BORDERLANDS_HANDS-ON PREVIEW - 3.jpgWHAT IT IS: A first-person shooter with RPG elements, set on a far-off intergalactic wasteland. You play as one of four mercenaries whose main goal is to shoot everything that moves. Your other main goal is to collect the bits of glowing material (called loot) and cash that you'll find around every corner. A big part of the game is collecting to help you upgrade. That and shooting this with awesome guns.

The publisher, Gearbox, actually created an AI system that allows for brands to create their own weapons. Several manufacturers in the game (early on, they have names like "Terrible" or "Cheap," meaning that they're old and rusty and ineffective) will make a slightly better or worse version of that pistol you're carrying. Maybe it's slow to reload. Maybe it's not very powerful.

You'll go through the game constantly trying to find money to help you buy new guns, which you can do at conveniently-stationed vending machines. You can also sell your old ones. While you can switch between two main weapons, you'll carry a backpack full of the others. And you'll sell a lot of shitty guns along the way, that's for sure. You'll also carry out missions to earn experience points, and help move the game along.

So yes, it's an FPS/RPG hybrid. And yes, you've heard this before. But yes, this is different. Where titles like Fallout 3 that have made similar promises, but they always felt like role-playing games that let you actually shoot the gun. Borderlands is very much a shooter that let's you play that style, and then, once that melee has ended, upgrade your character with skill points.


Oh, dude. You've got crabs. Gross.

WHY YOU'D WANT IT: If you liked Fallout, leveling up, upgrading weapons, explosives, wolf dogs, deserts, colorful backdrops, carrying out missions, little crazy guys with axesmcollecting items, different colored loot, customization, and co-op gameplay.

THE GOOD STUFF: The art style. Thick black lines, much like Street Fighter IV, give the characters a drawn quality, but the backgrounds within the planet of Pandora (which you play on) are bright and vibrant with blues, oranges, and greens. Much less bombed-out grey and brown.

The guns (as explained above).

The immersion. The game quickly puts you inside, taking a cue from Half Life: 2, which also starts you off on a bus, through the characters eyes. Here, you start on a van, and the game has an awesome 5-10 minute video to introduce you to the world. Characters names are splashed on the screen in a Kill-Bill-ish style, and the video functions like the first scene of a movie. Once you pick your character, you're dropped off, and you're already in the game. The training mode is embedded within the single-player/co-op experience. Love that.

Then, you're on your own. You can play through the game by yourself and slowly work to move your way up the experience ladder and collect more loot, or opt to go through it with friends online. Strangers, though, will likely grab the best items and loot that scatter the ground, and that would be a bummer to deal with if you spend the last hour trying to work your way up to level 8, or something.

The game really feels original, though. Even the timing, the sunsets and sunrises, make the world feel a little more realistic than other shooters. This game kind of crept up on me, since it didn't seem to be a massive hit before launch. The art style seemed a little forced and wonky. I'm always a little creeped by FPS/RPG hybrids (feels like ghoblins and dragons and dice, or something), and it didn't appear realistic. I like realistic.

Then I played it, and well, it sort of blew me away.

Out now on XBox 360, PS3, and Games for Windows

Learn more here.