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Borderlands 2: a well-earned vacation from the norm

Take-Two said last night that Borderlands 2 is its third most pre-ordered game ever, beaten only by GTA IV and GTA: San Andreas. Dave Cook explores the attraction behind Gearbox's RPG shooter.

Borderlands 2 doesn't do things just to fit in, or to make itself more palatable. This is why it works. Picking up and playing Borderland 2 this autumn will be like taking a vacation from the norm.

During these volatile times, where money is precious and radical ideas often fail to pay the bills, it's comforting to know that people are still willing risk sparking new life into creaking genres. Texas-based studio Gearbox took such a gamble: it was called Borderlands.

It's true that gritty, mature and multiplayer-enabled shooters sell well, and this was certainly a widespread trend back in 2009. On one hand you had Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 gearing up for launch with an inescapable marketing machine, and on the other you had the reveal of Borderlands.

Borderlands wasn't always the colourful, foul-mouthed gun-and-comedy jam we know today. When it was first revealed in 2007 as a Game Informer cover exclusive, it looked like everything else on the market: a grey, gritty sci-fi shooter. Pretty boring.

Gearbox decided to scrap the original look and settled for a wild, colourful comic book veneer instead. Gearbox revealed Borderlands for a second time in early 2009.

The new visuals turned heads and helped the game stand out from the pack, egging it on to rousing success when it launched later that year. Three years later, Borderlands 2 facing up to the combined might of Halo 4, Medal of Honor: Warfighter and Call of Duty Black Ops.

Is publisher Take-Two worried? Not at all.

Last night, the publisher's Q1 investor call revealed that Borderlands 2 has the third-highest pre-order rate in its history, lagging behind only GTA IV and GTA: San Andreas. This speaks volumes about the way gamers are currently approaching their gaming choices.

Borderlands 2 is a game that takes everything we know about the FPS genre, crowbars in a wedge of RPG mechanics and does so without watering down the significance of either element.

There's also a madness to it, a sense of the Gearbox developers having the time of their lives coming up with the world of Pandora and its insane inhabitants. Their fun translates into your fun: we all benefit.

It's pretty. And will therefore be good.

Where many developers at the moment seem fixated with lacing their trailers with Skrillex, Gearbox did the same with Borderlands 2 but with tongue firmly in cheek. The whole franchise is like a brash kid who goes into the schoolyard looking to pick a fight with the bully, just to let everyone know that he's the top dog.

There's no traditional deathmatch in Borderlands 2, and why should there be? Just because everyone else is doing it? Why spend time slaughtering your fellow man when you can embark on a sixty-hour adventure together that will stay with you for years?

Borderlands 2 doesn't do things just to fit in, or to make itself more palatable. This is why it works. Picking up and playing Borderlands 2 this autumn will be like taking a vacation from the norm, and in an industry where the norm makes money, Gearbox deserves every bit of praise it gets for being brave enough to fly in the face of convention.

Borderlands 2 releases on September 18 for PC, 360 and PS3.

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