Up Up Down Down: Borderlands
In 2009, publisher 2K Games and developer Gearbox Software ushered in a new brand of shooter when they launched Borderlands. While initially the game looked like a straight-up FPS with crazy nonstop shooting mayhem, a few wrinkles helped to establish one of the stronger new franchises of this past console generation. The game would garner legions of fans due to its cathartic gunplay and massive amounts of weapons. As is the case with pretty much every game, Borderlands isn't exactly perfect, but it's sure one hell of a ride, and it's totally worth playing despite the fact that an arguably better sequel launched last year.
Today on Up Up Down Down, let's dive right into the world of shooting and looting.
Up Up: Shooting gameplay is cathartic
Maybe it's seeing all of those numbers pop up as you shoot holes through bad guys, or maybe it's that the actual shooting is just fun, but there's something immensely satisfying about firing weapons in Borderlands. Hell, you know what? It's probably both. Despite the fact that the enemy AI isn't the sharpest, shooting fools up is a total blast. It never gets old, either, thanks to the fact that there are so many different guns to discover and test out. In addition, being horribly outnumbered but still surviving the onslaught makes for the utmost gratification.
Down Down: Driving mechanics aren't all that enjoyable
I wouldn't say that driving in Borderlands is necessarily total shit, but it sure as heck isn't as fun as the shooting. It could be due to the fact that the game spoils you with its weapons-based combat mechanics, but those moments when you're taken away from all of the shooting and forced to drive around are much less entertaining. Admittedly, driving is okay; that said, it's not the game's strong point. Plus, sometimes your vehicle can get stuck on rocks or other obstructions, and you're left with nothing to do but hop out and make a long trek to your next destination.
Up Up: RPG elements add a rewarding sense of progression
To say that the FPS and RPG elements in Borderlands are evenly dispersed throughout the whole game would be false, because the shooting certainly takes over. Still, that added hint of RPG gameplay makes a surprising difference in establishing an altogether different kind of FPS. You can mold your character into a class that appeals to your specific tastes, and being able to allocate skill points to create a protagonist that's either good with health or awesome at shooting makes for a multitude of varying gameplay experiences. You can use the same class type twice and feel some major differences depending on the skills you choose, which is pretty awesome.
Down Down: Story? What story?
There are some interesting characters in Borderlands, and the writing is actually pretty funny. Unfortunately, the plot details, character interactions, and other narrative devices could be better. This doesn't need to be some overtly deep storytelling conquest, but a few more twists or plot developments would've been nice. Thankfully, the lack of an important plot doesn't really have a direct effect on your enjoyment of Borderlands.
Up Up: Looting is surprisingly addictive
Littered across all of Pandora are seemingly endless amounts of chests (and toilets), all filled with different kinds of loot. Sometimes you'll find money. Other times you'll get ammo. Still, it's those moments when you come across a brand new weapon — something much more badass and powerful than anything you have on you — that totally make you feel like a winner. The fact that Borderlands can make you want to obsessively seek out new loot is something that really makes the game feel special.
Down Down: The final boss fight isn't interesting at all
To be fair, the lackluster driving mechanics and lack of story are easy to overlook. I wouldn't even call those flaws, because they're just slight shortcomings. The biggest (and only) actual disappointment in Borderlands comes toward the end. The final boss fight isn't a lot of fun. It's a shame, too, because you can spend upward of 40 or 50 hours engaging in slick combat leading up to the final boss, and this encounter just fails to deliver a memorable finale. It's kind of a shame, because the final boss is freakin' huge, so you'd think it would be more challenging and just enjoyable.
Left Right Left Right: Borderlands gives you more than just great shooting action
A lot of people will argue that you don't need to play the first Borderlands to enjoy the sequel, and that the second game is an overall much better experience. Personally, I'd recommend you still check out Borderlands if you never have. It's a solid game throughout, and it's still unique enough from the more standard brand of shooters. It also has three rad DLC expansions that are definitely worth checking out. Most importantly, however, Borderlands is just a load of hectic, fast-paced, shooting and looting fun that's among the most memorable games this console generation.
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