How can a game with virtually no story be so much fun?
Borderlands (Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Gearbox/2K R18+) has elements of both a first person shooter action and a role-playing game.
It's not complex, it's easy to play and heaps of shooting fun. It purposely sacrifices high-end next-gen graphics for a cartoon feel to add to the fun, and sacrifices much of a plot so you're not distracted from focusing on the characters and gameplay.
To be fair, there is a story, which is set on a planet called Pandora. But don't be fooled by that - it's more western than sci-fi. There are four mercenary types trying to find an ancient alien vault (Pandora's box) and its sealed treasures. Each of the character types has a major skill and different upgradable sub-skills. For example, the "berserker" can kill people with his hands, and the "siren" can go stealth.
The main weapons are guns, because like the old traditional western, it's really all about running around and shooting people in the head. There's a big cache of weapons to play with including assault rifles, shotguns and rocket launchers along with a few alien weapons.
That doesn't stop you hunting down a new gun as a side quest or you can pry one from a bandit's cold dead hands if you like.
The arsenal is quite extensive, from rocketlaunchers to revolvers, so make a profit by selling off your collection or even find vending machines at your nearest saloon to upgrade to premium firepower.
It's the lure of something different to attack with that winds up my interest level. Some weapons have damage multipliers for elemental effects like shock and fire whilst others have healing effects such as the futuristic 'shield' and med injections to keep your fighting self in tip-top health.
The simple fragmentation grenade has also evolved. Welcome the incendiary rain grenades which rain down fire from above, the teleport grenade that zooms lightspeed to target, a transfusion grenade that steals health from enemies and much more.
The fights are not overly challenging, even when you get ganged up on, or face the fiercer monsters, but with the various weapons and enemies, there's enough variety - and did I mention fun? Time just flies by especially when playing with buddies.
The shooting mechanics are good, even on console (I played the 360 version) but where the game really shines are the role-playing elements. For example, the character upgrades (e.g. speed, shield, elemental and attack) combined with simple quests (e.g. get my leg back and kill Scar) that don't drag down the single player experience.
Have a look at the action:
Besides the quest laden singleplay, there's also a splitscreen and a four player co-op feature, which I haven't played but people who have say it's excellent.
To save the game, you have to be signed in to the Xbox Live service which can really kill your game if you don't have a connection. However there are cool touches like the spawn points right by your respawn vehicle depot and the fantastic "Fight for your Life" mode. When you should die, you enter a kill or be killed stance so that when you slay a nearby enemy, you get your second wind and back in the fight.
This is an example of how you can strip down the components that make a game enjoyable, deliberately add a look and feel to make it loads of fun without worrying about complexities and detail. At the same time you are handed enough player and weapon upgrades to shoot 'em up for hours.
I'm still playing this after many hours and loving it.
Madgamer rating: 8.5