Borderlands Cover
Platforms Xbox 360, PS3, Windows
Genre Mad Max RPG shooter
MtAMinutes to Action 10
Keep Playing? Yes
Buy from Amazon

When I first heard about Borderlands, I somehow just knew it was going to be a game that I would like.  I don’t know how I knew, I just knew.  It reminds me of the days when I was 12 years old and shopped for video games by looking at the pictures on the back of the game box in the toy store so long ago.  I don’t know how it worked, but I could look at those 2 or 3 screenshots and read that lonely paragraph and know with certainty if I would like the game or not.  Just like shopping in the toy store years ago, I actually knew very little about the details of Borderlands.  I knew it was an FPS, and I had heard it had RPG elements. I had read a story on Kotaku that discussed a drastic shift from “realistic” graphics to a more “cartoony” cell shaded design.  There was little else I could tell you about the game.  But somehow, I wanted it. 

So, I added it to my mental list of games to play without too much thought. I wasn’t in a big hurry, simply because I’m generally pretty patient about getting games.  This allows me to scoop up great deals from the Target clearance game shelf.  As Greg, purveyor of First Hour, noted in a recent conversation on LIVE, I’m a person who often likes games that other people don’t.  Well, I’m also a person who loves to get a bargain and both traits suit me well for the clearance shelf.  If I wait that first month to buy a game and it’s a critical and commercial failure, there’s a good chance it will see 50% off on the Target clearance shelf. It wasn’t long before I realized that Borderlands would not be one of those games.  Apparently, people were liking it. Good for the developers and bad for my wallet.  This only fueled my desire to play the game sooner rather than later. I finally found a Sunday ad with the game on sale for $39.99 and decided it was fate.  You’re about to read the first hour of what fate decided was a game I must play.

Minute by Minute

(minutes are in bold) 
00 – I load up the game from my Xbox control panel and a few seconds later I’m compelled to push start.  There are several game options including Single Player, Splitscreen and Xbox Live. I choose Single Player. I then choose New Character.

01 – As soon as I click, it triggers a cutscene. A raspy voiceover begins telling me about the legend of the “vault” while hand-drawn stills depict the story being told.

02 – I’m told that on the planet Pandora lies a hidden vault containing riches, weapons, power, and everything you could possibly imagine. I’m told that the story is true. I’m told there is a guardian angel who helps lead worthy vault hunters to their destination. The tense used in the cutscene is a bit confusing. I’m not sure if I’m being talked to as one of the vault hunters from the legend, or as someone hearing about it after the fact.

03 – Ok, that cutscene is over and appears to have been a simple background. Another cutscene begins. This cutscene feels more “present-day”. It’s very stylish, comic book looking animation with an AWESOME backing soundtrack. The song used is “Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked” by Cage the Elephant as I find out later after some small amount of research.

04 – This new cutscene pans across a desolate landscape and we see a large roadside billboard. On the billboard it says Welcome to Pandora. The billboard is dilapidated and missing sections. A small section falls away and a nasty looking doglike creature emerges from behind it. As the music gets louder, the animal walks out onto a highway.  Just at the apex of the intro music the animal is hit by a passing bus. The music kicks in louder and I really start to get interested. Not sure if the game will be good, but it’s stylish and fun. During the music we get some credits, Gearbox Games, etc. The camera pans inside the bus and we see 4 people.  We are introduced to them one by one.  Mordecai the Hunter is a spindly individual with a goatee and mask over his eyes. He swings a knife and appears as if he knows how to use it. Lilith “The Siren” walks seductively toward the camera while seemingly going invisible.

05 – Roland “The Soldier” looks to be a loner, shying away from the camera, wearing combat armor, he’s clearly the “guns” guy. Lastly we see Brick “as Himself”. Brick is enormous, with a tank top and a skinhead. He looks like he could literally break you in half with his bare hands and eat you without a care.  The music starts to fade and the raspy voice comes back. It’s the bus driver. We learn his name is Marcus. “Next stop, Fyrestone Depot, time to get your stuff, who’s getting off?” Now we get the choice of character: Soldier, Hunter, Berserker, or Siren.  I choose Siren because I’m curious about this invisibility and it says her weapon of choice is Sub-Machine guns, which happens to be the best type of gun. Fact.

