Review | 11/2/2009 at 1:30 PM

Borderlands Co-Op Review

Borderlands opens up with a song titled "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked" by Cage the Elephant, and to some extent, it's the game's mantra throughout. Borrowing the best from both shooters and RPGs, Borderlands is an epic romp through the world of Pandora as players choose one of four characters to unlock the secrets of the Vault. With claims of millions of guns, hundreds of quests, and four player co-op - Borderlands stands out as a giant amongst the 6 or 8 hour shooters we've grown accustomed to.

The most apparent thing when firing up Borderlands was also the most controversial, the art style. Gearbox decided with less than a year to go in development to completely revamp the game's look, adopting what can only be described as a cross between cell shading and hand drawn. It looks and feels like a beautiful graphic novel, and it works. Gearbox turned a world that would be filled with dull browns and grays into an interactive art experience of rich colors. Each one of the many, many weapons you'll acquire for the most part look unique, and feel different. Just by looking at a gun you'll know if it has a scope, does fire damage, or uses a large clip. It's really something that's strange to see from a first person perspective, and it's a bit jarring at first. Coming from a long history of first person shooters, I know what my guns look like when I bring them up - I KNOW which weapon I'm switching to. In Borderlands, it's a bit different, it's always a surprise - and it always changes throughout the course of the game.

There are four characters to choose from: Brick the Beserker, Lillith the Siren, Mordecai the Hunter and Roland the Soldier. Each character has their own skill tree and specialties, but none of the characters are limited in weapon choices. If you want your Beserker to snipe or a hunter to use a machine gun - he can. The special attacks for each class all seem to be geared towards the game's four player co-op mode, with support abilities like health regeneration, revival, and buffs. In my playthrough I used a soldier who's turret attack not only provides extra cover, but can be upgraded to supply health and ammo to teammates when spawned.

The bounty boards are a good place to find new quests.

What sets Borderlands apart from the rest of the shooters out there are the game's RPG elements, it is after all an Role-Playing Shooter according to Gearbox. Players will earn experience for quests and killing enemies, they'll level up their character and choose from 30 different skills with five levels each, all class specific. Even deeper are additional items like class mods which add extra buffs to your character, assigning them a ranking that allows teammates to easily know which kind of player you are. I tended to use mods that classified me as a Support Gunner, providing extra ammo and larger clips to myself and teammates.

Of course the biggest draw among the items are the weapons; if you've ever played games like Too Human, Diablo and Sacred and enjoyed getting that weapon that was just a little better than your previous, you'll be right at home in Borderlands. The weapons range from SMGs, Combat Rifles, Sniper Rifles, Shotguns, Pistols, Grenades and more. As you uncover chests and kill enemies you'll discover rare (blue), rarer (orange), and rarest (yellow) items to help you with your ass kickery. Want a shotgun that shoots 6 rounds in rapid fire, has a scope, and does electrical damage? Done. Need a rocket launcher that shoots 3 rockets at once, has as sniper scope, and has a chance to set your enemies on fire? Done. The best part about the weapons are the names assigned to them with such greats like machine gun called Glorious Massacre and a sub-machine gun called the Pretentious Bitch.

Yes it fires 3 rockets at once and yes it burns people.  But I bet I can find a better one.

All of this stuff lives within a world that is, for the most part, open. You can go just about anywhere your level lets you, pick up quests from NPCs, and make your way through the world of Pandora. The quests for the most part are your standard kill this guy, collect that stuff type, which in a shooter is to be expected. Thankfully the game spices it up a bit with some humor for the quests like trying to find a guys leg that was eaten by Skags or looking through dumpsters for dirty magazines. If you've seen the webisodes with the little robot Claptrap, you'll be happy to know there are many Claptraps placed throughout the world of Pandora, all with an equally edgy sense of humor and a strong desire to dance.

Throughout the world you'll encounter wildlife, bandits and soldiers. These characters all scale in difficulty according to your level and all inhabit different areas throughout the world. Each is named according to how tough they are, and while screaming midgets with axes are something to fear, when you see the words badass beserker you know you're in for a tough battle. All of these creatures are guided by bosses, and there's plenty of boss battles in the game, and some of these bosses are incredibly large in scale.

All of this culminates with the game's seamless online cooperative mode. Four players can drop in and out of games with friends at anytime to help them with their quests. The game will scale enemy numbers and difficulty, as well as provide better loot. There is one stipulation, if you join a game with a character that is ahead of you as the host - you won't get credit for quest completions in your own game, though you can still earn achievements. Only if the character is behind you or at the same spot will you get credit, so you may need to switch up hosts to make sure the lowest level character is hosting. Players aren't tethered to each other, except by the zone, so teams of four can split 2 and 2 and go off and do quests in a zone to make quick work to get things up to speed. Borderlands also supports a two player split screen mode, with a horizontal split on 4:3 TVs and a vertical split on widescreens.

Yes that is a flaming midget.  Yes, it's most likely your fault.

I played through most of the game in co-op, and it's definitely where the fun is at. The on screen mayhem is nothing short of chaos, and seeing two buggies riding across the wasteland smashing through Skags is hilariously awesome. The levels and maps are really well designed for co-op too, with many areas having multiple pathways and overhanging cover for the objective. You can almost see where Gearbox wanted the sniper to go, the soldier to drop his turret and the siren to sneak around. When a well executed mission goes off without a hitch, it's a great feeling, and some of the giant boss battles almost give the game an MMO feel.

It's tough to put my finger on exactly what makes Borderlands such a great game. My first playthrough took me 20 and a half hours, and I was completely addicted the entire time. Perhaps it's the feedback of the damage text on an enemy as I shoot him in the face with a shotgun that provides acid damage. Perhaps it's that constant quest to get a gun that's just a little bit better than what I have already. Or maybe it's the fact I can experience all of this with my friends, and that it culminates everything so well.  I  have friends that have put 50 hours into the game so far through two play throughs and they keep coming back for more. I think that says a lot right there, especially considering the game hasn't even been out a week.  Whatever the game has, it's addictive, and I want more.  No rest for me, play through two here I come!

Mike's Second Opinion:

For those of us who chose to take the PC-route through Borderlands, there are a few key differences to take note of. First off, Gearbox decided to go with GameSpy as their means of arranging multiplayer sessions, and as such, you will have to gather your friends' GameSpy IDs in order to invite them to the game. It's annoying, especially if you own the Steam version and already have a friend list and means of sending game invites. As of this writing, it is also necessary to open five ports on your router (or set DMZ) in order to connect to another player, which can cause issues when you're trying to collect three buddies to play with, or if you go through the game browser. The interface is no different from the console versions, which aren't necessarily designed to be navigated through a mouse and keyboard interface. Finally, voice chat is enabled in-game by default and the system will auto-detect if you have a microphone and always use it. This is fantastic, but there's no menu option to disable this in case you'd like to use third-party options for voice chat such as Ventrilo or TeamSpeak.

It took several tweaks in the game's .ini files to make the game feel comfortable on the PC, which begs the question of why some of these things weren't included in the graphics options in the first place. VSync isn't a checkbox in-game? Voice chat? These don't make sense. Luckily, the community was quick to put together a tweaking guide and Gearbox saw fit to sticky it on their forums. You can check it out here.

However, the game (once you get rolling comfortably) is exactly the same as the console versions, with the added bonus of being able to play at insane resolutions with a (in my eyes) superior control scheme. The engine has been optimized incredibly well, the framerate is incredibly high (over 150 FPS at all times on my rig) and the load times are next to nonexistent. As with all PC titles, you'll likely have to futz with some options to make the game work best for you, but unlike some games, it's worth the trouble.