With its fine fusion of stylised visuals, accomplished shooting gameplay, superb co-op elements and MMO-style character building, Borderlands should deliver developer Gearbox plenty of success. Gifted with an impressive 8/10 review score on Eurogamer, it's clearly a highly desirable game, but out of the three SKUs available, which is the most worthy of your investment?
Back in days of yore, cross-platform projects from PC-centric developers like Gearbox would follow a predictable pattern: the computer version could be seen as the "master game", from which the console versions would be derived, with varying levels of compromise attached to each of the latter. However, there has been a fundamental shift in recent times to developers concentrating mostly on the console renditions, with only minor technical improvements made on the PC side of things. This is perhaps most noteworthy in terms of texture quality; art assets that target 720p look a little lacklustre at 1080p, as the additional texture definition required to really make an impression simply isn't there.
This new approach also "works" in that the baseline enthusiast PC is likely to contain more processing muscle and, crucially, memory than the Xbox 360 and PS3. The consoles have defined the baseline, and even a relatively modest entry-spec PC with an £80 graphics card can easily surpass that general performance level, hence we see fairly basic ports with frightening regularity.
Halfway into Borderlands' development, Gearbox Software changed everything. A game that started out a dour shower of browns, greys and post-apocalyptic shadows was fed through the Crackdown filter and came out a blaze of SEGA blues, Mario shine yellows and Jet Set cel-shading. The visual rewrite has done more than merely distinguish the game from its nearest rival, Fallout 3. It also accentuates the Mad Max humour of planet Pandora's inhabitants and scenarios, turning grisly headshots into party-popper exclamations while, to be frank, making the world a far more pleasant place to be. Any tourist of a science-fiction planet overrun by rag-wearing sand-bandits acknowledges the risk of having one's balls torn off by a pet rabid mutant hyena. So why not balance the dark risks with some bright, happy vistas?
Gearbox Studios celebrated its 10th birthday earlier this year. It's a major milestone in the life of any game maker, and one the Texan developer no doubt celebrated heartily. So how is studio head Randy Pitchford, the man who has steered Gearbox from its origins as work-for-hire Half-Life expander to today's multi-tasking operation, feeling?
At the end of our E3 Borderlands preview, Gearbox's Randy Pitchford, who's been talking for the last 20 minutes at an insane rate of knots without, apparently, ever needing to take a breath, asks if anyone has a question. Someone does, as it happens, right down at the front of the group. It's Cliff Bleszinski. And he wants to know what engine the game's using.
This week we've already guided you through the coming year's hot picks for Indie and Esoterica and Sports and Music games. Still to come are Fighting, Strategy, Action, Adventure, Shooters and Racing. But today we're looking at two sectors with the same dice-rolling roots that are heading in more than two different directions in 2009 - role-playing games (RPGs), and massively multiplayer online games (MMOs).
In light of every developer ever's recent decision to set their game in the aftermath of a fictional apocalypse, it's easy to assume Borderlands is much the same. It's got barren, desolate plains, the locals are dressed up in rags and desert goggles, and all the jibber-jabber's about settlements and bandits.
Borderlands (PC/PS3/360) preview