LEIPZIG, Germany--Gearbox Software is known for its World War II-based series Brothers in Arms, but for its upcoming Borderlands project, the company looked to science fiction, as well as movies such as Mad Max. Borderlands is unlike anything that we've seen before, as it's several games in one. At its core it's a first-person shooter, one that can be played solo or cooperatively with up to three other players online. At the same time, it features full-speed vehicular combat and Diablo-style role-playing gameplay.
Borderlands is set on the frontier planet of Pandora, a harsh and dangerous world where rugged colonists have established a handful of settlements. Pandora lies near the Borderlands, a lawless, bandit-ridden area of space. "You don't want to go to the Borderlands unless you have a really good reason," says Randy Pitchford, CEO of Gearbox. The colonists on Pandora battle both bandits and the alien species on the planet. However, a powerful new alien threat has emerged from hibernation, and that's where you come in. You play a fortune hunter who comes to Pandora with your crew, and you'll take up missions and quests that take you around the planet.
Gearbox showed off the human settlement of New Haven, which is one of seven settlements on the planet. This is a locale that wouldn't seem out of place in a role-playing game, as there are various characters to interact with, as well as shops and services to explore. There's a garage where you can buy and upgrade vehicles, as well as shops where you can trade and get weapons. Speaking of which, there are a staggering half million guns in the game, each with unique properties and appearances. Yeah, that sounds impossible, but each weapon can be made of a wide variety of components, each of which has a different effect. A long barrel and a stock means it has greater accuracy, for instance.
The gameplay is really impressive. There are first-person shooter missions that will take you into the type of battles you've come to expect from sci-fi shooters. Then there are the vehicle sequences. You'll zip around huge environments, encountering enemies and battling them in high-speed combat. Here's where it gets crazy. If you're playing cooperatively with others, you can have a designated driver and gunners. The battle we saw took place on the planet's salt flats, which is perfect for high-speed driving. As we watched, the driver screamed across the terrain while the gunner took out several enemy vehicles in pursuit, with explosions sending vehicle parts and bodies hurling through the air. It looks both fun and challenging. Think of the high-speed battles in Mel Gibson's famous Mad Max movies and you've got an idea of the speed and action of it all. Even better, it feels as if you're racing around a fairly large world, not some limited arena.
The multiplayer aspects of Borderlands are also pretty neat. Sure, there's the four-player cooperative play, but what's also cool is that you can play the game by yourself. Then, at any point in your game, you can take your character with his stats and equipment and join someone else's game. When you're done playing co-op with that person, you can bring back your character and finish your game.
All of this takes place on a world that seems to have a fascinating history, and many aspects of the planet seem well thought-out. One character that we met during the demo was Helena Pierce, the mayor of New Haven. She also acted as the narrator for the demo, and her stories exuded atmosphere. Whoever is voicing her is excellent. This looks like a game that will pack story, mystery, and plenty of shooting and driving action. Frankly, it looks pretty darn cool. Borderlands is being developed for the PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360, and it will ship sometime in 2008.