25
Dec
09

City 16's Top 10 Games of 2009: #1

Merry Christmas people! Or, as I don’t expect you to actually be visiting this site on Christmas day, Merry whatever day it is you decide to read this post (less catchy, I know.)

As I’m now home with my family, and have assorted brothers and sisters ranging in age from 6 to 18, I was woken up hours ago by an excitable dog that had been let into all the rooms of people so heartless as to not be up at 6am on Christmas day. At least I assume that is what’s happened going on past experience. I actually wrote this days ago, but Tuesday is a much less Christmassy time to talk about.

On to business. My choice of the best game of 2009 might raise a few eyebrows. I was surprised… I double checked with myself twice but, as I reconfirmed both times, I have enjoyed my time in that game more than any other of 2009.

So, without any more stalling for tension, my favourite game of the year was… Drum roll please…

[audio:drum.mp3]

Was:

Borderlands

Well, how about that?

So, having idly browsed a few top 10s over the last couple of days I’ve noticed that Boderlands tends to come mid-table. Most state that the RPG elements are underdeveloped, that the lack of a central place to stash your weapons is a crime, that the enemy AI isn’t paticularly advanced and that the story is rubbish. These things are all true.

I don’t care.

Borderlands took hold of me the same way that Torchlight took hold of other people (that’s not to say Torchlight won’t get me, I’ve just not played it enough to give it a chance yet). Here’s the extent to which I enjoyed Borderlands: As soon as I’d completed it I went to the menu screen and started the Playthrough 2 campaign because, as far as I was concerned, I hadn’t completed it. There was still levelling to be done.

Let’s break it down into components. Firstly a note on graphics. Borderlands approaches from the opposite school of Uncharted 2. It’s not a technically impressive looking game but, thanks to its cell-shaded-but-not visual style it is a good looking game. It realises that looking interesting is just as valid as looking amazing. It’s hard to underline just how vital that is; the world of Pandora is an exceedingly brown place and without that visual flair it could have easily been dismissed as another characterless shooter.

Borderlands is certainly not short of character. While the story may be lacking it’s the character of Pandora, and the characters within it, that make the world. They’re not believable but they are consistent which does, at least, make you believe in them. An example (slightly spoilerish): When Tannis betrays you towards the end of the game by sending you on a pointless errand to kill Krom she justifies it by saying that, while she had been forced to, it seemed like the sort of thing your character would enjoy doing anyway. It fit perfectly with the unhinged logic Tannis demonstrated throughout the game. There are other touches of humour sprinkled throughout that add to the game’s style; the manic depressive Claptraps (Gir rip-offs though they may be), the boss intros, anything related to TK Baha. Even outside of the world, the game is pleasingly keen to not take itself seriously, as evidenced with the large bold LEVEL UP! message that covers the screen whenever you level up.

The game sold itself as an RPS (a rocket propelled… no, wait, role playing shooter). Nothing particularly unusual about that these days, but where Borderlands really stands out is that, unlike games such as Fallout 3, it’s the shooter element that is made the key focus. Given the abstract nature of some of the gun power-ups (electricity, acid and so forth) the feedback you get from the gun is surprising. It’s tactile enough that I was usually able to tell if a certain gun was better than my current set without having to compare the stats. Enemies have enough variation to their critical hit areas to keep the combat interesting: Skags take critical damage when you shoot them in the mouth, forcing you to wait for them to attack and trying to finish them off while they leap towards you, whereas Spiderants critical zone is the abdomen, requiring you to stun them head on then circle round to attack them from behind. Sure, the AI doesn’t really show much intelligence, even the humans don’t make use of cover to any extent, but the game doesn’t want you to engage in a war of attrition; it wants you to run into a pack of respawning enemies and, if you’ll forgive the expression, fuck shit up.

The guns are probably the games best feature. During your first playthrough you’ll probably find just one orange-class rare weapon drop. These generally do something crazy, like shoot electric cannons, fire rockets or give infinite ammo. It also makes you want more, drawing you back in to try that second playthrough and see what other mysterious combinations exist. The game basically functions like the best dungeon crawling action RPGs, with weapon drops falling fast enough that you’re constantly looking out for something even better for your character to use. You’ll probably develop a favourite class of weapon, mine was shotguns, but at any point you could come across an assault rifle so powerful that you’re again asked to significantly shift the way you play as you adopt that as a primary weapon. It is a shame that you can’t store weapons that you don’t have room for. Being forced to sell the gun that, while is no longer useful to you, got you through the first few levels of the game kind of goes against the point of being an RPG (although it looks like the next DLC pack does rectify this).

The game received criticism for other ways in which it toned down its RPG elements, specifically criticising the similarity of the characters. I never found this to be much of a problem, although this is mostly because I was playing as Lilith, whose action skill is probably the most unlike the others. While the second player might have circled the outside of a camp, picking off enemies bit by bit, I would be running straight for the centre. There I’d trigger the action skill, turning me invisible and dealing massive corrosive damage. I’d then run past each enemy adding electric damage as I moved past them (while healing my own damage) before, finally, meleeing the final enemy, once again triggering a huge burst of corrosive damage as I shifted back into the world. At this point the first guy would die and Lilith’s Phoenix upgrade would kick in, dealing fire damage to anyone in proximity to her. It’s rare that an invisibility skill is used for anything other than sneaking past enemies. Having the chance to use it as a powerful offensive weapon really gave the combat a level of mad tactics I’ve yet to experience in any other shooter.

All these things combine to make Borderlands great fun to play. The reason it sits at number 1, however, is that it understands the need for local co-op. Too many games seem to put their entire stake in online multiplayer, forgetting that games can be an inclusive social activity. Borderlands gives you that option and it was for that reason alone that my flatmate and I spent much of the month it was released realising that we’d just lost 4 hours in the world of Pandora.

It’s all over! Thanks for reading these assorted thoughts on my 10 favourite games. Feel free, as always, to suggest why I’m clearly wrong and to give the games you think I’ve heinously missed. I should also take some time to thank GameTrailers, as I’ve used some of the trailers on their site to get screencaps for games I didn’t own on PC.

Advertisements

1 Response to “City 16's Top 10 Games of 2009: #1”


  1. 1 Izzi
    20/01/2010 at 23:04

    After i saw you play this, i had to listen to that Odelay album by Beck, because the whole atmosphere of the place just really reminded me of that album, which is funny as I hadn’t listened to it for years. Thats a good sign of strong character I guess. Just wanted to share that


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: