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Badass psycho midgets!

You know you’re in for an interesting ride when you meet those politically incorrect little people in “Borderlands.” The game — developed by Gearbox Software for 2K Games — deftly mixes the role-playing and shooter genres as it dishes out ornery humor, wild battles, exceptional co-op play and cool cell-shaded graphics.

The game is set in the harsh wastelands of the planet Pandora, which is populated by bandits, thugs, mutants and psychos, as well as a host of weird creatures. You play as one of four characters — a heavy gunner named Roland, a sniper named Mordecai, a brawler named Brick or a stealthy siren with extraordinary powers named Lilith — seeking a legendary vault filled with treasure. Although you can’t customize the characters’ looks much, you can upgrade skills, weaponry and gadgets to create a character that suits your playing style.

Like any good RPG, you spend much of your time delving into mysteries, completing quests and gathering loot — mostly weaponry with randomly generated attributes, such as electrified rounds. But unlike most RPGs, “Borderlands” puts an emphasis on fighting. This results in a story line that’s a bit thin, but I doubt most gamers will notice since the action is so fast and intense.

In a major addition to the RPG genre, you can team up with a friend for split-screen co-op or go online to form a four-person squad. This mode is tremendously fun. Players can coordinate attacks, heal each other and challenge one another to duels. The game engine strengthens enemy forces to increase the challenge and always coughs up enough loot to keep everyone happy.

Game controls are well designed, offering quite a few actions in a very efficient package.

The art style has a graphic-novel feel, with vivid cell-shaded characters and settings.

The music sounds like something out of a gritty Western movie and suits the setting perfectly. The voice work is solid, and very amusing.

The game earns an M rating with salty language and flying body parts. The art style lessens the impact of the gore, but it would still be nice to have the option to tone it down as in some other games.

Although some heavy hitters are still on deck — most notably “Left 4 Dead 2” — it’s a good bet that “Borderlands” will be among the best co-op experiences of the year.

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC

On the Web:www.borderlandsthegame.com

Gearbox Software’s Stephen Bahl served as executive producer for “Borderlands.” Bahl — who served in the U.S. Army from 1992 to 1995, including a tour on Korea’s DMZ — answered some questions we had about the game.

Stripes: Did your military experience come into play during development of “Borderlands”?

Bahl: My military experience comes into play every day of my life, not just on “Borderlands.” There are many times that I reflect back to something I did in the military. For “Borderlands” specifically, my military experience as a team leader helped keep things running smoothly on the project.

Stripes: “Borderlands” does a good job of balancing the elements of a role-playing game and shooter. How did developers strike that balance?

Bahl: Gearbox is a company comprised of gamers. Historically we have focused on first-person shooters, but believe it or not, many people here also have a passion for RPGs. The idea of combining these two concepts together was very compelling for us; however, it was also a bit of an unknown. At the time we started Borderlands Development, there were really no other games that had attempted what we set out to do; we were in uncharted territory. Initially, we focused on the shooter aspect. This was the easiest thing for us to get right as we had a strong knowledge and background in this area. As we started to add the RPG elements to the project, that’s when things got interesting. It became apparent that some on the team thought we were going too far with the RPG side of things and others thought we were not going far enough. There was a constant back and forth with the game being more shooter and less RPG and/or more RPG and less shooter. Ultimately, after many, many months of invention, implementation and revision, we found a balance that did not overwhelm shooter fans and did not underwhelm RPG fans. In hindsight, I think this was the key to getting it right.

Stripes: “Borderlands” offers plenty of possibilities for cooperative play, which is pretty common in shooters but pretty rare in RPGs. Why did you go in that direction?

Bahl: Borderlands is fun to play by yourself, but it’s even better with friends. The idea of making the game co-op was something we set out to do from day one. A lot of this influence came from games such as “Halo” and “Diablo.” Both of these games are great in single player, but the co-op game play is a blast. We wanted people to have the same experience with “Borderlands.”

Stripes: Humor also plays a big role. How did you guys come up with all of those strange characters, items and situations?

Bahl: “Borderlands,” with its stylized graphic novel look, really allowed us to go crazy with our characters and world situations. The humor added to the dialogue and story was a breath of fresh air having previously spent so much time working on serious titles such as “Brothers in Arms.” As for where all this stuff came from, let’s just say we have some pretty talented and demented individuals working here at Gearbox.

Stripes: Who’s your favorite character?

Bahl: Brick is a riot. Only real men play as Brick.

Stripes: Some of the more memorable foes in “Borderlands” are the psycho midgets. What did you military experience teach you about dealing with them?

Bahl: Aim low.


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