When it first came out, Borderlands seemed like a bizarre video game Frankenstein: the mission structure of World of Warcraft, the loot system of Diablo, the humor of Conker’s Bad Fur Day, all wrapped up in a Halo-style shooter. But over ten years, two sequels, and cross-platforming that includes Macs and all the usual suspect consoles, the novelty has worn off and we’re left to consider quality apart from influence.
Luckily, Borderlands holds up, at least from a gameplay perspective. The general gunplay has weight and variety, particularly with some of the stranger guns’ bullet effects. An early unique shotgun sends out flowing waves of electricity, while later weapons may fire rockets with other elemental effects. The randomized arsenal is still impressive, even as it’s been expanded in more recent installments. There’s nothing quite like picking up a colored drop and testing out its wild firepower.
The game’s world, the planet of Pandora, retains much of its original charm. Claptrap’s crass enthusiasm has always walked the line between endearing and annoying, but the performances here are more muted than in a sequels. That may be a plus to people who wanted their shooter with a little less “attitude.”
The cel-shaded visuals basically protect Borderlands from showing its technical age. Still, the structure leaves me wanting more. The game dipped its toes in cartoon style, but simple fetch and elimination missions don’t convey that attitude during gameplay. It can feel like long stretches of grind, punctuated by moments of character.
The game runs like a charm on Grid. While a few games can stutter a bit, Borderlands runs without a hitch. What’s more, the controls and layout on the Xbox-like Shield Controller are hairpin tight. In fact it was almost exactly like playing the thing on Xbox. The keyboard and mouse controls never quite felt right in this game, so that’s actually preferable to the standard PC version.
Like most Grid titles, the graphics have been reduced to 720p to avoid lag. However, the fact that you’re playing on a Shield Tablet (8 inches) or Shield Portable (5 inches) means that you are playing it at a rather high resolution. And the thing about Borderlands is that it’s such a thrill to be calling them up at a moment’s notice on Grid’s Netflix-like game service, made even cooler and cozier by kicking back in your bed or favorite chair. The experience is very quick, convenient and has a novelty that has yet to wear off.
Unfortunately, multiplayer was hosted over the now defunct GameSpy and is thus inoperable. Local LAN works but you’ll need a Bluetooth keyboard to get it working and someone else with either a Shield console, Portable, or Tablet to make it happen. Unfortunately, the only reason you need the keyboard is to name the server; seems a shame that the folks at Nvidia didn’t plug in a default so that Grid Players could easily create a LAN server. Co-op was a major pillar of the game, a boon to those quieter, grindier moments.
Still, the game is structured well for pick-up-and-play action, and its big console-style UI makes it a good fit for Shield controls. Although it’s better with a friend, it’s no slouch when you’re on your own. There are far worse places to find yourself than planet Pandora.
The classic looter-shooter is a great fit on the Shield, regardless of multiplayer hardships.