I thought I would never be good enough to get all the X-Box Live achievements in a single game, and get a badge for total completion on my Achievement Progress screen. But a month or so back, I managed it, getting every achievement in Borderlands and the Doctor Ned expansion:
Of course, then the General Knoxx expansion came out, added a shitload more achievements to the game’s tally, and buggered the whole thing up. But it was nice to feel like I was quite hardcore – albeit briefly.
Been back from the North for a couple of days, but Borderlands has been pre-occupying me for the last couple of evenings. I’ve already completed the main campaign once, and on my second playthrough I’ve knocked a couple more achievements on the head, levelling my soldier up to 50 and getting a full set of backpack spaces from the claptraps.
Just at the point where I was playing the game without the pressure of points-grinding, the first DLC came along: The Zombie Island of Doctor Ned.
As the title says, this is Borderlands entering the not-exactly-deserted zombie shooter genre. There’s the ‘Thriller’ video aesthetic and the shambling masses of undead, but there’s also less cosmetic borrows from the sub-genre, especially Left4Dead – there are a couple of ‘hit a switch and fight off the horde pinch points’, and ‘special infected’ type creatures who vomit and so forth.
I’m kind of hoping that this goes beyond bandwagon jumping, and that future DLC will pastiche other genre tropes – what would a Borderlands version of Modern Warfare look like, for instance? Or a World War II pastiche, or a heavily vehicle based Grand Theft Auto parody?
And parody is what this is – infamously, the cel shading and cartoony humour of Borderlands came along quite late in production, and that shows in the finished product, with the wackiness dropping away after the opening sections and only intermittently reappearing, with the game’s roots as a more pious generic SF narrative showing, especially with that preachy voice-in-the-head girl wittering on.
Doctor Ned, however, has clearly been developed from day one with that vein of humour in mind: the missions are shot through with jokes and in-jokes, and the whole story is based on the premise of Doctor Zed from the main game wearing a false moustache and pretending to be his own twin brother. There’s also some fun with claptraps, the most distinctive element of the Borderlands world.
The Zombie Island of Doctor Ned is a fun add-on for Borderlands addicts, which adds a good-value new area to the game, and has the odd innovation to throw in. The zombies, which appear in greater numbers than most baddies in the main game, make a change from the usual enemies, and the horde attacks provide a frantic alternative to the attrition of the usual Borderlands boss-battles – rather than dodging and circle-strafing, you need to spin and fire off rounds at multiple opponents to hold back/thin out the crowds before they overpower you.
Although DLC like this does require an additional payout, these doses of additional content do freshen up the whole, as you can head off to the Island at any point over level 10, and as such it will provide a neat break in the narrative on any future playthroughs. I’m looking forward to future additions, and with my soldier now insanely over-powered (that turret can chew through most things easily, although it still can’t win me the final round in the West Commons Colosseum) I’m tempted to shift my attention to my level 18 Hunter.
Of course, I could probably do with playing some other games as well. But if Gearbox keep turning out content of this quality, I’ll likely be paying Pandora the occasional revisit for quite a while yet.
I’ve got to the point with my main Borderlands character (a soldier, levelled up to the mid 30s, incidentally) that I don’t really want to play him on my own – that late in the game, I want to have the fun of playing with friends, and the bad guys provide sufficient challenge that it’s a bit of a drag to play through solo anyhow.
So, as there’s an achievement for killing a certain number of enemies with each of the four character classes’ special ability (1 enemy in the case of the Siren, 15 enemies for the Soldier, Hunter and Berserker), I decided to go back and get the achievement for each.
The special ability kicks in with level 5, so to get the achievement for each class you just need to level up as quickly as possible from the start of the game, then run around using and recharging your ability ’til you’ve got enough kills with it. Easy enough.
Having done this for the Hunter, Siren and Berserker character classes in the last 48 hours, I thought I’d share a few tips in regards to hitting level 5 as quickly as possible, at least partially because I’m rarely good enough at a game to have any tips to impart, so I’m going to lord it when I do:
- Obvious one first – follow the missions in order, completing them quickly and turning them in – biggest XP boosts are for mission completes.
- There’s a fat dose of XP for reaching certain criteria in looting, selling and buying – so open everything, pick up everything you can, sell everything you don’t need, and never hesitate to buy something better, even if it’s only a marginal advantage.
- Stick to the weapon your class specialises in if possible, and use critical hits and rapid chains of kills to maximise XP (usually headshots for humanoids, mouth shots for skags). Using the same classes of weapon all the time also quickly boosts you up the ‘number of kills using X types of weapon’ challenges, which also give out big doses of XP at certain tiers.
- In terms of getting through the opening as quickly as possible, the claptrap will stop if you drop too far behind/get too far ahead. He won’t start the next bit of his schtick without you there, but once he does he’ll keep going even if you run off. So follow him closely, then when he starts faffing with a door control, run off and loot. Specifically, when the bandits jump over the gates at the very start, that’s a good time to dart off to the left, and open all the crates and safes around the outbuildings near the bus stop.
