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I got to visit Gearbox Softwarelast week, and the game developer clearly has some cool stuff up its sleeve. (I use that term deliberately: Gearbox president Randy Pitchford was once a professional magician.)


“Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway” is the company’s current big project, and that game ships Sept. 23. But the 200-person company (huge, for an independent game developer) also has several other projects it will be pulling out of its hat soon. There’s the music-and-dancing Wii game “Samba de Amigo,” as well as shooters “Borderlands” and “Aliens.”


“Borderlands” looks as if it could fulfill a lot of the promise of “Too Human.” If that sounds like a bit of a stretch, just stay with me for a minute. Like “Too Human,” “Borderlands” is kind of an action/role-playing game. While the gameplay in “Borderlands” is very much that of a first-person shooter, you also have to acquire new gear and upgrade your skills to advance.


“Too Human” tried a similar fusion (albeit with a third-person view) and felt incomplete, overwhelming players with a huge collection of armor and weapons and puzzling them with an incomprehensible plot. “Borderlands” seems like an upgrade on both counts.


While the weapon collection is, if anything, even more gigantic (Gearbox boasts the game will feature as many as 1 million different weapon combos in the final version), there’s a fairly easy way to tell whether the weapons you find are upgrades over your current gear. Basically, if the weapon is highlighted in green, it’s fairly powerful, while yellow outlines signify a weaker gun. You can see the distinction as soon as the weapon falls on the ground, so you don’t have to open a separate inventory screen to scroll through your collection and examine statistics, like some kind of actuarial commando.


Plus, “Borderlands” seems to have a much more straightforward plot: It’s a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and you have to kill all the bad guys/mutants. No bizarre cybernetic Viking gods or virtual reality landscapes populated by Shakespearean witches.


And, “Borderlands” looks amazing.


Further down the road, though, it’s the title I’m really pumped about: “Aliens: Colonial Marines.” This is the game based on the sci-fi movie that almost every first-person shooter has stolen from in one form or another.


“We’ve been stealing from that game since our careers started,” Pitchford says. “The head crabs in Half-Life and the drop ships in Halo and even in Call of Duty, the soldiers are lifting lines straight out of the movie: ‘I like to keep this for close encounters,’ and he pulls out a shotgun.


“We’ve all been stealing from it. To finally get the actual brand and be able to live in the canon rather than rob it and apply it in different ways is really an honor and kind of a dream come true.”


If that wasn’t enough to convince you these guys love that franchise, they also got Syd Mead, the artist who dreamed up much of the look of the Aliens movie, to come in and help sketch out some art for the game.


I got to see some of his art at Gearbox, and I’ve got to admit, I’ve never been so emotional over a picture of a giant spaceship.


Oh, yeah, and there’s that big secret game that the company has talked about. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a bit longer to hear about that one, but stay tuned.

Tagged as: aliens | borderlands | gearbox
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