Source: Game-specific fan site Borderlands Guide.
What we heard: At Take-Two Interactive's press briefing at last year's Electronic Entertainment Expo, attendees were treated to the first gameplay footage of Borderlands, the ambitious new open-world action-role-playing game from Gearbox Software. For a few minutes Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford put the game through its paces, driving up to an underground vault, taking out its bandit inhabitants, and collecting some loot in the form of guns--a few of nearly 500,000 unique weapons in the game.
Shortly after the conference, Take-Two released the first trailer for Borderlands, which will be published later this year under the 2K Games imprint.
As can be seen in the trailer and the screenshot below, Borderlands' graphical style was originally one of gritty realism apropos to its postapocalyptic, dog-eat-dog world setting. So it was with some shock, then, that those following the project reacted to a Borderlands Guide article that indicated its graphics have drastically changed. The article cited what appears to be a leaked scan from next month's PC Gamer magazine showing several cel-shaded screenshots that fell between last year's Prince of Persia reboot and the illustrations in the Shadowrun role-playing game books. The scan's caption appeared to confirm the change, reading: "Looks like a panel from a comic book. No, in fact, a screenshot."
Reaction was swift and sharp, with a chorus of protest erupting on the Gearbox forums. The cries grew louder when Gearbox staffer "Ennui" appeared to confirm the changes in a lengthy post. "The decision to alter the art style was assuredly not one taken or made lightly," wrote Ennui. "It also wasn't made without gathering plenty of information and feedback - we've been doing extensive focus testing throughout development. … The game world is no less gritty, dirty, or harsh--all of the detail is there, and the environments have even more atmosphere."
The official story: Later on in the day, what seemed like a fairly cut-and-dried case got even more complex. This afternoon, Ennui posted a message from Pitchford himself, which denied a move to cel-shaded graphics while at the same time concretely confirming a radical graphical overhaul.
"No, Borderlands is not cel-shaded--it's a gritty and serious world after all," said Pitchford. "But since the game was first unveiled we have made big advancements with the art direction and the technology to support the art, and have produced some pretty impressive, even shocking results." (Emphasis added.) He then promised that an upcoming update to the official Borderlands Web site would clear up all the confusion. Currently the bare-bones site bears only a splash page with the line "More Borderlands April 13"--that is, next Monday.
[UPDATE] Friday morning, Gearbox released the cover art for next month's PC Gamer, which shows the game's new--and very comic-book-like--art style. Prospective buyers can click on the adjacent image and judge for themselves whether or not it's "cel-shaded."
[UPDATE 2] Gearbox has now released the first screen from the game, which confirms what Pitchford is calling a "concept art style."