Beyond Compare: Borderlands 2, Black & Project: Snowblind - shootist2600 Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Beyond Compare: Borderlands 2, Black & Project: Snowblind

The Borderlands series is known for the huge variety of guns and gunplay options available to fans of Gearbox Software's creation. Considering the breadth of the shooter genre, it's telling how such an emphasis is relatively rare. In fact, it reminds me of two games in particular, both last gen titles: Black and Project: Snowblind.

It should be noted that both Borderlands titles hone to standard weapon types. The pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, sniper rifle, SMG and rocket launcher are shooter mainstays. What's different is how the guns in each category diverge based on common features and, more importantly, elemental effects.

The unique combination of features distinguishes each gun, but the franchise also differentiates itself by the myriad means of accumulating one's arsenal. The developer successfully incorporates loot-grinding elements common to role playing games so weapons collection is a likewise varied and fun affair.

The most conventional means of obtaining weapons is either scavenging them from containers or fallen enemies, or purchasing them from vendors or vending machines. But they're also rewarded for completing certain missions, found in piles on the ground or, my favorite, won at the slot machines in Moxxi's bar. You can even trade with other gamers.

In fact, the slot machines are also useful for obtaining other items such as Eridium, which can be used to upgrade one's inventory slots or weapon ammo capacity. Indeed, the slots are my preferred means for obtaining weapons, and sometimes Eridium, as I find the selection better than at vendors or vending machines.

The treasure chest in Sanctuary is the one sure fire means of obtaining rare, powerful weapons or items, however, gamers need a Shift code from Gearbox to obtain the golden keys that unlock it. Fortunately, the developer has been generous with such codes (typically Tweeted on weekends), provided one is online when they're posted.

My favorite weapon in the first Borderlands game was a flaming sniper rifle. Shooting foes from a distance is rewarding enough, but add the opportunity to ignite them at the same time and the combination is a guilty pleasure. As with all weapons, sniping rifles can likewise vary the kind of damage inflicted for armor penetration, corrosion, etc.

A longtime shooter fan, my preference is for more tactical engagements rather than a run and gun approach. By no means am I the most proficient marksman, but I try to level the playing field by first using a sniper rifle to improve my odds. The option of choosing the gun with the most appropriate damage given the enemy type is a benefit of games like Borderlands 1 and 2.

As foes close the distance, and especially if attacking in numbers, grenades are a standard component of shooter arsenals that come in handy here, too. And as with firearms, their varied elemental damage can increase their efficacy depending on enemy type.

Borderlands' melee combat has always been a one-trick pony with a single-shot punch for a close quarters fight. Thankfully, hit detection is pretty tight and punches aren't too weak. Also, the siren's (Maya's) upgradeable abilities allow her to eventually deal flaming damage to foes!

Assault rifles and SMGs prove helpful for mid-range combat and both offer plenty of ammo. However, I've found the former are among the most rare guns though their power is not commensurate with such a status. SMGs on the other hand are slightly more common but relatively weak. Still, keeping every weapon type increases ammo and attack options.

If you're anything like me, all the strategy in the world can't save you from yourself. Whether it's forgetting to use the grenades in my inventory or selecting the appropriate weapon for the enemy I'm facing, when assaulted by foes especially en masse or more powerful varieties, I tend to spray and pray. Thankfully, weapons in general are effective even if not used to their fullest potential. 

Each character type also has a special ability that can help in a pinch, such as dual-wielding weapons, deploying a turret or nimble stealth moves. Maya's Phaselock, for instance, is a helpful skill that temporarily suspends foes in the air for an easy target. Similar to telekinesis in other titles like BioShock, it can also deal additional damage like fire when upgraded.

Drones can be a pest in the midst of a firefight as they not only will target you but likewise repair foes like mechs. Taking them out becomes an imperative. Thankfully Phaselock can also work on airborne enemies; it won't stop them but it will deal significant damage.

I can't recall if this mech was a victim of my fire dealing melee hit, or he was a kamikaze mech whose attack I pre-empted. Either way, the cause is moot as the outcome is the same regardless: a warm fuzzy feeling, though it's possible I'm just standing to close to the flame.

