There's a planet. It has lots of guns. People stand between you and the guns. Use your guns to kill them and take their guns. Bring friends if you want. Repeat until your character peaks out. Motivation? Check.
The paper-thin story doesn't keep "Borderlands" from having personality. This desert wasteland full of sand and garbage piles feels surprisingly vibrant and inviting thanks to a distinct, hard-edged art style. Hard black lines accentuate the crevices and wrinkles of every texture.
The game feels like a simultaneous homage and insult to the first-person shooter genre. We all expect shotguns to behave certain ways, rocket launchers to behave in certain ways, and so forth. In this sense, "Borderlands" gently mocks fans of the genre for becoming so stuck in their ways.
Those clever Gearbox bastards know how to take full advantage of our presumptuous attitudes. Because so many of us have some level of basic understanding for how all of these weapons should work, every instance of deviation from that norm comes as a delightful surprise.
There are revolvers that can fire seven pellets in a single burst. Sniper rifles can fire explosive cartridges. Shotguns can empty their entire magazines with a single pull of the trigger. Rockets can constantly separate into smaller rockets mid-flight. Sub-machine guns can produce their own ammo.
Nothing falls too far into bat shit crazy territory (these guns shoot bullets and rockets, nothing more and nothing less), but the game creates low expectations early with generic vanilla weapons and then catches you off guard with a fully automatic sniper rifle. Holy crap. Sniper rifles are not supposed to do that.
So yes, lots of guns. More importantly, lots of satisfying guns. For all of its RPG-like stat manipulation and skill development, "Borderlands" is a shooter first and foremost. Whatever dice-rolling that goes on behind the scenes never gets in the way of your ability to put your crosshairs on somebody's head and blow them away.
Leveling up and experience points. In a first-person shooter. Has the world gone mad? The combo works far more effectively than it sounds.
Critical hits are not byproducts of random chance: Every shot to the head becomes a crit. Weapons can emit elemental damage (fire, explosive, shock or corrosive), and certain enemies have weaknesses and resistances to each of them. A simple enough concept we've all taken for granted as RPG-exclusive, but when applied to a shooter, the awesomeness gets amplified.
Guns are literally everywhere: Enemies drop them, chests hide them and some even lie buried under unassuming piles of dirt. Most have pitiful stats and are better off selling for cash than using in a fight, but that one magical gun that clicks with you eventually comes along.
The ideal co-op session is predicated on all four players being similar in level, and some parts of the menu interface need cleaning up, but "Borderlands" knows no equals. It will compel you to stop returning phone calls, never leave the house except for groceries — you know, that sort of stuff. Plenty of other games already build this sort of obsession, but nothing else wraps that obsession in such a satisfying first-person shooter package.