Monday, 4 November 2019

Editorial | Far Cry 5: The Far Cry we asked for.

By Sam Coles:

Far Cry was a great open world experience with Far Cry 2 being my favourite still (don’t @ me), however it was Far Cry 3 that really got the series really popular. Why? Well it was due to first and foremost getting rid of the survival elements of 2, but also the open ended nature of its design and its compelling villains as well as a beautiful landscape to explore. After a few years of getting stuck in a rut with the series, Ubisoft put the series to rest for a little bit, went back to the drawing board and in early 2018 we got Far Cry 5. Far Cry 5 is the Far Cry we have been looking for.

Far Cry 5’s plot is worth mentioning because they actually give lots of screen time to the villains, where we get this little insight into their past as well as them stalking you as they talk to you on your radio. The game is set in a fictional region within the state of Montana in the US called Hope County, however it has been taken over by a crazed religious cult called Project Eden’s Gate or as the locals call them “Peggies”. This cult is controlled by the Seed family Jacob, Jon, Faith and Joseph who leads it. The villains in this game are well fleshed out and are given a lot of screen time, when you tackle each region you will get various scenes when they capture you each time giving you an insight into their mental state. John for instance has this obsession for everyone to say yes as he had an abusive childhood from his father, Jacob is ex-military who can’t quite grasp normal life, Faith likes to sample her own supply of drugs and finally Joseph who holds them all together.

All the villains are great minus Faith who was a bit weak to me, they all have good amount of screen time and you get a decent background on all of them and some are rather disturbing. Unlike other Far Cry games where they would introduce them and then drop them off a cliff, I’m looking at you Far Cry 4! They are very compelling and give an excellent performance, especially Joseph he has this calm and collective approach with his personality, but you know he is an unhinged person that could snap and kill you if he wanted to.

The gameplay was something that honestly surprised me, for one they got rid of the tower mechanic to uncover the map which got rather tedious in Far Cry 3 and 4. However after the initial intro and tutorial the game doesn’t  hold your hand, it lets you tackle it in any order you want to. You want to take on Jacob first? You can do that, it adds this free form approach to gameplay, it never restricts even in story missions (mostly) as it lets you proceed anyway you like.

Retaking compounds feels fun again in this game, unlike most Far Cry games where it feels like it is judging me for not taking the stealth route this game goes “pull out a rocket launcher go for it”. It has a Just Cause feeling when I would roll up in my truck LMG in one hand, RPG in the other and a Grizzly Bear as a partner to slaughter those Peggies.

Exploring the world in general feels great it feels like a lived in world, where you have the normal citizens going about their business while the cult is in control. In other Far Cry games it felt rather lifeless, now I know the tropical islands of 3 and the war torn regions of Africa of 2 aren’t going to house a dense population but they just felt a bit bland. Far Cry 5’s world feels organic and alive, you have people getting on with their day, wildlife wondering the beautiful pine forests and cult members getting into skirmishes with people who are not you. I had more of an incentive to explore Far Cry 5’s world, maybe that is due to its more interesting and different location yes it is America but it fits Far Cry’s overall theme.

This is most impressive looking game in the Far Cry series; yes I know there have been videos comparing certain details to Far Cry 2 with foliage, explosions and fire spread. However visually overall Far Cry 5 looks miles above 2, you have dense and lush pine forests where wolves, bears and deer reside. There are towns that are lived in, where they can either be hostile with a hail of bullets or welcoming with a beer at the bar. The time of day make the environments look stunning, from the crisp mornings of dawn, the slow descent to dusk with an orange glow to the star riddled sky of the night.

Far Cry 5 shows that Ubisoft are very much capable of making a really fun and compelling open world game, with great villains to drive the narrative, free from gameplay and a world that is just being begged to explore with its pure beauty. It feels like an open letter to fans of the series asking them “Is this what you want”? And to that I say, yes it is what I want and bravo.

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Editorial | Reflecting on Red Dead Redemption 2: One Year Later.

By Sam Coles:

Time is such a fragile existence where it suddenly goes by with the click of a finger, one year use to feel like forever when I was younger but now it just slips through my fingers like sand. Red Dead Redemption 2 came out one year ago (at the time of writing) and it is hard to believe, as it felt like I was waiting for it forever as the first game came out all the way back in 2010. I just want to reflect on my experience with the game over the past year, as well as the lead up to the game.

Back in 2016 gaming was in a weird spot because game releases were a bit meh, but towards the end of the year Rockstar Games changed their logo and it had the rustic look of Red Dead Redemption, we all knew what was coming. Then they dropped the first trailer showing off the beautiful world, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing as the leap from the first RDR was staggering it looked realistic and awe inspiring. Towards the end of the trailer it said it will releases in the fall of 2017, me being me though I knew this wasn’t true and I called it on Twitter at the time as I know how Rockstar work. Then lo and behold Rockstar delayed the game from 2017 to spring 2018 and then once more to fall of 2018.

Working in the games industry naturally I tend to get games sent to me; however there was something special when I got an email from Rockstar Games and they said “We are sending you a copy of Red Dead Redemption 2”. When the game finally arrived on release day at 8 o’clock in the morning, I sat there patiently waiting for the game to install and then when the game started I fell in love and felt 17 years old again like I was playing the first Red Dead Redemption.

The first time I booted up Red Dead Redemption 2 I was immediately enraptured with the world, mostly stemming from the visuals. The graphics from the original Red Dead Redemption were and arguably still are a marvel to look at, and I thought to myself how can they improve the presentation and they did it! Everything has an attention to detail that you just don’t see in most releases, they even put in the effort into things that most players won’t even bother to look at. Rockstar see every blade of grass, every footprint in the snow and specs of dirt on the player character to be just as important as the weather effects and character animations.

The characters and story are something that really stood out, especially the dynamic of Arthur’s gang where they all but heads but they all end up getting the job done, well until Dutch’s plan predictably fails. Arthur is a well-rounded character he knows what he is doing is wrong, however it is the only life that he knows as he has been with Dutch for 20 years. The whole gang have been characterised which is amazing, no other game would bother to flesh out each character like this. They all have their grievances, but they band together to get a robbery done it’s this dynamic that really adds a layer of unpredictably with how they are going to react.

The world itself was a joy to explore, unlike most open world games that relay on numbers *cough* Ubisoft *cough* Red Dead’s world is more organic and narrative based. It doesn’t flash up a notice saying “You are not a high enough level”, no it just lets you explore at your own pace and it gave me the same feeling when I explored Oblivion or Skyrim’s world for the first time. The game outside of missions doesn’t hold your hand, if you see smoke of a campfire nothing is stopping you to go and investigate, however it may hold several perils that will kill you. It’s this freedom that Red Dead Redemption 2 gives you when explore the world that makes it feel alive, this could apply to most of Rockstar’s worlds.

Now gameplay is the most contentious topic as some love the more “realistic” approach, while others prefer the first game with its more freeform movement. I fall in the former category as I find that the more realistic approach to movement and shooting add an extra layer of weight and tension, guns in the 19th century were not particularly reliable and wore fairly quickly. They brought this across with the gunplay as guns would slowly get dirty and rusty, where they would become more inaccurate. You can clean them off with gun oil yourself or do it at a gunsmith, it doesn’t really eat too much into the gameplay and I think most people are rather hyperbolic about the “realism” because you don’t have to do most of it, it is there for the sake of immersion and role playing.

I’ll be honest I love the combat it has a sense of weight and brutality to it, you see every exit wound as you fan the hammer of your six shooter into a Lawman’s skull. Heads explode if you use a shotgun at close range, which actually made me jump when it first happened to me. Enemies will clutch at specific areas and limbs when you shoot them there as they cry out for help, as well their limbs flying off when you throw a stick of dynamite at them. The detail of body damage is so insane that bodies realistically decompose if you leave them out for long enough, again Rockstar showing almost an unnecessary amount of details in their games, in a good way of course.

