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Borderlands [game]

Entry updated 5 March 2017. Tagged: Game.

Videogame (2009). Gearbox Software (GS). Designed by Matthew Armstrong. Platforms: PS3, Win, XB360 (2009); Mac (2010).

Borderlands is an "action RPG" (see Computer Role Playing Games), much influenced by First Person Shooters but in essence resembling a science-fictional variant of the hack and slash fantasy game Diablo (1997). Players wander the blasted deserts of the planet Pandora, performing missions for assorted patrons, battling (often randomly generated) enemies and looting their corpses for guns and money. Pandora appears to be populated almost entirely by trigger happy mercenaries, crazed treasure hunters and recently released convicts; it is also notable that every single member of the local wildlife seems to be a highly aggressive predator. While there are few really memorable characters – the sleazy merchants and dancing robots are among the most distinctive – it is remarkably easy to build up a truly impressive gun collection. The players (and most of the other characters) are supposedly searching for a legendary cache of Forerunner artefacts, but this has little real influence on the general mayhem. Characters have a variety of skills which can be improved as the game progresses, ranging from the ability to turn invisible by shifting into an alternate dimension to the control of an alien battle bird. As is true of Diablo and many other games which take a primarily environmental approach to Interactive Narrative, players typically prefer to participate as part of a group of friends; Borderlands emphasizes online cooperative play by small teams. Visuals are presented in a cartoon like style which is deliberately reminiscent of Graphic Novels, though the most obvious inspirations for Borderlands' gleefully over the top style are perhaps such campy action movies as The Ice Pirates (1984), Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983). In the end, perhaps all that needs to be said about Borderlands is that it is a game which has been enthusiastically honoured with internet awards for both "gratuitous violence" and "epic loot".

Related works: There are four expansion packs for Borderlands: The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned (2009 GS, PS3, Win, XB360), Mad Moxxi's Underdome Riot (2009 GS, XB360; 2010 PS3, Win), The Secret Armory of General Knoxx (2010 GS, PS3, Win, XB360) and Claptrap's New Robot Revolution (2010 GS / Darkside Game Studios, PS3, Win, XB360). Of these, The Secret Armory and New Robot Revolution continue the storyline of the original game, while the first two packs are spinoffs which add new missions with special themes. Borderlands Legends (2012 GS, iOS) is a derivative work with a design influenced by both action RPGs and Real Time Tactics games, played in an overhead view; reviews were mixed.

Borderlands 2 (2012 GS, Mac, PS3, Win, XB360) designed by Paul Hellquist is a sequel which makes minor improvements, but essentially has a very similar design to that of its predecessor. The linear primary plot, however, is far more strongly defined than that of the original game; a new group of characters with different abilities to those seen in Borderlands must participate in a rebellion against Pandora's megalomaniacally charming overlord. Various optional missions are also available, attached to the core storyline in a modular fashion and featuring a variety of computer-controlled characters whose personalities seem rather more vivid than those in the first game. This iteration of the series has four expansions which add new narratives, of which the first two to be released were Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate's Booty (2012 GS, Mac, PS3, Win, XB360) and Mr. Torgue's Campaign of Carnage (2012 GS, Mac, PS3, Win, XB360), both of which revolve around the acquisition of hidden treasure. These were followed by the monster-hunting mayhem of Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt (2013 GS, Mac, PS3, Win, XB360) and Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep (2013 GS, Mac, PS3, Win, XB360), an extended satire on combat-focused sessions of the tabletop Role Playing Game Dungeons and Dragons (1974 Tactical Studies Rules) designed by Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson. The Psycho Pack (2013 GS, Mac, PS3, Win, XB360), Ultimate Vault Hunter Upgrade Pack (2013 GS, Mac, PS3, Win, XB360) and Vault Hunter Upgrade Pack 2 (2013 GS, Mac, PS3, Win, XB360), meanwhile, add new character types and enemies to the basic gameplay.

Borderlands: Origins (2012-2013) is a Comics series which serves as a prequel to the first game. Similarly, Borderlands: The Fallen (2011) focuses on the life of one of Borderlands' characters before the opening of the game, while Borderlands: Unconquered (2012) and Borderlands: Gunsight (2013) are sequels which involve most of the original game's characters. All three novels are by John Shirley. [NT]


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