- Of the three classes I’ve done in the last couple of days, you get the achievement quickest in this order: Siren, Hunter, Berserker. The Berserker takes longest as his special skill takes a long time to recharge, burns out fairly quickly, and involves a degree of precision to use – I didn’t get the achievement until after killing Nine Toes. The Siren only needs one kill with her special ability, and I managed to get her to level 5 and bag the achievement by the time the weapons store had opened.
Either way, it shouldn’t take more than an hour for each of these. Once you’ve got one of each class powered up to level 5, you’ll also have a feel for which class you prefer, and how you might play the game next. I’m quite in favour of the Hunter myself: mine is already up to the mid-teens in terms of levelling, and I think I’ll play through with him after finishing the main campaign with the Soldier.
I’m going to lend my copy of Arkham Asylum to a friend, partly to be nice, partly to alleviate the burden on groaning game shelves, but mainly just to get the bloody thing out of my house. Completing the story mode was a joy, tracking down all the secrets was a bit of a grind but deeply rewarding, but the challenges… oh, the challenges! I’ve got a few, but eventually hit the limit of what I could physically do. One trophy short of the Bronze Achievement for combat challenges, I found that last trophy an unattainable goal, but nonetheless spent an age trying to somehow push myself to manage it. Essentially, I was throwing myself against a wall repeatedly, rather than turning around, opening the door on the other side of the room and just walking away.
I’ve walked away now. The game is in my suitcase, ready to be handed over. I’m comfortable on being at 89% completion of the game forevermore.
Since then, two games have stepped forward to alleviate my urge for another round of batmasochism: Mirror’s Edge and Borderlands. One is open, another closed, but not in that order.
Closed first: Mirror’s Edge is a bleached-out sorbet of a game compared to the immersive world of secrets, characters, treasures and upgrades that was Arkham. It’s essentially an obstacle course – run, jump, grab your way across rooftops, through warehouses etc, following a set route and try, try, trying again whenever you mistime a jump or are sufficiently tardy to catch one too many bullets from those pesky future cops. The sense of scale and the super-clean futuristic aesthetic is, at its best, breathtaking.
But Mirror’s Edge is a great engine in search of a better game. Its big innovation, first-person platforming, works like a dream, with a real sense of motion and agility. But there’s no exploration, just following set paths, and the story and combat built around it are at best unappealing and at worst downright annoying.
The plot (spoilers ahead) sees you as tastefully black-tattooed ‘runner’ Faith, one of a group of anarchistic parkour couriers developing messages of freedom (or something) in the face of opposition from The Man (or something). About two thirds of the way through, it’s revealed that the big secret plot involves wiping out the runners, and seemingly replacing them with evil Ninja Cops.
Given the choice between being a counterculture cliche and glorified bicycle messenger defending my charmless peers, or a fucking Ninja Cop who gets to run around kicking the runners off roof tops, I want to switch sides right now. The Devil may have the best tunes, but The Corporate Man has the best career choices.
Also, while the mechanics for movement work like a charm, the combat controls work like a three-wheeled shopping trolley. Slow-motion disarms are fun when you can use them, but direct confrontations when required by the plot are an absolute arsepain of cranky, three button punch-ups where the controls seem to be context sensitive in some deeply unclear way.
Mirror’s Edge is fun when you’re running free in your free running, and after putting serious effort put into being Batman it’s a fun change to play a game where you just repeat the same twitches until you get them right. It’s also a fairly short game, not taking too many play sessions to get to the last couple of chapters (if I don’t complete it in the next two days, it’s because I’ve given up out of frustration). But such fun platforming deserves a better game around it, and a less po-faced and charmless IP.
After that little distraction, I’m in the market for a deeper experience, and I’ve just started one. So far I’ve only played a few hours of Borderlands, and only in single player, but it’s living up to its ‘Role Playing Shooter’ tag so far. If you hadn’t guessed, this is the ‘open’ of the two games: you’re thrown out into the world and, while there are barriers to be overcome, the way you get around to taking missions, gathering XP and opening up the gameworld is largely left to you.
First impressions are, loosely, of a cartoon Fallout3 with less depth but proper first-person-shooting. The cel-shaded graphics don’t take a drop of atmosphere away from the brooding expanses and crumbling shanty towns of Pandora, and there’s a mischievous, childish sense of humour at work for anyone who found Fallout3 too bloody grim. I’m only a few levels up, I’ve ground some skags (the game’s alien equivalent of all those giant rats in fantasy RPGs), taken out the first major baddie and have yet to go online for some co-op. If the co-op is all it has been promised – and the initial reviews are good – then Borderlands should prove to be good immersive fun for the next few months.
Except for when we have to abandon it to pile into Left4Dead2, of course. But that’s another story…