Red Dead Redemption 2 will go down as a classic, a game that we will be talking about years to come like the original. One year has passed since its release and five years will go past in the blink of an eye. What Rockstar Games gave us with this beautiful and artistic piece of interactive entertainment is stunning. It just shows there are still triple A developers who want to present us with compelling single player experiences.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

Editorial | Dark Souls: Darkness, Danger and Loneliness.

By Sam Coles:

There is something about loneliness in video games that is effective at crafting a thick atmosphere, where there is nothing but darkness and the sound of your feet echoing in the environment. The game I think of when it comes to this is Dark Souls, mostly known for its difficulty this game has a very good atmosphere that I think a lot of people miss. These days the game is used as a measure for a game when it is hard, despite them having nothing in common in terms of gameplay. I just want to go over the game’s atmosphere and what makes it so special, I’ll be mostly talking about the first game with a few snippets of Dark Souls II here and there.

Dark Souls doesn’t bother exposition well only with the opening cutscene, however it is ambiguous for a reason as it wants the player to figure it out. Then after that you wake up imprisoned in a dungeon, where you are thrown a key and told get on with it. When the gameplay starts what do you hear? Nothing, no music, no dialogue just the distant hums as the wind flows through the dungeon coupled with the distant moans of prisoners begging for their life. This introduction sets up Dark Souls’ atmosphere, where you are alone, isolated and no one is coming to help you anytime soon.

As you traverse the dungeon you hear deep rumblings, roars where you realise something is amiss and then you see the towering monster that is The Asylum Demon. At first you are out matched as all you have is a broken sword, fortunately you can flee and reassess your situation. You feel shaken and wonder if you can take it down. As you continue through the dark tunnels, you find a sword and shield where you then feel more prepared. You go back and take on the beast, take him down and feel the accomplishment, then you are unleashed onto the world with more monstrosities want to see your insides on the ground.

Each area in Dark Souls is unique, from the dark and precarious underground village that is Blight Town where every corner evokes a sense of danger to the warm and deceptively welcoming Anor Londo. Under the sunny exterior there are what were the inhabitants lying in wait to see nothing more than your death, it’s this false sense of security that catches you off guard.

Now Dark Souls II’s atmosphere although still good it’s missing something, I think it is because there are moments in that game that I found myself holding my breath less as the tension is not as high compared to the first game. I think it is because they tend to use musical ques in more areas compared to the first game, now using music to emphasise tension is fine but the point of Dark Souls is that you are alone, and the silence highlights that. I still like Dark Souls II, but the areas aren’t as imaginative as the original, it’s mostly castles filled armoured goons. Music was used in the original game, but only during boss fights which got you pumped and at the main camp which gave you a sense of ease, however that track left a bit of uncertainty too.

Dark Souls isn’t really classed as a horror game, however if you were to let someone play it with no notion of what it is they could very much perceive it as a horror experience. From the audio design, dark areas and enemy design with the exception of the mushroom people who look like Patrick Star combined with a Goomba. Digressions aside the thick layer of tension can easily get under your skin outside of the difficulty, the oppressive nature of consistent silence as you traverse these dark lands is almost overwhelming.

I think even you are not a fan of Dark Souls’ difficulty I think one can easily appreciate its atmosphere; it encapsulates the depressing and lonely atmosphere. It will leave you feeling many emotions, scared, alone and overwhelmed by what dangers lurk within the darkness. Even 8 years later I don’t think I have played a game that can replicate this atmosphere, it does without using a single word of dialogue and that is what makes video game storytelling beautiful.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Editorial | Doom: The art of its design.

By Sam Coles:

Doom! A series that has been around for nearly three decades, it cemented the genre that is the first person shooter. It took the foundation that was set by Wolfenstein 3D and amplified it, but why do people to this day still flock to this game? Well I think it’s because and I know I’m going to get some flak for this, accessible. Now that doesn’t mean the game is easy, no it is exceedingly hard especially in the later chapters but it is so easy to pick and play as well easy to understand, however it is very hard to master. The question I want to ask, why is Doom great? Now to preface this article I will be only talking about Doom, Doom II and Doom (2016) as the share similar design traits, plus this rather appropriate as Doom: Eternal is out in a couple of months (at the time of writing).  