Borderlands Siren Character Select
06 – Once I make my choice, a new, picture-in-picture cutscene triggers. It’s the face of a woman, telling me she’s here to help. I’m guessing it’s the “guardian angel” I was told about in the legend of the vault intro. She tells me not to worry, to do as she says and I’ll be fine. She says there is a Robot waiting outside the bus and that I should do what it says. She will reveal more in time. 

07 – I step off the bus, just outside of a dusty shanty town. The bus drives away in a cloud of smoke. I’m all alone. I turn (look only control), and see a robot waving the bus off. He comes up to me and introduces himself as CL4PTP and tells me to call him “Claptrap”. He hands me a device, a heads up display and echo communication device provided by the Dahl corporation.

08 – Once I have it, my HUD starts coming online. Meters appear for health, experience module, compass, weapon, ammo count, etc. And now, I have a gun in hand. He tells me to follow him. I have movement control for the first time, and so I follow him. He leads me to a small pole coming out of the ground. It’s called a New-U station. I have to click on it to store my DNA. Doing so allows me to re-name my character or customize colors.  Apparently if I die, now I’ll reload at the nearest New-U station. Neat.

09 – I continue following the robot to a metal gate structure. It appears to lead into the town. He inputs a code at the gate control panel and waits. As he waits a bunch of off road vehicles like those in the movie Mad Max jump past, over the gate. They do a few cookies just on the other side of the gate, shooting at everything. They cause some explosions and drive away. He finally gets the gate open and we go through.

10 – As we clear the gate, we can see some people just down the road. They have masks on and uh-oh, they start shooting at me.  I catch my bearings now that I’m in full control mode and return fire with the right trigger as you’d expect.  The submachine gun crackles to life with a very pleasing percussive sound effect and I take out the first bandit with about 5 rounds.  The barrel is short and so the gunfire is not incredibly accurate. Using the left trigger to engage “iron sites” makes bullets go just where I want them; into the next bandits gray matter. Splat, “CRITICAL”, in big red letters jumps out of the bandits head as he falls lifeless to the ground. Nice.  I love a game that gives good critical hit notification.

11 – Several more bandits follow. Unfortunately, that critical hit appears to have been a lucky shot as I don’t get any more. In fact, now that I’m trying for headshots, I’m missing altogether.  Better stick to the bigger target and keep my trigger pulls low and in the middle.  Ok, that’s better.  Unfortunately, it seems I learned the lesson too late. I’ve run out of ammo.  I flee back a few meters and take cover behind an old lean-to of some kind.  What to do?

Borderlands Psycho
12 – I run back where I killed the first bandits. Thankfully, it now appears that they dropped some ammo.  Somehow I didn’t see it the first time. I pick it up and go re-engage the next bandits. I’m at about 50% health. I pick up some more money (from inside a toilet?) and take out a few more bandits. They drop health and ammo. Nice.

13 – More bandits run at me from areas down the road. They shoot a blue barrel and it explodes in a giant blue electricity looking explosion. Not sure what that was but apparently no one told the developers that only red barrels are supposed to explode.  As I take out the last of the bandits, the claptrap comes out from where it was hiding and beckons me over to a large red crate. He tells me to open it. It contains ammo and two pistols. I take them gladly. I’m told to switch weapons using “Y”. I hit “Back” and look at my inventory and assign one of them to my quick weapon slot, of which I have two. I choose the pistol with a scope on it.

14 – The claptrap leads me to another gate. He can’t get it open so he leads me through a little hole in the wall where I learn how to crouch and how to jump.  As I clear the jump, two more bandits emerge from behind a small shed.  More gunfire. I’m nearly to level 2 at this point.  I wasn’t ready for this fire fight and I’m nearly dead and low on ammo.

15 – I take out the last guy and he drops zip.  I have 7 health left and start scrounging around. There are small garbage piles on the ground (and more toilets?) you can “open” and one of them contains a health vial and ammo. Thank goodness. Finding health in a toilet. Something seems wrong about that. It reminds me of a scene from the movie Trainspotting that I won’t talk about here.

16 – As I round a corner, I see yet another bandit and take him out. As I do so, a very large “LEVEL UP” flashes on screen. Now I’m level 2.  With that comes full health, so now I’m in pretty good shape. I’m told that I will also do more damage. Excellent.

17 – The guardian angels vision appears again once all the bandits are gone and tells me that she made the right choice and that I’m doing well.

