GAME: Borderlands Game Of The Year Edition
DEVELOPER: Gearbox Software
AVAILABLE ON: PC (Steam), XBOX One, PS4
The Original Looter Shooter
Gearbox is a developer that most gamers probably have a bit of a love/hate relationship with. When they aren’t busy pissing off the collective Alien and Duke Nukem fandoms, there is one franchise that they seem to put more effort into. And that is of course their very own IP, Borderlands.
If you’ve never heard of Borderlands, you have probably heard of the term looter shooter. It’s a term that gets thrown around quite a bit nowadays, but Borderlands was in many ways the first of its kind. It’s best described as someone at Gearbox having the lovely idea of getting Diablo and Call Of Duty together in a bedroom with some sexy music and letting nature do its thing. What we ended up with was a pretty addictive game that combined FPS combat with hack’n’slash mechanics.
The original Borderlands was in that regard a very original shooter when it came out in 2009. Being a co-op shooter, it gave you four heroes to choose from. The so-called “vault hunters” who each had a distinct personality and skill sets.
You had Mordecai, the brooding hunter type with his pet bird of prey Bloodwing, with skills that makes him an excellent gunslinger and sniper. You had Brick, a towering mountain of a man capable of wielding rocket launchers with ease and punching enemies into submission. There was Roland, the soldier type more focused on support with his trusty turret. And finally there was Lilith, a siren. Sirens in Borderlands are legendary females with blue tattoos who are gifted with immense powers. Lilith has the power to literally enter another dimension, an ability called phasewalk. She is also more centered around elemental damage than the other hunters and has skills more focused on SMG’s and automatic weapons, as well as crowd control.
The plot in Borderlands is pretty simple. You learn that Patricia Tannis, an archeologist on a planet called Pandora is studying something called Vaults, which she isn’t entirely sure on what is but she seems to have found one on Pandora and intends to find a way to open it. As the four vault hunters, your main task in the game becomes to assist Tannis in her journey towards opening the Vault and finding out what’s on the other side. This of course would be an easy task if Pandora wasn’t also an incredibly harsh environment with not only local wildlife to deal with but also humans that have either turned insane or are there to seize the Vault for themselves.
What Makes It Different?
Being the game’s 10th anniversary, it’s therefore a perfect time to release a remaster of the game. Because while it is a great game, it still suffers from being the first in the series, with a lot of the quality-of-life improvements from Borderlands 2 having always felt absent from it. And therefore I would argue it is the game that has benefited from a remaster the most compared to the games in the Handsome Collection which were essentially just glorified texture packs. The Game of the Year Edition of Borderlands is a far more substantial update of the core game that adds those improvements back into the first game and also updates the visuals by an incredible amount.
You now have a minimap in addition to the compass from the first game. An issue in the original game was always navigation since the compass would only give you a vague idea of where something was. With the minimap and the game’s added objective markers, you’re now never stuck being unsure of where something is during one of the game’s many fetch quests. And it also shows enemy locations which helps a lot during combat.
Another issue in the first game was that you had to manually pick up everything, which included stuff like money and ammunition. This is now fixed so that like in Borderlands 2 you automatically suck up consumables, which probably is one of the most welcome fixes to the game.
What Makes It Unique?
Despite the changes that makes Borderlands 1 play more like Borderlands 2, it is still a very different game at its core. The gameplay in general is far slower and more tactical, with more focus on shooting from cover and advantageous locations than running around blasting enemies. The difficulty is generally higher which means that running and gunning is more likely to get you killed faster, even if you have a decent shield. Compared to the sequels which had gameplay that felt much faster paced and twitchy, it definitely makes the game feel unique to play.
There is of course also the lack of the trademark humor from Borderlands 2, since Borderlands 1 in general had a more laid back tone to it. So if you were never a fan of the writing in Borderlands 2, you may still enjoy Borderlands 1. That’s not to say Borderlands 1 isn’t funny at times either, it definitely has some funny references and quirks, but it never reaches the same points that the sequels made.
The combat also feels distinctly gorier, with heads actually exploding when you get a perfect headshot, something that was missing in the sequels. And with Borderlands 1 being the only game where you could get snipers and SMG’s with explosive elements, it also has a more diverse feel with the weapons, since the explosive element isn’t exclusive to a single manufacturer like it was in the sequels.
And of course it has to be mentioned that cars are just the most powerful weapon in the game, capable of running over pretty much any enemy and making them explode instantly. Granted this does damage your car a fair bit when running over heavily armored enemies or corrosive element enemies, but it still feels amazingly overpowered. Compared to the sequels where your car dealt more realistic damage to enemies, it feels almost comical in comparison but not lacking in fun factor for sure.
And that’s of course not counting the fact that Borderlands 1 offers unique locations and enemies you likely won’t see in the sequels, such as the Scythids which always felt absent from the sequels. The flying space slugs are probably some of the most annoying enemies in the game though so that may be a reason they decided not to include them in future games.
A Mixed Bag
Visually the Game of the Year edition features some noticable enhancements. Textures are at a much higher resolution, making it actually possible to see fine details on them, as well as a higher shadow resolution. And the game on PC now has an FOV slider, meaning you’re no longer forced to deal with the low fixed FOV of the original game. It does not feature any massive visual enhancements though, the colours still look a bit muted and the lighting still feels very basic and reliant on bloom like most pre-2010 games tended to do. So in a way it does look like a 2009 game still, albeit with higher resolution textures.
That’s sadly not to say the new edition is without its flaws. And most of them come in the audio department. The audio mix is kind of all over the place with gunfire constantly cutting out during heavy combat which makes the game feel oddly quiet despite there being a lot of sound going on. Noises made by enemies and cars feel like they have no distance factor to them, being incredibly loud no matter how far away you are from them which makes combat incredibly disorienting, and other players can be on the other side of the map and still sound like they’re right next to you. And music changes so abruptly you’re almost given sonic whiplash. This is the area where the remaster suffers the most and it’s hard to understand how the audio could get this badly messed up.
It doesn’t stop there either, the audio settings in the menus doesn’t do anything. Changing volume sliders doesn’t actually change any volumes and everything still feels like it’s mixed completely bonkers, with it almost being impossible to hear Echo logs when you pick them up due to them being drowned out by other noise. And that’s not to mention that whenever you start the game, your voice settings are reset to always broadcasting, which means you have to enter the audio settings every time you start the game to toggle them. It gets incredibly frustrating.
Despite the audio issues, I would still recommend getting the GOTY Edition of Borderlands 1. It’s a substantial and welcome overhaul of the game that makes it a lot more fun to play, to the point that I find it very hard to go back to the original. Heck, if you already own Borderlands on Steam, you also own the new version since you get it for free! So hopefully these issues will be addressed in a future patch and we will have the absolute definitive edition of Borderlands 1 to play.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10