Now you would think narrative doesn’t play a huge role in the Doom series and you would be right with the original two games, as John Carmack stated “Story in a game is like story in a porn movie, it’s expected to be there but it’s not important”. Now that does reflect the games he worked on, but that comment is rather silly if you think about it now, however Doom (2016) takes a lot of ques from Half-Life with its storytelling. Yeah the Doom Slayer has as much interest in the narrative as an enraged gorilla as he throws a monitor away, however you can see there is a bigger picture with him and Hell, through flavour text and audio logs. It’s not particularly important to enjoy Doom (2016), but it was nice that id Sofware included it for those who cared.

Now to get into the design of the game, what makes the first two Doom games special? Well for one the map design, one could look the map design of the old Doom games and find them confusing due to their maze like design but to quote Todd Howard “It just works”. You have to navigate them, collecting items, unlocking secrets and finding new and powerful weapons. Yes some of the later levels can get a bit strenuous due to their sprawling mazes, but if you know what you are doing you can finish them in 2 minutes. Some levels have aged worse than others which have an illusion of difficulty, however most are fine and are still a joy to play.

The combat is also an element that plays a big part in this game, where you have a wide selection of weapons that each have a purpose, minus the pistol which is about as effective as harsh language. You have the usual shotguns, chainguns, rocket launchers and chainsaws, you know the basic assortment of weapons you need for a Hell based apocalypse. However the more exotic plasma rifle is great if you want to clear crowds of demons in quick succession; however the BFG the Big “Fucking” Gun is the definition of the series. The BFG will obliterate everything that has a pulse in the near vicinity, generally reserved for more powerful enemies or boss fights, but it is fun to discharge it in a crowd of demons as they explode into meaty giblets.

The combat was given a new coat of paint in the 2016 reboot; it retained the same action but added some extra bells and whistles. For one some weapons and kills are mechanics based, now I know what you are going to say “Sam what do you mean”? Well certain weapons have a purpose for the gameplay, for example the glory kill system. When you have dealt enough damage to enemies they will become stunned and you can execute a glory kill, this doesn’t just act as a flashy and over the top gory kill, no they will give you health when you do this action. What this does is encourage constant movement as you can’t sit in cover, because otherwise you might as well as pull your trousers down and take it like a champ. What you get is this constant rhythm of running and gunning as you prioritise certain enemies, it keeps encounters fast and flowing.

The other mechanic is the chainsaw, what this does is give you extra ammunition however it requires that you have a certain amount of chainsaw fuel depending on the enemy. For example if you have one bar of chainsaw fuel there is no way you are taking down a Hell Knight, which is reserved for Imps and zombies. It does seem out of place that your enemies burst into ammunition as you split them in half like a piñata, but I thought we left realism in the void as we are blowing the top half of a demon off with a 12 gauge when running through Hell.

Let’s talk about the presentation, more so about the first two games not to say that Doom (2016) isn’t a good looking game, but it doesn’t standout compared to the early games. Each sprite is unique and easily identified; you have the individual looks of the zombie marines, with the green hair of the rifleman, the shotgun sergeants with black clothes to the blood soaked mouths of the chaingun wielding zombies. Not only that you have the Imps, Cacodemons, Hell Knights, to the towering behemoth that is the Cyber Demon. They all look unique, plus their telegraphed animations give you a clue to how their attacks work.

Doom is a series that people still talk about nearly 30 years later and for good reason, because it is a game that you can pick up and play no matter your age or experience. However it is a game that is tough to master, it brings you new challenges with each level, each chapter and new enemies that emerge from the darkness. It’s a game series that every gamer should play, plus it can get you ready for the carnage that is Doom: Eternal!  

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Editorial | Halo: ODST 10 years later - Lost in the darkness.