Borderlands Claptrap red Chest
18 – After the vision, the Claptrap leads me to a small metal structure and tells the occupants that it is now safe to open the doors.  Dr. Zed answers from the inside and says the door is stuck. I receive my first mission: “Open Building No3 in Fyrestone”. I learn about the mission indicator on the HUD and how waypoints work. I open the door and a cutscene triggers. We see a man in what looks like a medical uniform. He’s about to cut on a dead body with a rather large disc of some sort with a long handle. As he reaches above his head with a swing that would decapitate a horse, we get a freeze frame and see the name Dr. Zed in bold text. Very stylish.

19 – Now the cutscene is over. Dr. Zed is standing there and we get an onscreen cue that we can talk to him. I do so.  Now I can “turn in” my mission of opening the door and I get a small amount of experience. He gives me a new mission: “Skags at the gate”.  I’m told to go kill 5 nasty skags, (those dog-like animals from the intro cutscene). My way point indicator shows where I need to go and the claptrap leads me there.

20 – As we approach another closed gate leading out of town a bandit vehicle drives by and with some sort of launcher, shoots the claptrap which falls to the ground moaning. The vehicle leaves and some bandits jump over the wall. I take them out.  As a level 2, they are not quite as tough.

21 – Once all the bandits are dead, Dr. Zed communicates with me via my Dahl Echo thingy and tells me I’ve gotten under “Nine-Toes” skin by killing a bunch of his bandits. The angel then appears in another vision and gives me another mission. Repair the damaged claptrap by finding a repair kit. 

22 – I wander around until I find the repair kit. I take it back and use it on the robot. It gives me experience and the claptrap jumps back to life. The robot finally opens the gate. I go outside and see some skags foraging. I shoot one and two more emerge from the den, a hole in the hillside. I shoot one in the mouth and score a critical hit. Gibs!

23 – Upon killing the 5th one, Dr. Zed tells me to come back. I run back into town and turn in the mission.  I get some experience and Dr. Zed gives me a new objective: To fix the “Med Vendor” and buy a shield.

Borderlands Sniper Midget Fire
24 – I accept the mission and check my waypoint indicator. It shows a point outside of town, past where I just killed the skags. I run that direction and see the claptrap. He tells me “Check me out, I’m dancing, I’m dancing!”. He then proceeds to spin up on one hand and then down into a backspin, landing in the classic pose, head in hand, elbow on the ground.  A breakdancing robot. Nice!

25 – I proceed on, following my mission indicator, and am back outside town on a dusty road.  I see the broken med vendor and approach it to get the part I need. A few skags come out of a cave and more gunfire ensues. These skags can really jump.  Once they fall, I grab the part and head back to town.

27 – I’m told to press “L” to sprint. I sprint. I get back to Dr. Zed and fix the vendor which looks like a pop machine.  I click on it and I can buy a shield. When I do, my shield display module comes online. It explains that after taking damage, your shield will slowly recharge.

28 – I turn in the mission to Dr. Zed and he tells me that Nine-Toes is having the town of Fyrestone watched and that I should take out the guys doing so.  The mission is called “Blinding Nine-Toes”.  Once I accept the mission, the angel appears in another vision and tells me I need to gain the trust of the locals, that I can do this by helping them with their problems. My mission indicator tells me that I need to kill 8 bandits. On the way to the bandits, I see some more skags and take them out. This new shield is a huge help. In killing the skags, I level up to Level 3.

29 – As I run up the hill, I see some more bandits patrolling a small area. I approach and they start shooting.  In working on the bandits I get a few more critical hits and my character makes comments when I do so.  One example, as I shoot a bandit in the face, the siren exclaims, “Feel it!”.  The comments actually help make the combat more interesting, as your character voices what you’re already feeling. At one point in the firefight, one of the bandits shouts, “Nobody shoots my buddy but me!”.  Wow, these guys really are “Mad Max” style crazy. I like it.

30 – Once I take out the bandits I head back to town to turn it in. The Doc tells me I need to look for a guy named TK Baja, says he will know how to find Nine-Toes’ hideout.

Borderlands Siren Skilltree Phasewalk
31 – Using the objective indicator I run my way to TK’s claim. TK Baja is sitting in a chair on the front porch……..pointing a shotgun at me!  In another stylish cutscene we’re introduced to TK, a blind miner who lives just outside Fyrestone. Even being blind, he knows the area better than anyone.  Also, he doesn’t shoot me. He was just kidding. Get it?

