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Previews

Borderlands

Preview: Not a bookshop in sight

Trees are so last year. The vegetation of the future is the cactus, the succulent plant best suited to arid climates, barren wastelands and Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic deserts. For proof, you need only look at the games revealed during the last six months: first Bethesda's Fallout 3, then id Software's Rage, and now Gearbox's Borderlands. Road warriors of the world, unite!

But Borderlands can tick more buzzword boxes than just those related to flora. 'Co-operative' is on there, as Gearbox are designing the game from the ground up for both solitary play with AI teammates and four-player co-op with friends. 'Open-world' is another: Borderlands' desert can be explored and travelled in any direction you see fit.

'Procedural' is the last, as the game also uses randomisation routines to produce surprising encounters and unique weaponry. What you find, from the guns enemies drop to the places and times they appear, will be unique to every player's game.

The story follows three characters: Mordecai, a specialist in sniping; Roland, a hired gun with a vendetta; and Lilith, who has incredible powers she has difficulty controlling. Each has come to Pandora for their own reasons, but while this distant planet was meant to be filled with opportunity, it's instead mostly filled with angry aliens.

To defend themselves against the harsh environment, human settlements have formed. Built from the ship that brought them there, one of these settlements is called New Haven. It's in towns like this that you'll be able to accept missions and buy items before you head out on further adventures.

Gearbox are structuring their game so that you'll juggle more than one quest at a time. The Mayor of New Haven will set you a task - assassinate the leader of a nearby group of bandits, for example. But the vendor at the gun shop might hear where you're going and ask you to retrieve technology for him while you're there.

And that's exactly what's playing out on screen. Gearbox president Randy Pitchford is bombing along the desert towards an abandoned frontier town with three friends in a pair of dune-buggies.

The pillion passengers man rocket turrets while the remaining pair do the driving. Along the way they're ambushed by pirates decked out in leather armour and face-masks.

The rocket turrets make spectacular craters of their improvised craft. Wheels and axles fly into the air, flailing corpses are sent spinning from the wreckage. Already we're seeing the fun: Randy and his colleagues are laughing at the chaos, talking tactics and pointing out features they could visit. And they're chatting about the tasty guns they found on their last mission.

This is a major point. The weaponry in Borderlands is generated by an algorithm that combines types of barrel, grip, clip, ammo and attachments to make your weapon different from anything anyone else has. Gearbox claim the final game should have around 500,000 different types out there.

With armour and items getting the same treatment, you'll never look the same as other people in your team, even if you're all playing the same character.

Randy and friends have finally reached their destination. They've driven through bandits, blasted their way past an ambush and achieved their objective. But there's a problem: the desert is infested with 'Wrack' (slimy, bird-like beasties) and we've just bumped into their nest.

Except it's not a nest, it's a walking, talking motherbeast, dotted with pores from which the Wrack scuttle. Imagine a Jawa Sandcrawler with legs and a vagina for a face, and you're about 50% there. Randy turns and runs. The others follow, just as the screen fades to black. The long wait for Borderlands begins.

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