There is a tendency amongst the heavy-hitting, magnum opus games to take themselves just a little bit too seriously - to mistake being atmospheric for being just a little bit dour, overly worthy, and earnest.
Gears of War 2 was of course quite the game, but after a few hours of play you ran the risk of going blind just walking into the kitchen because your eyes had lost the ability to handle colour that wasnt a grimy beige or grey. The last GTA was a vast, sociopathic epic without compare, raising the bar for technology and production values - but the infinitely sillier and less intricate Saints Row 2 was nearly certainly more actual fun to play. Fallout 3 is the undisputed king of the RPG/FPS, or even the action RPG in general, but its ever-so-slightly overly bleak demeanour and dense plotting sometimes lost sight of the minute to minute thrill of gaming. Yes, your brilliantly constructed narrative and clever character development is a laudable milestone in RPG history, but note we are holding a rocket launcher. Can we blow shit up now, please? Enter, a-whooping and a-hollering, the brash, colourful, but most importantly "fun" idiot cousin, Gearbox Studios Borderlands.
Borderlands is a first-person perspective role playing game featuring guns a lot of guns. Its balance is light on the character development and heavy on the firepower, with really only the most cursory attempt at an over-arching plot. Your character is one of four murderous types with no apparent back story or past who are literally fresh off the bus onto a backwater planet full of psychotic banditos in a quest for a big pie of treasure. Now run along and shoot someone in the face.
The plot, such as it is, will involve you doing various quests collected from notice boards and the rare NPCs, with the emphasis usually on extermination and assassination rather than fetch and carry. The setting is a different planet, but you couldnt slide a rusty razor between it and a good old fashioned post-apocalyptic wasteland, complete with ramshackle huts, mutant beasts and nutters dressed in leather chaps and hockey masks. Nuked as the place may look it is a long way from bleak, with the cell-shaded graphics bringing colourful cartoon jollity to the dustiest of canyon or stickiest of slaughters.
The four characters to choose from are familiar basic classes. There is the Soldier with a penchant for assault rifles and the ability to drop a sentry gun, a Long Ranger who will do better with pistols or sniper rifles and comes with a nasty little winged pet as a special attack. Also there is the Phasewalker who would be recognised (and burned) as a Witch in other RPGs, who can become invisible or effectively slow down time, and the man-mountain Melee Tank who is better with explosive weapons but you wouldnt like him when hes angry. Once chosen, the appearance of your character can only be changed in as much as their three basic costume colours, as there is no system of armour or apparel. The simple skill tree is comprised entirely of passive skills that add percentage point to your special skill, up clip sizes, or reduce cool-down and reload times. There is very little in the way of appreciable customisation, and by the end of a play through you will likely have all of the skills unlocked, or at least all of the ones you are at all interested in.
As you play though, your interaction with the characters will be limited to accepting their quest or not no narrative difference will be made if you take or ignore all the side quests, and there isnt a karma or morality system. Its all just loot and corpses behind you. Your only motivation is ever more cash for bigger guns. And do you know what you do with the bigger guns? Go and splatter the nearest boss bandito and take his bigger, shinier gun and cash. Repeat.
This sounds like a recipe for tedium, but Borderlands remains compelling right the way through by appealing to our most basic and craven instincts. Loot. Loot and slaughter in fact. There is an incalculably vast array of guns on offer in Borderlands, largely due to what looks like a random weapon generation routine as was used to create random weapons in Diablo, as well as a large selection of set epic and legendary weapons. The experience of battling or hoarding your way to obtain a new and beautiful pistol, revolver, shotgun, rifle, sniper, rocket launcher or esoteric alien weapon and then unleashing it on the previously difficult enemy is a tangy, dirty satisfaction that will carry you right the way through the 25 or so hours of gameplay.
The random generation routines will base the weapon's appearance on its properties, which will mean each will look as novel and satisfying as they handle. Any revolver you find may come with a 2, 3, or 6 shot cylinders, any number of damage or accuracy buffs or de-buffs, a variety of scope strengths, reload rates, firing rates, critical hit chances, recoil values and a host of other curious little effects. Even the most casual gamer will be able to appreciate how their new piece handles just by blazing off a few rounds into the sky, rocks or a passing bandit or if youre a more considered shopper you can troll through your inventory and see how it measures up and do some tactical selection.