Developer: Gearbox Software (Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway)
Publisher: 2K Games
Available On: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Reviewed On: Xbox 360
With a "Mad Max"-flavored open world setting, gameplay that mixes first-person shooting with RPG-style leveling-up elements and talk of vaults, "Borderlands" sounds a lot like "Fallout 3." But while there are strong similarities, once you get a handle on this game, you'll realize the element "Borderlands" has most in common with "Fallout 3" is how much fun you'll have playing it.
Set on the Tattoine-esque planet of Pandora, you're tasked with finding a legendary Vault said to be filled with powerful alien technology. Of course, before you can find this Vault, you have to run a bunch of errands for people, get into tons of random shootouts and scavenge around for ammo, health boosts and new weapons (of which there are way too many to carry). Y'know, kind of like you did in "Fallout 3."
Completing these errands and surviving those shootouts reward you with experience points you use to level up, which gives you more health as well as the option to augment or add abilities, which lets you customize your character's ability as a fighter. Again, like you did in "Fallout 3."
All of this happens in a rather barren, but still richly atmospheric, open world filled with strange creatures and real jerks, many of whom will drop ammo, money and health boosts after you killed them. Which—all together now—is kind of like "Fallout 3."
Still, "Borderlands" is no "Fallout 3" clone. Though the similarities are strong, the differences are equally so. The biggest of these is in its combat. Unlike "Fallout 3," which had a more strategic approach to shooting, "Borderlands" plays like a first-person shooter, with all the fast action that implies. They even crib a bit from "Halo," giving you a regenerating shield, while the controls are laid out and just as responsive as a recent "Call of Duty" entry. As a result, while "Fallout 3" felt like an RPG with some shooter elements, this feels more like a first-person shooter with some RPG elements.
Almost as important, "Borderlands" lets three of your pals jump into your game anytime they like. Granted, this co-op does ruin the game's “lone gunman wandering the open plains” vibe, but the assistance more than makes up for it.
"Borderlands" also has a decidedly different look, one that is very slightly cell-shaded. It's not as pronounced as last year's "Prince of Persia," unfortunately, but it's enough to make this stand out. "Fallout 3" was also not as funny as "Borderlands," which gets its comic relief from its over the top characters, most notably a silly robot named Claptrap—imagine a less scatterbrained version of GIR from Invader ZIM—who helps you out…when he's not shakin' his groove thang.
All of which, wait for it, is… oh, no, it's not at all like "Fallout 3."
Ironically, while it's a solid first-person shooter, "Borderlands" does have some of the problems that plague such role-playing games as, well, you know. Some aspects of the game are needlessly complex, which might scare off RPG virgins, while the spartan save system can make things needlessly frustrating, such as when you're headed back to collect your reward for a job well done and you get jumped by some wild creature.
Ultimately, most people who liked "Fallout 3" will enjoy "Borderlands," too. Well, unless they felt "Fallout 3" wasn't RPG-ish enough. But people who didn't like "Fallout 3"—largely because they thought the combat was slow or too polite—will like "Borderlands," as will fans of "Halo" or other sci-fi shooters looking for a gunfight with a bit of depth.
Oh, and have we mentioned this game is kind of like "Fallout 3"?
Bottom Line: Finally, a good reason to run to the "Border."