Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition (PlayStation 3)

A habit of most role-playing game developers is to release special director’s cuts of their games sometime after the initial releases of their games, with Japanese RPG series such as Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts coming to mind. This tradition seems to plague developers of Western RPGs such as Gearbox Software, responsible for the two-installment Borderlands series, whose first release, Borderlands, saw a director’s cut entitled Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition, which adds a few expansions and is for the most part a decent experience in spite of some technical problems in the PlayStation 3 version.

Borderlands is a first-person shooter / RPG hybrid, with the player able to select one of a few characters of different classes when starting a new game, each with its strengths and weaknesses. Whomever the player selects attacks primarily with firearms that require different types of ammunition, which players can refill at special vending machines for a price, or pick it up occasionally from deceased antagonists. Using firearms of specific types enough times eventually provides the player increased proficiency with those kinds of weapons, akin to the weapon-level system in Secret of Mana.

At first, characters can equip only two firearms, although completing story quests eventually allows them up to four guns. Additionally, characters eventually become able to equip “class mods” that provide specific effects and increases to various skill levels into which the player can put points acquired when leveling. Also equippable are shields that take damage instead of the player’s life when charged (with shields recharging after a few seconds if the player isn’t damaged), and “grenade mods” that provide specific effects to throwing grenades such as increased damage.

Borderlands interestingly handles the issue of death; rather than dump the player back to the title screen, the game instead gives players a chance to avert death with a fully-recharged shield and some life if they kill an enemy during the few seconds they receive when dying. Death takes the player back to the last checkpoint activated, with the charge of less than a tenth of their money, a generous penalty unlike other RPGs that charge bigger penalties upon demise, such as the loss of half the player’s money in the Dragon Quest franchise.

Classes also have specific abilities such as the soldier’s ability to summon a turret into battle to fire at the enemy, and being near this turret can slowly recover the player’s health. After a certain amount of time, the turret disappears, with the player needing to endure a cooldown period with a base of a hundred seconds, although certain skills can reduce this time. In the end, the battle system works well, with perhaps the only real flaw being the repetition of travel that the checkpoints necessitate after death, but otherwise, the gameplay helps the game more than hurts.

One thing that probably hurts Borderlands more than helps, however, is the area of control, which is superficially decent, what with useful in-game maps, decent direction on how to advance, and an easy menu system, but the PlayStation 3 version, at least on an older PS3, has a tendency to freeze often, especially if the player turns subtitles on and during the loading screens between areas, the long load times when booting up the game and between areas being another shortcoming as well. Ultimately, these factors make the PlayStation 3 version feel like an Obvious Beta.

The game’s narrative could have used more character and world development, as well, with the plot, despite its excellent direction and lack of any noticeable errors in the script, feeling paper-thin, and hardly being a driving factor throughout the game.

Borderlands’ soundtrack is mostly forgettable as well in spite of nice ambience, although the sound effects and voice acting are top-notch.

Probably the strongest aspect of the game alongside the gameplay itself is the visuals, which use a beautiful cel-shaded style that does, however, suffer from occasional rendering whenever entering new areas that also contribute somewhat to the title’s obvious beta feel.

Finally, beating the game takes somewhere from thirty to fifty hours, with plenty of sidequests to boost playing time and the choice of different characters providing plenty lasting appeal.

Overall, Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition is a solid role-playing game / shooter hybrid that hits most of the right points, particularly with regards to its gameplay and graphics, although it leaves plentiful room for improvement, particularly with regards to its frequent freezing on a fat PS3, the narrative, and the soundtrack, the former factors making it feel like a title in beta state. Those with a gaming-capable PC or other rival consoles may wish to pick up other version of the game instead of the PS3 port, given its various technical issues, although the core game is actually pretty enjoyable.

This review is based on a playthrough on an old fat PlayStation 3 as the soldier class with no internet capability.

The Good:
+Solid first-person shooter / RPG gameplay.
+Good voice acting.
+Gorgeous cel-shaded visuals.

The Bad:
-PS3 version may freeze often.
-Story is a bit thin.
-Forgettable music.

The Bottom Line:
Good in spite of frequent freezing on fat PS3s.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 3
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Controls: 5/10
Story: 6/10
Music/Sound: 7/10
Graphics: 8/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Difficulty: Depends on Levels
Playing Time: 30-50 Hours

Overall: 6.5/10

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