... they seem like relatively nice pistols.

0:17 I'm out of ammo for my semi-automatic again, giving me a great excuse to try out my pistol and its sniper-style scope. The slight zoom lets me get a lot of "critical" headshots, to do more damage more easily.

0:19 A few more bandits down and I've leveled up. The game tells me this means more health and damage in the long run, plus full health and shields right now. "Bigger and badder," I hear my character say.

0:20 Quote of the moment: "Critical, biatch!" This after delivering a critical hit on a bandit. Ugh.

0:21 As I kill yet another bandit, a woman's face appears as lo-fi video on my HUD. "Excellent. I knew you were the right choice, friend. Now go, I'll contact you again soon." Um, what?

0:22 I take a moment to just walk around, looking for the glowing green boxes that hide money and such. It's a joy to just explore the almost hyper-real, apocalyptic environs, with thick black outlines around everything. I stumble upon a makeshift graveyard. Also, a toilet in the middle of a field. It has ammunition inside it. What is this, Duke Nukem 3D?

0:24 Claptrap introduces me to a citizen of Firestone. Dr. Zed. He tries to let me in, but the mechanism is broken. A screen pops up explaining my first mission: Open the door. The difficulty on the mission is "Normal." Really? Opening a door is a "Normal" difficulty mission? I click a button near the door and I'm done! Difficult!

0:25 After an over-the-top introductory cut-away, Zed tells me how he "might not have a med school degree, but when you get shot you'll be happy I'm here." Heh. I got 48 experience points for my trouble opening his door. Also an animated cartoon of confetti falling on Claptrap. CUTE!

0:27 New mission: "Skags at the gate." Zed wants me to kill five Skags and return. Dude ... I just met you. Why should I kill stuff for you? Oh well, there's nothing else to do in this wasteland...

0:28 I don't find any Skags at the gate, but I do find some more bandits, who take out Claptrap and then fire on me from all sides. I duck behind some sheet metal and take them out from a crouch. The mystery video lady says I'm the right choice, again; then asks me to help Claptrap. "My servos ... are seizing. I can see ... the code." Poor little guy...

0:30 I need a repair kit for Claptrap. Luckily, it shows up on my compass and on-screen as a big green dot. Hey, why have actual interesting puzzles and objectives when you can just follow the big green dot, that's what I always say! "Whoo!" says the revived Claptrap. "Good as new ... I think. Am I leaking?"

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0:31 Video lady is back. "Now is the time to get moving and play your part in the journey to come." Thanks, Captain Cryptic! Claptrap bids me goodbye and goes back to his research on "the wonderful properties of sand." Heh.

0:33 There are the Skags I was hearing about. They're little dog/wolf/headcrab things that jump at me if I stand very still. Not very terrifying ... they're just pups, and I can easily back away from them as quickly as they can approach. I take 'em out and head back to Zed for my reward: 144 experience and $313!

0:35 I accidentally discover that clicking the left stick in lets me run. FINALLY!

0:36 Ol' Zed's got a three-part mission for me: Obtain a power coupling, repair the med vendor, and buy a shield. Jeez... is this entire game a series of errands for other people? What's my motivation here? Why am I the errand boy of the apocalypse?

0:39 I fight off some more Skags (who drop ammo and money ... how does THAT make sense?) and pick up the power coupling. Then it's back to Zed to repair the vendor, where I buy a standard shield and a minor healing kit.

0:40 Another errand. Of course. I have to go find some nearby Bandits under the protection of "Nine-Toe" and return. Why am I doing this, exactly? "People don't yet trust you," says video girl, as if hearing my silent question. "If you're ever going to find the vault, you'll need the trust of the people. Helping Dr. Zed with his Nine-Toes problem is a good move." The vault, you say? This is the first I'm hearing of said vault. Unless you're talking about the Fallout 3 vaults. Because considering the environment, you might be...

0:43 Up to level 3 after some more Skag- and bandit-killing. Yippee-ki-yi-yay.

Borderlands

0:44 A gaunt guy in a Hawaiian shirt is sitting on a dilapidated porch. He's missing a leg at the knee. He says he's been "looking for me," and when I talk to him, he insists he's "doing OK" but barely moves. I take $14 sitting in a box right next to him, and he doesn't lift a finger. I try shooting him and it goes right through. Well that was pointless.

0:50 After trekking across a bunch of wasteland, I make it to the bandit camp. I sit behind a piece of sheet metal that makes the camp's makeshift wall and watch as they run directly into my line of fire. Wow are they dumb. They get in a few hits, but it's nothing my shield can't handle. Then I have to run ALL the way to Zed to "turn in" my mission and collect my spoils. Are we having fun yet?

0:51 Now Zed wants me to find and talk to T.K. Baha, because he might have info on where to find Nine-Toes. Fine ... but I'm only doing it because I have no idea what else I should want to be doing in this desolate, barren wasteland...

0:52 Oh, T.K. Baha is the amputee guy I met before. "YOU! One more step and it'll be your last," he growls, shotgun pointed at me. Then he breaks out laughing and lowers the weapon. "You shoulda seen the look on your face," he laughs. OK, that was kind of cute.

0:53 T.K. wants me to recover his stolen food from some nearby Skags. GOD DAMN CAN'T ANYONE IN THIS UNIVERSE DO ANYTHING FOR THEMSLEVES?! @&($#$%#$*%

0:57 Apparently the Skags stole T.K.'s food but didn't actually eat it. Whatevs...

0:59 New enemy alert: Level 4 Skag whelps, guarding some of T.K.'s food. They're bigger, faster and tougher, but still just Skags at heart. Meh.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? It's a solid if unremarkable shooter so far, but the follow-the-dot-and-kill-some-guys fetch quests are grating on me. The controls and presentation are decent enough, though, so I'll give the single-player a little bit more time to pick up. Feels like it might be a solid multiplayer game too.

This column is based on an advance press copy of the Xbox 360 game provided by the publisher.

Read Scott Jones' review of Borderlands.

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