Being one of those gamers who regularly reacts to games by saying "Wouldn't It be Cool If..." I responded to Grin's last original game, Bandits, by saying "Wouldn't it be cool if there were some more ambitious sci-fi MadMax vehicular action games out there". (My mum would be so proud, okay.) Bandits, you see, wasn't particularly good, but it was good enough for me to want more racing across scorched alien desert and blasting other vehicles into tumbling shreds of wreckage. There was the potent kernel of an idea in there, and a pretty solid mouse/keyboard control method for speeding death-buggies too. And so I dreamed of high-speed action games. Then, all of a sudden there there was Rage, and Borderlands. Now, assuming that Rage is a very long way off, and doesn't quite fit the Bandits template that inspired my gleeful pipe-dreaming (we'll see why in a bit), then that leaves me with one focus of interest: Borderlands.
It's a science fiction desert-world FPS with vehicles, randomised missions and ubiquitous co-op. It also features bizarre alien fauna - possibly a bad thing, given
Auto Aborto Assault's mutant debacle - and lots of motorised fighting with desperate bandits. What it does do is try to create a thriving world, with lots of unexpected encounters - a little like that other open ended shooter I can't stop talking about: Stalker.
And so now I'm really interested. On the one hand Gearbox have been a bit of an inconsistent developer, on the other they made Brothers In Arms, whose co-op skirmish mode is one of my favourite gaming experiences of the last couple of years. Unlike Id with Rage, they've also got the visual style for Borderlands exactly right.
The (dust) devil, however, is in the details. I'm slightly concerned about the more RPG-end elements: whenever FPS games start to add in inventories, and MMO-esque "grades of weapon rarity" there's a danger of bloating, and getting away from the soul of twitchy action. Nevertheless FPS-Diablo games could end up being a significant and interesting trend over the coming years. (Hellgate is precisely that.) Developers want to give us a smidgen more depth, without really compromising the "leap in and slay" thing that we enjoy about FPS games. The Diablo loot model, at least, isn't overly complicated.
Anyway, here's a quote from the recent the Eurogamer preview:
Halo is definitely one comparison; Borderlands seems to be shooting for the same 'ten seconds of fun' formula, and a similar mix of vehicle-based and on-foot action. The other resemblance is, oddly enough, Diablo. There's a fair amount of character development in Borderlands - the kind with experience points, not the more sophisticated, story-based kind - and your character's level determines what guns, helmets and other armour they are able to use. With hundreds of thousands of them, though, it's important to be able to tell at a glance what's worth picking up, and what's better left behind. We should be able to tell pretty much at a glance if a weapon is worth having, explains Pitchford; if it looks cheap and tacky, it's probably a bit rubbish, and if it's big and impressive-looking it's almost certainly worth nabbing. In addition, there's a colour-coding system; like in action-RPGs, items framed in purple are must-haves, those in green are marginally better than your current equipment, and those in white are equivalent. As an example, he quickly spawns a few hundred guns, which fall out of the sky like confetti; he moves among them, pointing out different manufacturer trademarks, design features and ammunition types, explaining how each will affect the weapon's spread, accuracy, reload times and general ease of use. It's unexpectedly intuitive.
Of course my instinct on hearing anything about Borderlands is still to compare it to my "Would It Be Cool If" conversations with other geeks, and one of the things that Bandits had that made it so special was weird alien birds drifting through its crisp blue skies. Needless to say, if I'm going to have a sci-fi Mad Max game, I'm going to want alien birds. And then I saw this:
Wouldn't it be cool if a game like Borderlands existed. Oh, it does.