Review: Borderlands 2 / Cert: 18 / Developer: Gearbox Software / Publisher: 2K Games / Platform: PS3 (Reviewed), Xbox 360, PC / Release Date: Out Now
It’s time to buckle up, Vault Hunters for the gun-crazed, blood-hazed badass brawl you’ve been waiting for now the madness that is Borderlands 2 is here.
Since rumours started circulating back in late November of 2009 through to its official confirmation in August of last year, the many ardent fans of the original first-person shooter and role-playing hybrid have been twitching their trigger-fingers in anticipation of another chance to cause havoc on the endlessly entertaining and unforgiving planet of Pandora. The wait, it seems, has not been in vain as developers, Gearbox Software have come up trumps with a vastly improved and innovative sequel that still manages to honour its predecessor faithfully.
Playing Borderlands 2 for the first time evokes a powerful sense of familiarity and nostalgia by maintaining the strong visual cartoon style of the first game which used cel shading to such fabulous effect, and sticking to the overall format that players are accustomed to right down to the controls which are almost indiscernible from the original. The four choices of playable character types are also similar to before with an archetypal hero represented by a commando called Axton (my favourite), the double gun-wielding nut-job that is Salvador, the sexy, sinuous siren, Maya and the mysterious stealth assassin Zer0; all the characters have their very own set of attributes –abilities, strengths and weaknesses that can be finely tuned by the player using skill points to create any number of possible combinations. A new, fifth, downloadable character has been created for this release called Gaige – a female cyborg or ‘Mechromancer’ whose special ability is to be able to summon a sodding-big floating gun made of scrap metal parts and which promises to be a whole lot of fun. The developers and writers of Borderlands have shown their conviction in the original story by including elements of the game that garnered a little criticism in the original release - for example the weird floating out-of-place head of the chavvy, cyber-goth looking Guardian Angel who, in the first game, popped up now and then for no apparent reason but has now be developed into a valuable and integral part of the plot; also the annoying robot, clap-trap returns and while he is, admittedly, no less annoying he is now, at least, quite funny. The plot follows on smoothly from the original, such as it was, and has been developed into a much fuller and cognitive experience rather than just a vehicle for the action and blood-letting. None of this is to say that playing the original game is, by any means, a prerequisite – newbies will pick up the story quickly and can become accustomed to the unique shooter/rpg gameplay that Gearbox have made all their own thanks to an intuitive tutorial that is incorporated nicely into the narrative.
The planet Pandora is a far bigger and more varied place than was previously thought. Beyond the scorched desert that became a little too samey in the first game we now find towns and cities, coastline and, yes, more desert; The whole, vast map has been rendered with real dedication to detail so that going from one place to another – be it on foot or in the many vehicles, feels as free as the best 3rd person adventure despite actually being quite linear in nature. The population of Pandora has evolved somewhat also; the villains, who are legion, seem much more cohesive and full-bodied than in the previous game while the Planet’s fauna, comprising mainly of nasty quadrupeds called Bullymongs and odd pterodactyl type birds, provide ample target practise and allow you to gain all important experience points. As with the first game the whole landscape in littered with loot – guns, money, health bars, guns, shields and more guns. It is no exaggeration to say that there are literally millions of guns in Borderlands 2; thanks to the application of randomly generated statistics affecting a number of attributes like accuracy, range and magazine capacity the game’s creators believe that there are in excess of 17 million possible different weapons and, thankfully, a nice little feature allows you to compare one against the other quickly so that you can always keep your arsenal up to scratch.
Borderlands 2 is not without its faults, all be they few and forgivable. The save point set-up is slightly skewed, in my opinion, in so far as the missions have a number of objectives and if you happen to abort a mission early or, indeed, get killed – you end up having to do a lot of the same stuff again – particularly if you are a drop-in, drop-out kind of player with more pressing commitments. Also a lot has been said about how the menus now appear in an augmented-reality type perspective – I personally find this counter-productive and a bit annoying, and would welcome the return of the more conventional fully facing menu screen.
As for the on-line, co-operative aspect of the game – it is refreshing and encouraging to find a release that rewards co-operation and team-work, rather than the more aggressive ‘versus’ type of play so often seen in other titles.
All in all Gearbox Software have outdone expectation with Borderlands 2 – they have played to their strengths and kept true to their unique vision – with the action and carnage of a great First Person Shooter married to the endless variety of a Role-Playing-Game Borderlands 2 could herald a whole new genre in gaming.