Poll Game: Zombie – Away we go.

Your mind’s made up. You can’t stay here. Fuck knows where your mum is or anyone else you know and thinking back, things at the school didn’t seem right. Maybe none of your school friends have done very well either. You pack up what you can despite the attempts of the others from the block to get you to stay. You can still hear sirens and gunshots out there, so someone’s still alive, though it’s not as noisy as it once was. They do persuade you to leave most of the food, but you reckon you can find most of what you need out there somewhere, better to travel light. Once your mind’s set you clamber out of one of the windows and down onto the ‘porch’ roof, standing above the dead who haven’t noticed you yet, scratching and banging at the doors and windows as they are.

You almost piss yourself with fear at the sound of them, there’s something primal and hungry about the noise that sends shudders up and down your back. What’s worse is that you vaguely recognise some of these people, faces you’ve seen in the crowds and never paid attention to in the past. That fills you with waves of guilt before you steel yourself, run, and jump, landing heavily a few metres from the back of the line of the dead, virtually winding yourself as you scramble up and they begin to turn.

You sprint, running for the station, despite the pain in your stomach and the fear making your heart pound. You dodge around a shambling, bloody thing in the alleyway and swing around the steps, jumping over a properly dead body as you pound up the stairs and onto the bridge that runs over the line, leaping down onto the roof of one of the platforms with a thump to catch your breath.

There’s only two or three deaders around the station, but they know you’re there, one’s trying to climb the bridge behind you, the others are on the platform. Not far down the line a train rests, abandoned, doors open, still giving its announcements about evacuating the train, as it probably will until the power runs down…

Where can you go?
Follow the lines out of the city, things should be safer out there.
Take the roads towards the sounds of gunfire to find help.
Follow the rails back towards the centre of the city where the big buildings are.
Find a better vantage point in a taller housing block.
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Review: Borderlands

The story is a bit of a casualty to the mission structure and game play to start with, though threads emerge and little plot arcs with the various ‘quest givers’ do emerge. The information about Pandora is there to understand its background but you really have to pay attention as you whisk through the missions to really get an idea of what happened.

Pandora was a mining world run by one of the big interstellar corporations until they decided to pull out. In so doing they left behind a bunch of convict workers and everyone who couldn’t afford to get off world. The injured, the perverse and those who simply enjoyed exploiting a frontier planet. Stories about the vault have brought other mercenaries here, along with members of larger mercenary forces,

ostensibly there to keep the peace. A job they fail at.

The planet is a broken down wreck, overrun by bandits, almost entirely populated by men and full of various forms of dangerous animal wildlife to get in the way. As you get closer to the vault – guided by a mysterious ‘angel’ – so do all the other forces of the planet, though many of them don’t understand exactly what it is that they have…

You run around in first person mode, but you shoot. You level up like a regular RPG and this gives you points to put into special class abilities like in Diablo or World of Warcraft. When you shoot people they bleed, but numbers also appear over their head telling you how much damage you do. Weapons are like magic weapons in Diablo or WoW. They have special qualities and variable stats and come in
white/green/blue/purple/orange to let you know how rare and powerful they are.

Gameplay varies heavily by class and I haven’t had a great deal of time to play every class yet. The soldier is an excellent generalist with a very useful throw-down turrent that provides cover, healing and ammo as well as shooting anyone who comes into range. The siren can teleport – after a fashion – to get out of trouble and can detonate herself like a bomb while the hunter is hell on wheels with a sniper
rifle and has a pet bat-like creature that can be used to attack enemies. The class I haven’t played at all is a hulking great tank of a man that’s supposed to be good in close combat.

There are vehicles, but they’re all identical and a little fragile when it comes to firefights with a tendency to explode around you.

There’s a good variety of enemies, but you will get tired of shooting ‘skags’ (wild, feral, armoured rat-dogs) before you’re even out of the first area.

The RPG/First Person hybrid is annoying to start with, but eventually you settle into it and it no longer seems strange. One minor annoyance, though it’s good simulation, is that there’s a slight delay between firing a bullet and it striking the target which, for sniping, makes it much more difficult, especially on a console with the thumbsticks, to hit a moving target.

You can play online or cooperatively on your TV with someone in the same room. It’s hard to see what’s going on with a split screen (they did it vertically rather than horizontally) and online is full of arseholes, but this is true of any game and so Borderlands can’t be told off for it really. I’d love to play a 4 player game with one of each character type, but I simply can’t endure the online duel-spammers long enough to find such a group.

Pandora is a desolate, desert world, littered with the trash and leftovers of the corporation that upped sticks and left people behind. It feels like a stereotype of a massive, America trailer park. Prefab, rickety buildings inhabited by hicks and freaks and with dangerous, gun-toting nutters all over the place. The overall feel is somewhere between that and the wild west and in some aspects almost reminds one of the old, cheesy SF film ‘Space Hunter: Beyond the Forbidden Zone’.

The desperate feel of the planet is well represented but loses some of its edge thanks to the cell-shaded, cartoony feel of the graphics, which enhance the humour aspect of the game, but detract from some of the scarier moments, the big reveal and some of the aliens.

Overall you do get conveyed the fact that Pandora is a desolate shithole and that anyone who remains there is crazy, but to really get at the meat of the back-story you have to fiercely pay attention and to read absolutely everything you find as well as looking at all the little background details. It’s there, but you have to work at it.

The graphics are competent and cell-shaded, giving Borderlands a cartoony feel that’s something like Heavy Metal without the tits. There’s a lot of trash and detritus everywhere and while the scenery is sometimes a bit angular, harking back to 3d games from 5-10 years ago, overall it has a distinctive look and feel that works for the game. I would have liked it if they’d decided to either go a bit more realistic or a bit more cartoony and stylish, but the middle ground, while initially a bit niggling, becomes better as you play on through the game.

I rarely play a game through twice unless it REALLY grabs me. I’m on my second play-through of Borderlands, mostly because I want to use the higher level skill powers on my soldier character but also because the weapons are fun and I want to play with a larger gamut of them. The story and the missions are varied and fun enough that playing through a second time doesn’t feel like a chore but a third time might be
pushing it. The classes are different enough that playing through with a different class may give enough of a different play experience that another play-through could be on the cards. It’s a fun and quirky game and takes a few risks with the genres, something that’s to be encouraged.

The first downloadable content, The Island of Doctor Ned, is a great comedic-horror romp that makes fun of both cheap re-skinned game expansions and horror tropes like zombies and The Wolfman. Well worth a download and a play. The second download – arenas and storage – doesn’t seem as worth it to me.

Style 4
Substance 4
Overall 4