This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Borderlands.
All right, fine, for fuck's sake; I'll review Borderlands if it will make you shut up! (Except it won't, will it? We both know nothing could do that short of surgically removing your fucking jaw, and even then you could still drool down my ear.) I've been here too many times before: I delay reviewing a game and all the fans of the game feel the only possible explanation is that I'm struck dumb by how good it is, but they nag me to review it anyway in order to confirm their feelings and level up their internet cocks. And then, of course, I piddle all over it - in an act that you'd think would come as no surprise to anyone with the slightest grasp of pattern recognition - and the wounded, denial-ridden nerd mob leave hate comments suggesting I must have misinterpreted my own opinion! Well, I need another week to play the two-disc gelatinous cube that is Mass Effect 2, so here we go again. I wish more developers would be as considerate as the Dark Void team and just stop making the game halfway through.
The reason why I've been putting it off is because I'm well aware that Borderlands is best played four-player co-op, and I don't have that many friends; even if I did, playing split-screen would have been like reading a Where's Wally? book from across a room. Eventually, I resigned myself to breaking my one rule of never playing multiplayer with people who are not in the same room as me (and therefore bound by the most basic rules of social etiquette), held my nose, and dived into the monkey house that is random game joining - catching fleeting glances in the three minutes before my connection died of a cruel world in which three uncommunicative specks on the horizon charged on ahead in pursuit of prizes, leaving me to the claws of a hundred multi-colored space lobsters. "So fuck it," I said. Did a great man not once say that every game must be able to stand on single-player alone? Well, yes, it was me, on this very website, so it's practically my duty to review it single-player style. Besides, saying something gets better when you do it with other people doesn't mean shit, because the same could be said of Hudson Hawk.
Borderlands is a single-player FPS RPG (OMG) in which you play one (and just one) of four mercenaries who have come to the planet Pandora (which looks like what would happen if the casts of Mad Max and Dukes of Hazzard inter-married, then colonized the Middle East with an invading force of garbage trucks). You're there in search of something called "The Vault", which is either a legendary bonanza, a myth orchestrated by the planetary tourist board, or a big, fat MacGuffin to drive what little plot there is. The story aspect doesn't so much as take a back seat as it does get tied up with jump leads and dumped in the boot of a completely different car. Those characters who aren't just trying to repurpose your pelvis as a shoe tree will only talk to you when they have side quests, and even then only in the form of a paragraph on an impersonal briefing screen. It's one of those games that seem like all the actual drama is going on whenever you're not around - I guess because it would be hard to fit into your busy schedule of shooting the same four or five guys in the face 50,000 times.
Whatever, it's the odd MMORPG setup; all those girly things like story and words are just a framework for the missions. Or perhaps I should say the mission: The mission is to go into a scrapyard and shoot Jason Voorhees. Never before has cover art been so indicative of the game's content, because that's literally all you do. Sometimes it's just for the killing itself, sometimes it's because Jason has stolen something you want to get back. Occasionally the mission is to shoot Jason's dog or his pet killer space lobsters, but they'll probably be a few Jasons hanging out on the way. It's like all the mission providers have bought shares in the local hockey mask factory. I suppose this is geared to the MMORPG crowd, who are well known for putting up with all the samey grind in the world if it means they get experience points and fancy weapons with blue names at the end of it. I've had a great idea for a game these people would love. It comes with a special USB glove peripheral, and you get one experience point for each time you punch yourself in the face.
I might as well mention that there's vehicle driving for swiftly getting from one Jason-infested scrapyard to another. Vehicles which handle like a fat dog on a Space Hopper and are about as sturdy and well-armored as an egg and crisp sandwich. But what I really want to talk about is the GUI. It's been a while since I've seen in-game menus as bad as these. It's like PowerPoint threw up on a Cluedo board and died. You're constantly switching out weapons for slightly better models, like a militant germaphobe, which is par for the course. The middle window showing the stats of your weapon appearing when you hover over a different weapon in a shop was always a nice feature in RPGs, so why the fuck doesn't Borderlands do it? You want to compare, you click on Compare, then scroll all the way down through the other shop items, then click on your weapon. Interface 101: the less clicks, the better. There's no excuse for it. Also, you can't delete quests from your log without completing them. And you won't complete them all, because you level up very fast, and they quickly become too trivial to bother with. So you end up at level 30 with your three current quests mixed up in a list with fifty quests to go clean the starting area's outside lavatory.
Yes, these are small complaints, but in a game as repetitive as this, the small complaints constantly come back to niggle at you until you're wearing them all like a big hat. The fact that you level up fast is completely lost on your little robot buddy, who regularly nags you to pick up the three level 12 quests from some brown smear on the landscape purporting to be an NPC, cheerfully oblivious to the fact that you turned those quests down 10 levels ago and whose voice is like angle grinder of the eardrum. I think this character is specifically designed to be annoying, in which case the developers should be congratulated for doing their jobs so well. And tactfully reminded that deliberately annoying is still annoying.
At the end of it all, Borderlands is well presented, but get under the sheen of polish it's just a dull, spares nuts and bolts shooter with some unnecessarily good writing bridging the slow process of watching numbers steadily increase, a game for the kind of person who takes photos of his car's odometer whenever it clocks another thousand miles. And it might be true that it becomes tolerable if you do it with some friends around, but so is dying of bowel cancer, and that way they might even feel obliged to take you skydiving.
- Lost in the desert: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Hopefully now I will have shut the naggers up, at least until Final Fantasy XIII comes out
- Bordering what, exactly