Truth be told it took several attempts to traverse this mech-filled wonderland. Thankfully, spending all my cash at Moxxi's slots beforehand not only added to my inventory but also reduced my monetary penalty upon respawn. Who says gambling doesn't pay?

Shotguns also are a favorite weapon and provide a nice balance to the long range sniper rifle. Already a powerful close quarters gun, leveling up makes much stronger models available. Needless to say, I save them for battles in narrow spaces or against superior foes.

Mechs are stalwart foes and relatively slow in general, so ranged kills with a sniper rifle are always helpful. But when caught near one, shotties are my go-to weapon of choice.

Maya's Phaselock gets a workout when journeying through (I think it's Hyperion?) facilities where mechs and other heavily armored foes and drones patrol. From ordinary walkers to bomb laden runners to large gun-toting mechs and personnel with jet packs, the welcome enemy variation demands a suite of weapons to address the various threats.

Last but not least, rocket launchers come in all flavors as well. I save them for especially nasty foes like large hovering sentries stocked with all manner of explosive projectiles, or larger burrowing tentacled creatures that spit caustic ooze. No I can't remember what they're called but I won't be sticking around to ask.

Playing either Borderlands game reminds me of the phrase "gun porn." This label was either invented or at least popularized by Criterion Games to describe their last gen shooter Black. The designer unabashedly promoted their game as a title that emphasized the power inherent in firearms of all kinds.

Black's arsenal also showcased standard weapon types like the SMG and shotgun or assault rifle. But what I'd forgotten until I recently played it again was that the game was less about the breadth of weapons available as it was about the impact said weapons had on their environment whether foe or structure.

In a title that's all about the effect of your arsenal on the game world, use of a silencer seems counterintuitive at least as far as appreciating sound design. But adding another gameplay option, in particular a standard feature that can help one maintain the element of surprise, is always a good choice in my opinion.

Firefights are usually an intense affair where having a squad at your side can help even the odds. Unless said squad is not the sharpest tool in the shed. Though they will often engage the enemy when the latter is nearby, my squad didn't always keep pace or, worse, when it did would often stand in the open. At least they proved uncanny at drawing enemy fire.

Foes were not brilliant strategists either and while they would take cover under fire, it usually took a few rounds to persuade them to do so. But they made up in armor, firepower and numbers what they otherwise sometimes lacked in common sense.

When your foes did get shot, game physics helped demonstrate your arsenal's firepower by depicting their realistic reactions. One impressive sequence resulted in a shot enemy falling headfirst over a second floor railing, but grabbing the railing and hanging there for maybe 15 seconds before finally falling.

Foes were not the only objects that crumbled convincingly in the environment. Windows shattered realistically when broken, even if you only run into them. While a small detail, it typified the environmental destruction you could wreak in the game.

While not a flaming sniper rifle, those found in Black could still create an explosive situation. Like all weapons in the game, they sport standard features but can have powerful consequences on the environment. Explosive barrels, cannisters, etc. left in strategic locations help you level an entire, um, level.

It becomes clear pretty quickly that Criterion's concept of "gun porn" relates to the devastation the game engine realistically depicts, whether broken bodies, bullet holes in walls, collapsing walls or destructible cover, the carnage you and your enemies leave behind is unmistakeable.

In fact, in revisiting this game, I found it had much more in common with Dice's Frostbite engine implemented so well in its Battlefield: Bad Company games. Focusing on environmental destruction, gamers could appreciate the awesome power behind their arsenal.

Indeed, players saw such demonstrations in regular gameplay as well as during scripted events when buildings could collapse, even if their comrades in arms were oblivious to the spectacle. At least your teammates were supermen impervious to damage and required no babysitting on your part.

So in the final analysis, Black's "gun porn" was more about your arsenal's destructive capabilities than sheer variety of weapons and gunplay. Though in a sense Borderlands games do share a love for the myriad consequences that devoted gunplay can have when presented with a deep inventory of possibilities.

On the other hand, the Borderlands games are more spiritual successors to Crystal Dynamics' Project: Snowblind. This last gen shooter, which began development as a Deus Ex game, featured a huge arsenal of weapons with destructive fantasy elements, combat vehicles, myriad foes including mechs, and large levels with multiple paths to objectives.

