The villainy of the Wild West. The desolation of Mad Max. The inhabitants of a particularly unpleasant zoo. The remote planet of Pandora won’t win any travel accolades, but it’s the setting for Gearbox Software’s role-playing shooter, Borderlands, a title that’s braving the maelstrom of heavyweight releases this autumn.
Rendered in classy graphics, this is an attractive proposition, not least because its ambition is to close ranks on two conflicting gaming philosophies. Games like Bioshock (a first person shooter) and Fallout 3 (an RPG) dabbled in interbreeding the genres, but they were fairly non-commital efforts. Borderlands, however, is pitching itself straight down the middle.
You have a choice of four characters, representative of the different classes of gunner you’d find on any team-based shooter. As you ‘level-up’, collect cash, increase health totals and ammo capacity, you’ll also find alien technologies at your disposal. But the bit that made FHM go, “Coooooool”? There are nearly 17 million different guns.
In fact, that’s a brash piece of spin from the developers, but thanks to a weapon randomisation system that can take pistols, shotguns, machine-guns, grenade launchers, sniper rifles – you name it – and tinker with a wide set of variables, it’s theoretically accurate. And every time you put a bullet through something’s skull, numbers float above the felled assailant, in typical RPG fashion.
And the storyline? That’s where the depth of a traditional RPG comes into play. Pandora’s a distant planet, a lawless and chaotic aborted colonisation. Your character’s destiny will play out over 160 quests of varying length and complexity, each with their own reward. But, thanks to a randomisation engine that also applies to the maps – landscapes, flora, fauna and even enemies will be different on every play.
It’s a bold exercise in innovation, a sprawling tapestry of a game that might struggle to maintain its intensity. But with drop-in multiplayer, it won’t be a lonely experience. And, crass as it sounds, it’s an aesthetic triumph in itself. It looks amazing. And one of the characters, with her low-slung holsters and heaving cleavage, makes Lara Croft look like dishwater.
Borderlands, from £40, is out on Xbox 360 and PS3 from Oct 20 and on PC from Oct 27