32 – So TK tells me that he needs a favor. He explains that some no good, dirty skags made off with some of his food. If I can find it for him and bring it back, he’ll help me out with my Nine-Toes problem.  So I note my mission indicator and head over to another skag filled area of the map. There are quite of few of them, but with lots of ammo and time, I take them out. I see my first level 4 enemy skag. It took quite a bit more ammo to bring it down.

34 – So I kill about 10 more skags of varying level and difficulty. Some are more aggressive than others.  In the process, I collect 4 large ham hock looking things. They glow green and pulsate so you easily know that’s what you’re after which is nice.  Once I get all four, I turn tail and make my way back to TKs claim.

35 – When I get back to TK, he tells me that if I want to find Nine-Toes, I’ll need some explosives. He tells me that I need to go buy some grenades in town.  On my way back to town, Marcus, (the bus driver) comes across on the echo communication device.  Marcus tells me that due to all the killing lately in Fyrestone, he’s been able re-open the weapons vendor.  Now I’ll have a place to buy weapons and ammo. Who says nothing good comes from killing?

37 – So I run back to town and buy some grenades. I kill a few skags and bandits on the way.  The bandits I run into are level 3 and carry automatic weapons, a notable upgrade from the repeater pistols they were carrying earlier in the game.  The weapons vendor has about 5 guns on offer and ammo for all of them. I can’t afford anything better than what I have so I just dream about the nice ones that I’ll be buying later.

40 – When I get back to TK, he tells me to “take the grenade to Skag Gully and shove it up Nine-Toes ass”. Sounds like a pretty good plan. I now have a new objective and new mission indicator.  Lets head on over to Skag Gully. Sounds like there will be lots of skag corpses in my future.  I’m ok with that. I hate them dang skags.  I realize TK is starting to rub off on me and I head out.

42 – At the entrance to Skag Gully is a large detonation device. I push the plunger down and BOOM. The entrance to skag gully opens up before me. I click on the button and zone.  Load up Skag Gully.

Borderlands Siren Phasewalk

43 – Just inside Skag Gully are two more vending machines, one each for health and ammo.  Apparently they’re prepping me for something. That’s fine as it saves me a jog back to town.  I go to the vendors and spec out my gear. Still can’t afford more than ammo. I load up and I’m on my way.

44 – Skag Gully is even more desolate than the last area I was in. There are giant rusty windmills turning in the distance that give a depth to both the scenery and the feeling of abandonment.  I like it.  With all the skags I’ve killed I’m dangerously close to Level 5.

45 – I wander around in Skag Gully and come across some level 6 and level 7 skags and spitter skags. I avoid them and head the other direction, stumbling into a large nest of level 4s.  As I kill them, some drop ammo and some drop weapons. I also find an occasional weapon in the little piles of rubbish on the ground.

46 – Ding! Level 5.  I’m told that I now have a skill point to spend. I go into my character skill screen and the only option currently available is Phasewalk. I spend the point and exit the screen. I’m then instructed to use Left Bumper to trigger my action skill, and that the skill will only again become available once it recharges. I’m told that when I enter and exit phasewalk I create a phase blast that will damage nearby enemies. Excellent.

47 – So I test it out. While I’m phased, I’m invisible and I can run super fast.  Exactly what I wanted, a means to flee the scene if things get too hot. Perfect for single player game play which is good since I tend to play games solo most of the time.

48 – As I travel further into the gully, I stumble upon an old gravesite.  There is a flashing marker indicating that I can interact with it. When I do, I locate a hidden weapon cache. A pistol called “Lady Finger” pops out. It has stats superior to my existing pistol so I gladly equip it.

49 – As I continue on, I encounter a few more skags and some crazy little midgets that come running at me screaming. It’s quite unsettling.  They’re like miniature versions of the bandits, only faster and with high pitched voices.  They make a hard target, particularly the one entitled, “Mutant Midget Psycho”.  Surprise surprise, he’s not friendly.  After a lucky critical to the midget, I phasewalk out and give my shield a chance to breathe.

Borderlands Brick Mordecai Roland Multiplayer

50 – Once I’m healed I return to the scene and clean up the rest of the baddies. One of them dropped an object. Further inspection reveals it to be a grenade mod. Grenade mods are explained to be objects that modify how a traditional grenade behaves. This particular mod turns grenades into sticky grenades that will adhere to whatever they hit before exploding. I think I’ll find them quite useful.

