Preview

Borderlands

Gearbox aim for scale with this mock-Western epic

First it was, then it wasn't, then it was again. I refer of course to the much written-of 'artistic changes' which Borderlands went through a few months back. The game originally sported the realistic look of many modern action games, before the team secretly decided to try something different and recreated the game with a cel-shaded look, unbeknownst to Gearbox chief Randy Pitchford who admits he was shocked and then rather taken with the title's bold new style.

Apparently, the dramatic change in artistic direction was prompted by the design team revisiting the game's original cel-shaded concept art, and asking why the title didn't look more like this... before deciding to see if it in fact could. Pitchford was eventually convinced, and now admits that he is more than a touch pleased with the game's sassy new visuals.

We're here in LA taking a look at Pitchford's new opus, the veteran game maker admitting that this new IP is something of a risk, and is an altogether more complicated affair than other less ambitious action games. An FPS with RPG elements is billed, Pitchford stating that the game will make full use of expanding XP alongside a full skill tree, as players work through the world.

Moving through this faux-Western future landscape, players will find themselves collecting loot from downed foes, while a full day and night cycle should really set-off some of the game's arid desert settings. Vehicles will be essential for traversing what promises to be an expansive open-world, and Gearbox are proud to inform us that Borderlands will include more guns than any game... ever.

This latter feat is apparently achieved via an automated weapon generation system which combines multiple components to create new kinds of gun - which presumably also leaves Gearbox with a serious task on their hands when it comes to balancing. Quantity is clearly important to the game's developers, and we're promises a veritable smorgasbord of missions - which will be story-context appropriate, and delivered to the player via NPCs you'll come across in the game world. The previously mentioned vehicles, like the guns, will come in various shapes and sizes, and the ride we're shown takes the form of a desert buggy, complete with gun turret.

With co-op action in mind, the title will support up to four players in one game, the title's vehicles allowing one player to drive while the other mans the gun, and in the frenetic battle we're shown the over-the-top and unwieldy nature of this should make for some very amusing tussles. Borderlands will also sport fully persistent characters, meaning that your highly-experienced off-line hero will be able to join in other games via the internet - something Pitchford and his team are clearly very proud of.

Speaking of the all-important battles, experience will once again be vital for tackling some of the game's tougher nasties, while more rudimentary rivals are useful for loot gathering. All the beasts on show are suitably disgusting, the lusty heroine of our demonstration contrasting greatly with the vile skags and midgets she can be found dispensing. While the game world is 'open', different areas will be inhabited by foes of varying difficulty, meaning that players will find themselves rapidly out-gunned if they stray into an area the game isn't directing them into yet.

In this way, Gearbox hope to balance the title's RPG elements with the basic tenements of an open-world experience; players dying at the hands of tougher rivals and then returning later once suitably leveled-up. When it comes to co-op play, the team also tell us that the game will be highly reactive, the experience scaling in relation to the number of players competing.

A number of multiplayer modes should further give Borderlands street-cred, standard deathmatch action complimented by more restrictive arena-based battles, that will be incorporated into the game world and premise.

Our demonstration completed, we feel we've only just scratched the surface of what Borderlands is about. The game is huge (potentially 100 hours, according to Pitchford), and includes not only the trappings of a full-scale open-world action title, but also the depth and diversity of a large RPG. Whether all this can be combined in a cohesive whole, that means something thanks to its story, remains to be seen; still, we can't help but want this new IP to work out, given the lengths Gearbox are clearly going to.

Borderlands will hit the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 this October.

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