Today's Hard|Forum Post
Today's Hard|Forum Post

Borderlands Gameplay Performance and IQ

Borderlands is a colorful co-op shooter in more ways than one, coming to retail after a lengthy development cycle including at least one redesign. It uses a familiar graphics engine, but with some tweaks and upgrades which have brought with it some unexpected performance challenges. We play Borderlands with 9 of today's best video cards.


Borderlands was launched by Gearbox Software and 2K Games in late October for the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. Originally conceived as a gritty and realistic (before "gritty and realistic" became a code-phrase for brown and grey) post-apocalyptic shooter, Borderlands was re-designed as a colorful and cartoony off-world shooter. The PC version of the game has been generally well-received, garnering mostly positive press and a Metacritic score of 82.

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Borderlands is an FPS/RPG; a hybrid first-person-shooter (FPS) and role-playing game (RPG). The game is set on the barren fictional planet Pandora, where explorers, treasure-hunters, and other opportunists have been lured by rumors of vast mineral deposits, as well as the fabled Vault, a legendary treasure trove of alien technology and unimaginable wealth. Unfortunately, the explorers who discovered the vault were wiped out by its apparent security system, so nobody actually knows where it is. Over a period of about 200 years, the vault passed into legend, though it does still draw explorers to the planet.

The game is played almost entirely in the first-person perspective, deferring to third-person when the player enters a vehicle. Gameplay is class-based, with four playable classes. Brick is a strong melee tank. Lilith is a siren, a rare magical creature. Mordecai is a hunter, relying on marksmanship and his pet hawk Bloodwing to survive. Finally, Roland is a soldier, specializing in weapons tech. Though all characters start with default names, the name can be changed at any of the game’s "New-U" stations, which are also spawn stations and fast-travel stations.

Borderlands offers 4-player cooperative multiplayer over the internet. A GameSpy account is required for access to the online multiplayer component. In multiplayer, the difficulty of missions and combat automatically scales with the number of players in a game. There is also a combat arena in the game, allowing players to enter into free-for-all or 2-on-2 team-based deathmatch battles.


Borderlands is powered by a modified Unreal Engine 3. UE3 has powered a vast array of games since its public debut in November 2006 with Gears of War. UE3 features numerous graphics tech features and is constantly being updated by Epic to include latest-generation features from DirectX and consoles. For more information on what UE3 is capable of, please see the UE3 technology overview.

For our purposes, what we need to know is that Borderlands is powered by UE3 and that the engine has been modified. The most evident change is the addition of a cell-shading-like effect that creates a thick black border around screen objects. Borderlands is not a true cell-shaded game, but it does give that appearance. In addition to the thick-black border around some (but not all) game objects, the game also showcases hundreds or thousands of hand-drawn textures in the landscape, on the weapons, and on the game’s numerous spawned objects, bad-guys, and NPCs (Non-Playing Characters). Since it is powered by UE3, we expect to see great performance from all of the video cards we have stacked up against it.

It is worth noting here that Borderlands is a "The Way It’s Meant To Be Played" partner program game. Accordingly, we expect to see better performance on NVIDIA-based video cards than on AMD’s ATI Radeon products.

The Video Cards

This evaluation will see 9 video cards from NVIDIA and AMD. From NVIDIA, we have the GeForce GTX 295, the GeForce GTX 285, the GeForce GTX 275, and the GeForce GTS 250. From AMD, we have the ATI Radeon HD 4870 X2, the Radeon HD 5870, the Radeon HD 5850, the Radeon HD 5770, and the Radeon HD 5750. The Radeon HD 4000 series has mostly been dropped from this evaluation because any gamers looking to upgrade to an ATI video card should be considering the new Radeon HD 5000 series products for their excellent performance and feature sets.