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Games For 2008: Borderlands

When I was a kid any film that featured a large disc of rock, embedded with mystic symbols, that would suddenly release dazzling white light, was perfect. That's all it took. I'm older now, but importantly, no different. So the Borderlands trailer from December makes me go all stupid.

Gearbox seem to have a habit of being brilliant without making a big fuss. After dabbling with the Half-Life franchise, they then became the supply teachers of the gaming world, filling in when developers were off sick, pregnant, or too busy to make their own sequel or add-on pack. But then came Brothers In Arms - their first, eurgh, unique brand, and it was really rather splendid. That's kept them busy for a while, but oh golly gee whizz look what's next! Borderlands really does look like it might be spectacular.

Set on Pandora, an outlying planet in the realms of space Humans have explored and attempted to colonise, times are troubling. See - here's a really love sci-fi idea. Pandora has a very slow orbit of its sun, so each season lasts years. Humans arrived in Winter, and had no idea what was going to happen once Spring came around. Which would be lots of creatures coming out to say hello. Or eat you.

To be clear, it's no an MMO, or a persistent world, but a co-op game, where up to three other players can join you in your game at any time. Or you in theirs, if they're nice enough.

Shhhhhhhh! I'm hunting buggies.

The phrase that's been heavily associated with the game is, "A hell of a lot of guns." They don't mean twenty. They mean half a million. I said half a million. By creating some sort of computerised witchcraft, they've generated this many unique weapon types by making ludicrously detailed micro-changes to hundreds of weapon features. It's clearly a huge focus of the design.

Guns aren't the only variable. Vehicles are also set to drive how you would prefer. You will customise the features, from the speed to the weaponry, designed for the sort of play you're after. Intended to be a freeform co-op world (a phrase that PC gaming has not used nearly enough yet), you and chums will leap on board to make perillous journeys to distant destinations, fighting whatever creatures, bandits and so on you might meet along the way.

One aspect that doesn't seem clear just yet is the RPG ingredient. Characters will gain experience, and level, etc, which will allow them to use better grades of weapons and armour. All familiar, but how will this work with the drop-in-drop-out co-op? Will your friends need to be a similar level for a decent game? And is this completely necessary in a game that's about charging around in buggies armed with rocket launchers? There's a nagging worry that it could dampen the hectic mayhem that everything else about the game seems to promise.

Just look at that.

The witchcraft I mentioned earlier? You think that's a cop-out way of describing it? Ok then, you can flipping well try and make sense of this from project lead Randy Pitchfork (still the best name ever), in an interview with 1UP (that's well worth reading):

"So in this science fiction world, the fabrication of matter is not a problem. You can jam particles together and make something; the trick is knowing what order to jam those particles in. You have this thing called a storage deck, which defines how much stuff you can carry. Really, it's about how much memory -- it's like a little laptop that...imagine your weapons are like MP3s or something. How big is your iPod? That's how many...and then the object itself can fabricate that object by assembling the particles. You can do that for ammunition -- if you know what you want to assemble, a small amount of data can generate lots of ammunition. You can actually generate ammunition for your weapon, and sometimes the weapons themselves can generate ammunition. But a lot of times they have still have a magazine, you just need to create the matter somewhere and it goes into the magazine, which loads into the gun."

Check out more screenshots here.

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