Indeed, the futuristic Deus Ex setting allowed for much variation in weapons and items, much like Borderlands' otherworldly setting of Pandora offered creative license. The result was a degree of depth in gameplay options centered around one's arsenal that current fans of the Borderlands franchise can appreciate. 

One could keep a dozen or so weapons in their inventory, including guns with futuristic elements. A rundown of weapons in my current inventory (including their respective ammo) follows:

Shotgun (buckshot/sticky bombs), H.E.R.F. (EMP beam/sticky EMP ball), sniper rifle (single shot/biodominance), rail laser (laser beam/plasma ball), rocket launcher (missile/homing missile), mine launcher, pistol (silenced), carbine (machine gun/grenade), flechette (electrified rounds/attack drones), grenades (frag/EMP/gas/flashbang).

You could also carry several different items in your inventory that likewise reflect the science fiction setting. These include a kinetic kicker that reminds one of the Half-Life tool that uses a kind of telekinetic ability to push or pull objects. The icepick can be launched to dominate and/or overload a mechanical adversary.

Items also include a riotwalls and spiderbots. In addition there are a variety of abilities related to your Deus Ex style cybernetics; these include nanoboost (full system boost/resurrect if dying); invisibility; electric storm; vision, reflex boost and ballistic shield.

The rail laser gun proved a fun weapon to experiment with, though I seemed to burn through its laser and plasma ball energy faster than was practical against the heavily armored mechs present in the level I had left off in before. To its credit, the particle effects and explosions were impressive and helped contribute to the distinctiveness of your weapons and their destructive potential.

The weapon demonstrated above is likely the H.E.R.F. or flechette (EMP beam or electrified rounds, respectively). But one thing's for certain: Enemy mechs can't like the outcome. Speaking of, mechs remind me of those in the Robocop films, and art design in general shows off a well conceived futuristic setting. In that regard it shares a quality presentation with Borderlands.

The icepick device, with a name that in context suggests a crude lobotomy, is a nifty item that enables control of enemy mechs. They can then be turned on other foes and/or fatally overloaded. In practice this is similar to a certain foe in Borderlands 2 that when shot in the head will turn on its comrades. A welcome if not entirely uncommon device.

One of the main means of obtaining weapons or items is scavenging. Objects will be hidden around levels or can be retrieved from dead foes, and take the form of weapons, ammunition, items and other materials that can be added to your inventory. Sound familiar?

Mission objectives are somewhat standard if this above reference is any indication. It had been awhile since I played the campaign, though I don't remember any particularly innovative tasks. However, they do fit with the setting and overall story to judge by my admittedly hazy recollection. And like Borderlands 2, it's the journey that's its own reward.

Breakable containers such as crates can provide another source of material. Besides the aforementioned objects, one can also find more rare items such as bioenergy cells. I neglected to use any special abilities, and it's been awhile since I did, but I assume these cells can replenish one's store of fuel for such skills.

The Hydra combat vehicle was a surprise as I'd forgotten the game had it and didn't realize one nearby was more than a prerendered object. Its maneuverability is fairly intuitive and it fires both bullets and rockets. This setting was not well suited to vehicle navigation but it still proved its worth.

The sniper rifle is well designed as it can close in on foes, target well and is predictably lethal. But, big surprise, enemy AI is just as reliably inconsistent when it comes to recognizing that a nearby comrade has been killed. That said, Borderlands 2 foes more often react in a reasonable way when confronted with threats.

From dispatching mechs to eliminating objectives such as generator nodes, the Hydra proves a utilitarian vehicle, not unlike its counterparts in the Borderland series. While the setting is not as expansive and not every level makes use of the Hydra (from what I remember), such a helpful transport is appreciated.

In my experience, Project: Snowblind was a very entertaining title from last gen consoles, due in no small measure to its huge variety of weapons, tools and abilities at your fingertips. The joy of playing Borderlands 2 reminded me of this title (and Black), and the ingenuity of developers like Crystal Dynamics and Gearbox, respectively, who know how to make consistently fun games.

This has been another entry in a series that explores games that share some common feature(s), whether genre, narrative, theme, gameplay, etc. Previous entries include Beyond Compare: Skyrim & Dragon's Dogma. I hope you enjoyed this entry and thanks for your visit!

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