E3: Borderlands

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When I saw this game for the first time at last year’s E3, I came out slightly underwhelmed. To me, the only thing worth mentioning was the fact that you could have 500,000 weapons at your disposal. Tons-o-guns are great, but what else is there?

Turns out, there’s plenty, and now this game’s near the top of my must-have list. What grabbed me in Gearbox’s presentation this year was their artistic direction … this is NOT the game I checked out last time.

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Instead of the gritty, Unreal-esque visuals we got used to when the game was first announced, we now have a semi cel-shaded look that reminds me a little of Crackdown or XIII, a older first-person shooter. Borderlands is still an open-world FPS, and it takes place in a wasteland, a la Fallout 3. However, I enjoyed the “hunting for treasure” angle the game takes, with it’s protagonists searching for a mystic place called The Vault. According to the lore of the game, The Vault is said to contain anything from gobs of treasure to alien wonders. No one really knows … but in the meantime, they’ll blast each other to hell finding out. There are, after all, half-a-million guns in the game. That’s not an exaggeration.

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I don’t even think I’ve imagined 500,000 different items in my lifetime, much less guns … and I was really into guns when I was kid, so I was curious as to how Gearbox was able to create a nation’s worth of gats. Turns out, the arsenal wasn’t the work of man … it was AI software developed with weapons manufacturers that took into account materials, designs and other features from other kinds of guns. It then took the information and then went on to design all of the weaponry, and the results have been quite imaginative. One of the guns I saw in the demonstration was a powerful sniper rifle that was outfitted with the bullet-chamber of a revolver. That’s right, a six-shooter sniper rifle. You can get a lot of these guns by simply finding them or taking them from the dead hands of your enemies either in single or multiplayer.

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Or, perhaps, your friends. One of the last things mentioned in the presentation was how you can be playing with a buddy, but then walk to to him/her and smack them. In effect, it’s a challenge. If your buddy accepts, he/she can smack you back. Then, in a stroke of brilliant Mad Max-like genius, a battle dome appears for the two of you to settle your difference. Two men (or women) enter, one man leaves. Who run Barter Town? You can also duke it out in arenas scattered throughout the borderlands.

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You’ve got a interesting band of characters to pick from as well. The demo I saw involved mostly Brick, a big dude with nuts and bolts on his knuckles. Each of the characters has their own special abilities, and I was perversely entertained by Brick’s “adrenaline rush” attack, which is essentially him raging out and pounding enemies into bags of bone with his bare hands. I’m wondering how deep the stories of each of these characters actually goes, considering the vast nature of the game and some of it’s other aspects. Time will tell sooner rather than later. The game is slated for a Fall 2009 drop on multiple platforms.