Previews

Borderlands

Land of the glee

The Man with No Name strolls into Fyrestone with nothing but a date with death on the cards. Dr Death, that is. Or Dr Zed, if you're being picky. Ducking under the awning of the black market body-part-dealer's caravan, No Name's greeted by a wretched sight: a dead body splayed over a rusting table, amputated legs left to fester in a bin, skulls sat in a line on bookshelves and blood absolutely everywhere. Awkward.

Out in the sun-drenched dirt lay fresh cadavers with Zed's name written all over them. They were bandits who tried to attack No Name but never stood a chance. Thankfully they weren't residents so the town's population signage (recently repainted to say 24) needn't be changed again; the sorry graveyard with half-tyres in place of headstones needn't be expanded; the next of kin needn't be informed. Out here in the ruthless deserts of Pandora life will go on. And, as Dr Zed would say, death will keep providing for those still breathing.

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Fyre in the disco
As far as intros go it's not a bad one. By this point 'No Name' has actually been given a name, although which one depends on your decision. There are four options to pick from; Roland the soldier, Brick the berserker, Lilith the siren and Mordecai the sniper. Each character is proficient with certain weapons and has bespoke attack options. Mordy, for instance, has a pet bird Bloodwing he can release to attack nasties. Roland's special move is more defensive minded, as he can deploy an automated turret and shield for a short period of time.

Whoever you pick turns out to be irrelevant, the date with Dr Zed is unavoidable. On your way to his surgery you'll spot his posters all about town. 'Donate blood: If you can bleed you can help! Contact Dr Zed or just get shot to help the cause,' one says. We're not sold.
Dr Zed isn't an evil man, however. He's just doing what he needs to get by. When we meet we're not asked for body parts or blood, instead the request is much more humble. Fix his vending machine, that's all he asks. The mission takes us outside the walls of Fyrestone and into Skag Gully, home to the wolf-like skags who object to our intrusion. Turns out they're not the only ones.

Out in Borderlands' world there are few friends. Occasionally you'll find somebody to talk to, and more often than not you'll discover recordings which set up side-quests. But the majority of roamers are hostile, and they'll need to be taken down as you scavenge. The bandits in this area are ruled by the fearsome Nine Toes, and your next task is to hunt him down and wipe him out.

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With over a million automatically generated weapons, ammo juggling could have been troublesome. Gearbox has made it simple: every weapon is placed into one of eight categories and ammunition for that weapon class is universal.

Provided you have the dollars you can buy ammo from vending machines (pay attention to the timed special offers too, as we managed to pick up rubberised grenades - great for bouncing and exploding on enemy contact), otherwise you'll need to search dead bodies. Whenever anybody dies they'll drop all the items in their possession. Tap x and you'll pick up the object you're looking at. Hold the button and you'll scoop up everything. A similar trick works with new weapons; tap x and you'll stick it in your pack, hold x and it becomes your equipped gun. The control nuances are simple but really aid equipment juggling.

Comedy Club
Coming from the masters of Deadly Serious Series with a Deadly Serious Message, Brothers in Arms, we expected Borderlands to pack a pensive tone. Our last peek certainly gave us that impression. Things have changed. The switch in graphics has clearly altered more than looks, and the opening five minutes now ranks among the most charming and amusing beginnings to any game on the 360.

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