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Arts & Entertainment

'Borderlands' successfully infuses wastelands shooter with sci-fi RPG

| Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2010

Guns, guns and more guns -- when it comes to the looters' paradise of "Borderlands," you'll never have to worry about being outgunned.

It's a panoply of deadly weapons, from pistols that pack incendiary power to a bizarre collection of arms suited for the natives of planet Pandora. Gearbox fuses quest-driven missions of role-playing games with the bloodthirsty spatter of first-person shooters to create a sci-fi spin on a Wild West-style shoot-'em-up. You're an off-world mercenary prospecting for a legendary alien treasure, and the only way to get it is taking down the bad guys (a relative term, in this game) one bandit at a time. And, of course, plowing through the various vicious native species, including packs of dog-like skags, fire-spitting winged rakks and bile-spitting crab worms.

To start the game, you get your choice of four characters, each with special abilities and weapons preferences. There's the soldier, who can launch a turret attack; the hunter, who can call on his bird of prey for help; the berserker, who uses his anger issues to tactical advantage; and the female siren, who can become invisible during her "phasewalk." Each has a skill tree that lets you level up attributes. Skill Points can be used to increase your character's defense or potential for a critical hit, or, as in the siren's case, emit a damaging burst of energy when exiting phasewalk.

The game starts off with rusty weapons and a large wasteland area to keep you on your toes. The aiming feels a little loose at first, but it's not long before you're picking off bandits with headshots. The enemies aren't particularly smart, relying mostly on a run-and-gun strategy, with the occasional duck-and-cover. But what they lack in A.I., they make up for in number, and it's easy to wander into an area and end up surrounded. Enemies come in a variety of toughness, but even though their ranks look a little cut-and-paste, you'll be having way too much fun experimenting with a smorgasbord of weaponry to notice.

Nearly every enemy, creature and mission carries with it the promise of cash and/or weapons, ripe for your taking, and the variety truly is awe-inspiring. There were moments when I swore I'd never part with my caustic shotgun, only to fall in love with an incendiary rifle in the next mission. Grenades, rocket launches, pistols, revolvers, sniper rifles, SMGs, machine guns -- you name it, "Borderlands" has it, with varying accuracy, power, firing rate and, best of all, elemental effects. Shoot a bad guy with a corrosive elemental, and he'll take damage repeatedly until you shoot him dead or he melts. Shock, explosive and fire elements work just as you would imagine.

Not only is the game gloriously bloody, but it's got great visual style and sense of humor, too. You'll run into all sorts of eccentric folk, some of whom have work for you. The quests generally require you to fetch or find a certain something or kill a certain person(s). Even the locales compel you to explore. Never know where you'll find a cache of weapons. The respawning vehicles -- equipped with infinite firepower, no less -- and warp points make traveling between regions a cinch. I experienced a glitch where the vehicle got trapped on the geometry, but it certainly isn't a pervasive problem. You can even flip overturned vehicles.

In addition to single-player mode, online and offline multiplayer gives the game a whole different feel. Up to four players can work together online, and the bad guys strengthen accordingly. Dropped weapons display stats to prevent hoarding -- important, because it's first come, first served. And besides questing together or creating your own player-versus-player death match, a melee attack can initiate a duel. All attributes and loot transfer from multiplayer to single-player, so there's no disincentive to joining a someone else's game already in progress.

The stylized graphics are a visual treat that makes you feel like you're playing a comic book. And even though the environments are vast, the only loading screens are when you travel to another region.

Character customization might be a little lean for die-hard RPG players, but the arsenal more than makes up for it. It's easy to get swept up in tackling all the missions, from minor side quests to the story-driven tasks. The game provides enough challenge for veteran shooters, but the death-friendly regeneration checkpoints serve to lessen the frustration in particularly difficult spots.

Most surprisingly is that "Borderlands" manages to add a little diversity to the sci-fi genre, successfully serving up space that looks like the old West, and a FPS that plays like an RPG. Amid all this mercenary questing, it's easy to forget "Borderlands" is a sci-fi game, and the mystery of Pandora's former natives slowly unravels along the way.

Additional Information:

'Borderlands'

Developer: A

Developer: Gearbox

Publisher: 2K Games

Platform: Xbox 360 (also on PS3, PC)

Genre: RPG-shooter

ESRB: Mature

Retail: $59.99

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