REVIEW // Borderlands

Definitely the surprise hit of the Fall 2009 game season, Gearbox astonished players the world over with its quirky, off-beat first-person role-playing shooter amongst the titans of the gaming industry. With only the Brothers In Arms series to back its pedigree, Borderlands was certainly a gamble for Gearbox. While the game is garnering much attention and praise for being “different”… does that make Borderlands a good game?

With a face like that, you wouldn't have expected a mass murderer!

A science fiction role-playing shooter from Gearbox Software, Borderlands takes place on the world of Pandora and has players take on the role of one of four unique, playable characters: Roland the Soldier, Mordecai the Hunter, Lilith the Siren, and Brick as… himself. The narrative itself is a straight-forward affair where players must complete quests issued by characters or events on Pandora in order to receive rewards and special items. The challenge stems from surviving the hostile inhabitants of the world and finding the biggest gun to do so.

Nothing like being surrounded with a few buddies and a @#$%-load of ammo!

Fun-derlands!
Borderlands takes the post-apocolyptic world concept and makes it a fun place to be. It’s as though Gearbox took Fallout 3‘s destroyed landscape and injected Saints’ Row 2‘s ridiculous, over-the-top action and attitude into the world of Pandora and it’s inhabitants. Who would have thought the two would mix so well!?

Scavenging & Exploring
Randomization in loot spawn and the fact that you rarely see the same weapon twice grants players a unique experience everytime they start a new game, adding immense replay value.

Co-op Delight
Playing through the game alone is alright, however, Borderlands really shines in the way it can bring you and three others together through an all-out assault to purge the wastes of scum and neat looking weapons. Massive firefights, tactical eliminations, and vehicular manslaughter… check, check, CHECK!

Unique, Beautiful Presentation
The graphics take on a heavy cell shaded look, not unlike Crackdown or last-gen’s XIII (remember that one!?). It presents a beauty and art style that many gamers don’t find in titles nowadays, giving Borderlands an overall fresh feel against the ho-hum of today’s shooters.

Intoxicating Atmosphere
The sounds of Pandora offer much in the way of complementing the visuals of Borderlands. “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked” by Cage The Elephant is an extraordinary song that summizes the journey players are about to experience. The soundtrack itself is pleasing to the action on screen. Looting around, you are accompanied by melodic and calming tunes… in contrast, fast and hard rock will back you whilst shooting up a raider camp.

Oooo... purdy explosions!

Atrocious Vehicle Gameplay
The handling of vehicles in Borderlands certainly leaves much to be desired. Beyond the control of the vehicles themselves, there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of tricking out your vehicle’s performance or looks. Now that I think about it, it feels as though the driving-based action in Borderlands was definitely neglected in comparison to its stellar on-foot gameplay.

Claptrap Needs His Own Health Bar
That annoying little bastard is in real need of a bullet to the CPU. At any moment while its dancing you should be able to smoke him… oh, and when you fast travel – the game should bring him back so you can do it again! Yes, we see that you’re dancing… now check ME out! My finger is gonna dance on the trigger to my rocket-shotgun pointing at your drive core!

In case you weren't sure... she's not the "skag".

Gearbox Software is certainly deserving of praise for risking its new IP, especially against blockbuster sequels like: Modern Warfare 2, Assassin’s Creed II, Uncharted 2, and Left 4 Dead 2 (anyone else seeing a pattern in that?).

The mix of shooter mechanics and role-playing elements pays off exponentially as it enables Borderlands to have the fun gameplay of a first-person shooter while lasting as long as a traditional action-RPG. The vehicular gameplay is there, but it definitely requires refinement. Though the game is fun and entertaining when you’re lone wolf-ing it, the best time one can have in Pandora would be with his or her back covered!

Review based on the Xbox 360 version.

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REVIEW // Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2

First of all, let me start by saying that I am an enormous Marvel fanboy. Go ahead… ask me about something, anything from the Marvel universe. My email will be available for those with queries (email)… and don’t even get me started on Wolverine – dare you challenge me, I will make you cry, bub.

Now that that’s out of the way – Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 (for the sake of my sanity, referred to as UA2) has been a title that I have been waiting for since I finished the first Ultimate Alliance on the original Xbox. Raven Software did an extraordinary job in bringing the Marvel universe to life in UA1, because of that I had my reservations about the game’s sequel being handled by Vicarious Visions – one: because they’ve mainly only handled ports to portable systems, and two: because I didn’t know what the heck they developed prior to me looking up that information. Will I find love for Vicarious Visions with their take on the Marvel universe, or – despite my bias – will I reign down a mighty fury for ruining a franchise I’ve held dear since Raven Software’s X-Men Legends.

Let the games begin!

All is not well in the Marvel universe – up to four players are able to control a super team of Marvel heroes as they journey through a Civil War that has been incited as a result of the Superhuman Registration Act brought by public concern over “super powered negligence”. The game will have players choose whether to side with those who support the registration of superheroes (led by Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic) and those who oppose such measures (headed by Captain America and Luke Cage). How the end-game plays out is determined by who the heroes decide to ally with.

The power of fusion or Iron Man giving his heart to Spider-Man...?

A Smorgasbord of Superheroes
My lord, so many of them! Vicarious Visions did a great job in packing in plenty of heroes into UA2. The popular characters like: Captain America, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Wolverine are present; but so are certain under-appreciated ones, such as: Daredevil, Gambit, Blade, and Songbird.

Two-faced Heroes = Replayability
The Civil War backdrop to the game’s story was a great way to implement more replayability to the gameplay and have players feel as though their second playthrough is an all-new experience.

Impressive Graphical and Aural Presentation
The graphics are top-notch for a game that is from a bird’s-eye perspective. The cut-scene graphics are note-worthy, as well. The characters are deeply detailed – from the scratches on Thor’s pimp helmet down to the worn edges of Captain America’s iconic shield. It’s all fairly stunning and very polished. The voice casting itself is spot-on. The actors compliment their heroes well and make it all the more as though you’re watching a comic book come to life.

Deadpool creating a pool of dead!

Intriguing Backstory Falls Flat
Vicarious Visions using key elements from the “Civil War” story arc from the Marvel Comics universe was a great way to engross players into the plot. However, the main story players follow only scratch the surface of the aspects surrounding the Civil War narrative.

Weak Superhero Customization
I was extremely disappointed in the fact that the idea for having different costumes (and unique powers associated with them) were removed from UA2. This was a feature that I had enjoyed since X-Men Legends 2. The costume system was a great because: a) it gave players a variety of costumes to enjoy visually, and b) when combined with other characters and costumes, it gave your team a unique look.

To whose side shall you pledge allegiance?

While Vicarious Visions did trip-up on some aspects of the game, they managed to release a decent follow-up to the Ultimate Alliance series. Though the customization is sorely lacking and the plot was not as good as it could have been, the gameplay and graphical presentation are fantastic. I’ll definitely have to see improvement in the next inevitable installment from Vicarious Visions, or else I’ll have to go crying to Raven Software and beg them to continue the awesomeness that is X-Men Legends and Ultimate Alliance.

Review based on the Xbox 360 version.