Borderlands Is An Exhilirating But Oddly Hollow Experience

I've scoured the Arid Hills in search of the monstrous Moe and Marley, hunted the winged and clawed predators of Skag Gully and blown off the legs, arms, heads of more bandits in the Arid Badands than I can remember.

But after all of the time spent in Borderlands, collecting weapons, finding upgrades, earning experience all of the way to level 17, I'm still undecided about whether I actually like the game.

One thing I do know: I keep coming back to it.

Gearbox's Borderlands isn't due out until this October for the PC, Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, but I've spent the past few weeks playing through an introductory section of the game as the game's sniper character, Mordecai.

Moredecai is a specialist in long-range shots, of course, and eventually earns a winged-pet named Bloodwing. As you make your way through the game as the sniper you have the opportunity to upgrade your character or Bloodwing. Your character's upgrades include things like increasing the damage your weapons deal and making it easier to hit enemies. The upgrades for Bloodwing allow him to attack faster and more targets and increase the sort and amount of loot dropped by his victims.

My time with the game was limited to the areas I've already mentioned and single-player gaming only. While the game walked me through the early training missions, it didn't deliver any sort of plot. I'm told this is a product of it being the press demo and that the retail game will open up with some backstory.

What I did get a great sense of was the game plays and feels, and how missions are dealt out and completed.

The controls are fairly tight, allowing you to play this hybrid action-role-playing game as a first-person shooter. Aiming, sniping, movement are perfectly suited for quick pick-up and play for any fans of shooters.

The ability to hold a number of weapons and quickly hot-swap between them is another nice bonus that will appeal to fans of running and gunning.

The damage modeling, too, is a big plus, allowing you pinpoint precision in how you take an enemy down. I was able to snipe off a bandits foot from across a map. Yes, that means there is plenty of gibs and gore. And for awhile I was satisfied running around shooting things, playing Borderlands essentially like a first-person shooter map packed with bots.

But overtime that grew a little dull. The enemies aren't altogether that intelligent, and the spawn points can be, no matter how random the results, very predictable.

So I jumped into a few missions and the game really started to trudge. Why would I want to run out and hunt Borderlands version of feral dogs? Do I really need to clear out the gangs in this dust bowl? Why do I care about the garden of an amiable loner?

Without much of a plot to anchor the missions too, I was losing interest quickly. Fortunately, I eventually started to hunt down some missing logs and journals for a couple of missions and the audio recordings began to fill me in a bit on the backstory.

Perhaps, there will be a reason to make me want to move forward in what now seems like a mostly blank canvas, but this build certainly doesn't provide that inspiration.

Don't get me wrong, I've been playing the hell out of it. Enough to finish every single available mission in the game and level up to 17, something I expect isn't typical of the relatively confined demo.

What keeps me intrigued, makes me want to come back again and again are all of those weapons. Those glorious weapons. There are, by some accounts, more than 3 million variations of weapons in the games. And some do some pretty amazing things. All of them have great, randomly generated names like my machine gun "Bone Shredder", my electrified-bullet shooting sniper rifle "LB20 Static Wrath" and my brutal six shooter "MAL31-B Blast Law".

While the other weapons are pretty neat, and took me quite a time to find, it's Blast Law that renewed my interest in the demo just when I thought I had had enough.

Prior to stumbling across this seemingly innocuous revolver I had to plug away at enemies for a few seconds with Bone Shredder before taking them down. Out of curiosity, mostly because Blast Law's name is written out in a rare purple, I decided to check it out.

The first thing I noticed was that this tiny pistol has a pretty hefty zoom feature: A must for any sniper. It also has a very fast fire rate and reload rate. Then I aimed the gun at a dog-like Skag and pulled the trigger. The creature disappeared in a cloud of red mist. Holy shit!

Amazed by the tiny gun's shocking stopping power, I made my way over to a known bandit spawn point to try it out on some larger, more crafty targets.

Pygmy bandit: Mist

Lunatic bandit: blown in half

Skulking, armed bandit: Legs blown off with a low shot.

Finally, brutish hulking chain-gun toting bad guy: Three shots then dead.

What was beginning to feel routine and a bit monotonous suddenly had new life and I spent another few hours and gained another level playing around with my new weapon.

With another 3 million or so weapons to discover, I imagine Borderlands will, story or no story, manage to keep me engaged for quite awhile.

Here's hoping there's a bit more to the final game though to satisfy more than my bloodlust.