51 – I continue heading toward Nine-Toes and I receive another vision from the angel of the vault (which is what I’m now calling her). She tells me I’m about to face my first real challenge and that she hopes I’ve toughened up enough.  I hope I have too.  I continue on and run into some bandits with shotguns and shields. They are significantly tougher than those I’ve seen up to this point.

52 – After taking them out, I head back through skag gully mopping up any loose skags I can find in an effort to hit level 6 before I engage Nine-Toes.

55 – In the process of ridding Skag Gully of skags, I level up to 6 and acquire a few more crappy guns.  I head back to town to unload everything I’ve found and check the weapon vendor for anything interesting.

56 –  Nice surprise there is an SMG on sale at the vendor that I can just afford after stocking up on ammo. I buy it.  It has a small scope on it which makes it much better than my last one.

57 – I’m now back at the entrance to Skag Gully and find that the skags I had killed are back.  No worries, with my new gun and higher level, they are no match for me.

59 – I’m now back at the entrance to Nine-Toes lair.  There is a New-U station just outside and I realize the hour is up.  I hit pause and save my game. I can’t wait to jump back in and see if I can’t get a look at those famous toes.

Borderlands Siren Skags Behind

First Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 10

Minutes to Control: 7

What I liked: The setting is right up my alley.  That post-apocalyptic Mad Max style is beautifully realized. It makes me want to watch the Mad Max movies again.  The environment, enemies, and weapons are all very well tied to the theme.  It has a cohesion that many games lack.  It’s a place I really want to spend time in, to explore and to get to know.  I’m curious whats around the next corner, what will be the next enemy I see (a midget?) and what crazy NPC will I meet along the way.

What I didn't like: Not much. There were a couple of times when picking up a weapon it would replace the gun I was previously using.  It took me a moment to realize that if you hit “x” you’ll pick up what’s on the ground, but if you HOLD “x” you’ll not only pick it up but also it will replace what you’re currently using. I can see the usefulness of it but when you also HOLD “x” to pick up all the ammo that’s nearby, there are bound to be some confusing moments, particularly considering how loot heavy this game looks to be.  But this is a trifle in an otherwise very strong first hour. The game had humor, great shooting controls, and very pleasing visuals. If it can keep this up for the long haul, this is going to be a great game indeed.

Gameplay: The gameplay is essentially mission-driven FPS.  There are long stretches where you travel around and talk to people in between the shooting action. But when you consider the interesting characters involved and the witty humor they inject into the game, they are a net plus.

Fun Factor: Solid.  I realize the fun factor of this game will depend a lot on how you feel about this type of world and the delivery mechanism. This game is clearly loot driven.  The looting appears to be tied together with a decent, although somewhat light, story in an amazingly detailed environment. The characters are fun and we are introduced to them in humorous and highly stylized ways.

Graphics and Sound: Excellent. This is probably the best use of cell-shading since Okami and Wind Waker. I would not have thought that a gritty shooter would do so well with this graphical style, but it really works. It doesn’t look like PURE cell-shading, but I don’t know how else to describe it. You have to see it to really understand and enjoy it. The sound effects are top notch. Every gun has different characteristics both in sound and in mannerism. Some guns have a lot of recoil, others don’t. Some guns are noisy and others aren’t. You can really tell they put an enormous amount of time and thought into the weapon generation systems.  This may be the best part of the game.

Story: While the story is somewhat barebones; you’re basically a treasure hunter in a foreign world, not really knowing what you’re looking for while being guided by an angel.  Yet, somehow it feels like it works. Let me say this, if you really love story, you may be a bit disappointed. Not that the story is bad, but that much of the story comes from reading the mission boards and the backgrounds you get from them.  I’ll not make a final judgment this early, but the story seem not to have been the most important element of this game.  But what I’ve seen so far makes me want to learn more.

Overall: Borderlands is a gritty stylish shooter with massive RPG hooks.  When I say RPG, I don’t really mean you get to roleplay, but I think the term RPG has changed. Now I use it to mean there are lots of different leveling up mechanics. Your character has a level. Each weapon you carry gets leveled up as you use it. You get skill points and get to spend them on 3 different skill trees. Its all very conventional, but just a bit strange seeing it in an FPS. But it all dovetails beautifully. Not since I played Puzzle Quest have I been so impressed with a developers ability to “RPG-ify” a game so successfully.

Would I keep playing?  I’m absolutely going to keep playing, right after I watch Mad Max one more time to help develop the mood. See you on Pandora!