E3: Borderlands • Page 2

Madder Max.

But the barely-controlled nature of the demo may also be because Borderlands pelts along at the breathless speed of a top down click-spree like Diablo. The enemies and the levelling system combine with the player turning rates and running pace to transform each gun battle into a race-tuned dash for experience and loot. Rounds go off from all angles, health bars are shredded, and any kind of strategy has to be conceived and implemented in a matter of seconds while there's still someone left to kill.

The pace isn't the only thing that's reminiscent of dungeon crawlers, or MMOs for that matter: the missions we're shown have the distinct grind-favouring inanity - "We've got to go kill five Skags! Ooh, there's one! A Badass Fire Skag! Whoa! Shoot it!" - to them which often separates such games from traditional RPGs, and there's the extensive character customisation you might expect from such titles too. (And yes, there's an enemy called Skag. "How much time did you spend on Skag during development?" we didn't ask.)

Built for four-player co-op, the game is also tilted heavily towards online play, and Borderlands' persistency means that you're free to take characters from your own game into other players' campaigns and return to yours afterwards, ridiculously overpowered and with any loot earned carried over. It means you'll breeze through areas balanced for much lower specs, but Pitchford absolutely doesn't care, seeing it all as part of the fun - more kills, more exploration, more guns to mess around with.

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Elite enemies are labelled Badass - and often seem to turn up on fire. These, meanwhile, are spider ants.

But beneath the appealing madness, there's also a serious game at heart, with four distinct class types, perks, special powers and chunky branching skill trees to power through. Shootouts may be impossibly quick, but the weapons have a real sense of connection to them, and the ability to spawn and customise vehicles, along with the game's massive streaming environments, makes for an experience that won't be lacking in content or diversions.

Putting aside the hokey Pandora's Box plotline, Borderlands is really about guns and shopping - shooting things and greedily picking over the scraps, searching for trinkets that will allow you to kill more things next time. It's worked well in the past, with classics like Diablo, and it's worked badly as well, with games like Too Human, and, at this point, it's too early to be entirely sure which way Borderlands is headed.

It's hard not to feel a certain warmth for what we're shown, however: the speed at which Borderlands plays is blistering, and the game sweeps you along with its gracelessly loony enthusiasm. It's rough around the edges, certainly, but it's an appealingly loopy white-trash fantasy. A freak show, then, but possibly a very excellent one.

Borderlands is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 in October.

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