By Sam Coles:

(Minus the title card, all screenshots are mine via an Xbox One)

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed, 2009 doesn’t seem that long ago but lo and behold that was 10 years ago. Halo: ODST was a bit of a strange release in the series as it wasn’t a full Halo game, but that doesn’t make it a bad game far from it. However you weren’t this unstoppable killing machine like the Master Chief, no you were for a lack of better words human. I remember playing this game when it came out, being 16 years old I didn’t like it too much due to its slower pace, however as I get older I have more appreciation for it due to my love affair for slower games these days.

Halo: ODST takes place in between the events of Halo 2 and Halo 3, when the city of New Mombasa is under siege by Covenant forces. You take control of “The Rookie” who is a part of the titular ODST, which stands for Orbital Drop Shock Trooper, a bit of a mouth full but they are UNSC’s Special Forces. They are used for covert operations, and have been tasked for taking down a Covenant carrier or that is what they think when they are told to change course mid drop. Things go inevitably wrong, and you wake in a drop pod that is nothing more than shattered glass and twisted metal in the rain and darkness. After that explosive introduction, things dial back and become lonely and isolated as you look for your squad in the darkness.

During 2009 games were rather frantic and over the top, we had such titles like Modern Warfare 2 and the first Borderlands. Halo: ODST almost went completely under the radar, but most (me included) probably bought it for the upcoming Halo: Reach multiplayer beta. 10 years later I have a better appreciation, why is that? Is it the gameplay? No, because it was basically Halo 3 with a few new weapons, no instead it was the atmosphere.

The key word to take in with you when you play this game is isolation; throughout your play through as The Rookie you are alone. You have nothing but the rain beating down on your visor, coupled with the darkness as you hear the grumblings of Brutes, Grunts or worse Hunters. The Rookie is a silent protagonist which some would roll their eyes at these days, but honestly this trope works in the game’s favour as he doesn’t need to speak as his squad mates and environments themselves tell you everything you need to know. It’s very much like Half-Life in that regard of storytelling as you can choose your level of immersion.

The soundtrack really emphasises the lonely nature of game, with piano tracks as you skulk in the darkness to the deep and heavy drum beats as you explore the claustrophobic interiors where there is nothing more than blood and corpses strewn across the floor. It’s this juxtaposition from the rest of the Halo series that makes it standout; it doesn’t have these sweeping and epic orchestral scores because you are not this godlike entity you are just a soldier on the battlefield fighting for your home. You almost feel scared for your life when are The Rookie, because it is clearly his first live combat scenario and you feel under powered with the silenced pistol and SMG.

However as the game progresses he starts to have a greater grasp on the situation as he pieces the puzzle together, and this is done without any dialogue or heavy exposition. They could have had him comment on everything that he came across, but that would kill the atmosphere and it’s up to the player to understand the situation.

Halo ODST is a strange game in the series, and I’m not saying that this is a bad thing. It took what was the current Halo formula and turned it on its head, where it crafted this atmospheric and ambient experience where you are alone in the darkness, with little ammunition and just the rain to keep you company. It is stunning that it is now 10 years old, I remember it like yesterday when it was announced, and as I get older I have a new appreciation for its subtle storytelling with its silent protagonist. If you haven’t played it, it is super cheap on the 360, or if you want to play it at a smoother framerate and resolution it is available on the Master Chief Collection. It is a game that not only Halo fans should experience, but gamers in general.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Editorial | Tomb Raider: "It belongs in a museum" (not in a bad way).

By Sam Coles:

Tomb Raider, a game that was a household name, and still is to a certain extent but not as much as it did in the 1990s. From its humble beginnings to its reboot in 2013, what made it so special that we’re still playing and talking about it over 20 years later? Well let’s talk about it.

What stands out when you think about the series? Well first off Lara Croft, she alongside Samus Aran was one of the first prominent female protagonists in video games and she could hold her own where she would raid tombs (pun intended) while gunning down opposing forces and the wildlife. She wasn’t particularly a complex character as she just wanted to find artefacts for the glory and not for preservation; she is basically Bruce Wayne and Indiana Jones mixed together.  If one were to examine the old Tomb Raider games Lara comes across as a bit of a psychopath, she slaughters everything that gets in her way, whether it is animals or humans that get in the way of her goal as she spouts her dry wit. Yes one could argue that she was used for cheap titillation which I would agree to a certain extent for obvious reasons, however you wouldn’t say things like that to her face as she would blow your head off with a shotgun.

Now it wasn’t just the character that people loved about the games, it’s the games themselves from the early growing pains on the PS1, the plunge to hell on the PS2 in the early 2000’s to the fantastic reboot in 2013. They weren’t anything particularly ground breaking; they were 3D action games with an emphasis on exploration and platforming, with sprinkles of combat here and there. Think of them as Prince of Persia in 3D before Prince of Persia did its 3D interpretation in the late 90’s,  you have to be precise with your platforming as Lara has weight to here she is not floaty. She can grab ledges do flips, she may feel clunky in the older games, but honestly it just works because the controls require you to take your time as this is a slow pace affair.

Now this may come across as laughable today, but the visuals were ahead of their time. The reason why I say this is that most games at the time on the PlayStation would usually have 3D character models sat on top of a pre-rendered background, however Tomb Raider renders everything in 3D. It was something that developers didn’t do often, this due to the PlayStation’s inferior capability of producing 3D, as it has texture warping, unlike its later competition the N64 which was more capable of rendering 3D environments. It is certainly crude by today’s standards, but put yourself in the shoes of a teenager in the mid-90s and it is mind blowing!

After the slew of PlayStation games in the 90s the series started to show its cracks, this due to Eidos wanting yearly releases from Core design since the release of the second game. However it wasn’t until the PS2 release of Angel of Darkness is where it went downhill quickly, a cobbled together mess of a game that stained the Tomb Raider license for a decade. Core Design were taken off the Tomb Raider projects, and then shortly after that shut its doors, however a few years later when the dust settled and a developer called Crystal Dynamics picked up the mantle.

Crystal Dynamics took on the Tomb Raider license during the mid-2000s, where they put out the remake of the first game aptly named Tomb Raider Anniversary. This was a full remake of the original 1996 title to celebrate 10 years (god that makes me feel old), and it was good and after that they made a few more titles, however it wasn’t until 2013 where they would reboot the franchise and put a mature spin on it.

In 2012 Crystal Dynamics announced Tomb Raider (yes they did that annoying trope), which was a complete reboot of the series which was gritty and mature. This was telling a story of a more naïve Lara, she was less of a strong woman and more scared as she is thrown straight into the deep end. Written by Terry Pratchett’s daughter Rhianna, she put a new spin on the titular raider and was nothing short of amazing.
It didn’t lose sight of what made Tomb Raider well…. Tomb Raider. It took some ques from Naughty Dog’s Uncharted, while not losing its identity where you still explore, find items and craft to help you survive. While at the same time, it improved the combat greatly as it took influence from other third person shooters at the time but it was rather challenging as you couldn’t just sit there in cover. No the enemies would find ways to flush you out of cover, where they would flank, charge your position or just throw explosives or Molotov Cocktails at you.

After the success of Tomb Raider (2013), Crystal Dynamics got to work on a sequel that would release just only two years later. However there was a very strange deal between Square Enix and Microsoft, which saw the sequel Rise of the Tomb Raider release in 2015 on the Xbox One and Xbox 360 exclusively, but this was only a timed exclusive for one year. This understandable got a lot of people worked up, because up to that point most Tomb Raider games have been multiplatform experiences. This felt like an odd decision, however Square would redeem themselves by releasing it on the PS4 just in time for the 20th anniversary.
Rise of the Tomb Raider was basically an enhanced version of the first game, but with some additional features such as being able to craft traps, coupled with a more open ended design with its levels. Visuals were given a massive bump too due to the power of the Xbox One, where they could use they advanced hair effects on console for the first time which was present on the PC version of Tomb Raider (2013). The scope of the entire project was amplified by ten where everything just played better with tighter controls and more intense combat scenarios.

The third game in the reboot series was a bit of departure, this was because it was not developed by Crystal Dynamics but instead Eidos Montreal. Crystal Dynamics did supervise the project; however main development duties were handed to Eidos, as Crystal Dynamics were focusing on their Avengers game (which has not been released at time of writing). This is not a bad thing, as Eidos Montreal brought us the reimaging of the Deus Ex series in the form of Human Revolution. However Shadow of the Tomb Raider didn’t gel with critics and a lot of players as it felt more of the same and it wasn’t as polished as its pre-assessors. It wasn’t bad per say, but there was something that wasn’t quite right with the game.

Tomb Raider is a series that is hugely influential, it paved the way of how third person adventure games were created in the 90s. Yes it had its stumbles during the early 2000s, but it managed to rise from the ashes with the reboot series of games, it is a series that belongs in the museum of video games.

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Editorial | Borderlands: Why is it special?

By Sam Coles:

The looter shooter tends to be ubiquitous in the gaming industry, where they tend to be met with a unanimous eye roll. However back in 2009 a little game called Borderlands came out and everyone fell in love with it, the art style, gameplay, quirky sense of humour and its atmosphere is something that still stands the test of time. With the release of Borderlands 3 around the corner (at the time of writing), I want to talk about what makes Borderlands so special. So join me Vault Hunter, and let’s journey across Pandora in search of millions of guns and fortune!

Picture this, it is late 2009, I’m 16 years old and I see a bizarre game sitting there on the shelf. It’s not a sequel or a reboot of a franchise, no it’s something new and I had no idea what the game was about so you know what I did? I bought it and it turned out to be really good. Borderlands was a game I had no idea about because at the time I wasn’t following games media due to other commitments. What appealed to me right away was its unique and standout art style, as I have talked about many times before the Xbox 360 and PS3 generation was about gritty realism with colour schemes that resembled an edgy emo kid, dark and grey. No this game was bright, colourful and cell shaded which has helped the game age surprisingly well.

The gameplay was something that hooked players, as it gave a good sense of progression as it would constantly reward the player with new weapons, armour among other things. Unlike looter shooters of today, where they would purposely hold rewards back through unnecessary grind. No Borderlands never really tells you to grind with its gameplay, yes it will attach difficulty to certain quests, but it won’t bar you from participating in the quest although you might get seven shades of blue knocked out of you. The game doesn’t restrict you; it just merely recommends you be a certain level which is a great challenge for the sadists out there.

One could examine the weapons at first and say they are generic, and yes I wouldn’t blame you for having that outlook from the start. However the further you get into the game and the more you level up, the more exotic and strange the weapons get. For starters they can have elemental effects, this can range from corrosive damage which melts your foe’s rib cage, fire damage which is self-explanatory, shock damage and the things that are more thematically appropriate to the world. Not only that some guns will have certain quirks to say the least, such as when you reload your gun you can throw it as a grenade (yes really) or every time you fire your gun it shrieks like your drunk friend as he jumps from pool table to pool table.

What also stands out with Borderlands is the atmosphere; I’m talking about the first game specifically as the game had over worldly and almost a haunting environment. The first game had the humour; however it was before it got obnoxious in the second game where the writing has aged about as well an open pot of hummus left out for a week. Anyway the game had a more and subtle tone with its overall atmosphere, the jokes were there but the tone was darker and sinister compared to the second. Not to say that the second game doesn’t have solid atmosphere, but it is overshadowed by the ear grating humour, which is the reason why I play the game on mute most of the time while listening to a podcast.

Borderlands is a game that has a great hook to it, it is rewarding, beautiful visually and has an atmosphere that no other game has. Yes the sequels can be a bit annoying at times with their writing, but the overall experience especially with friends is a lot of fun with dynamic weapons that change things up, as well as a steady progression route. It really put the looter shooter on the map before it was an actual thing, and to be honest does a better job of all the modern interpretations.