Is Gearbox’s new RP-FPS borderline genius?
Following a game that became a surprise hit and shipped 4.5 million units since it’s release is no easy task (Unless of course you are EA and build all your games with planned obsolescence) and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting much from 2K and Gearbox. From initial claims saying they had no plans of making a sequel, since they never expected the first to be so successful, to them announcing the sequel would have pretty much every character from the first game in it, I wasn’t holding my breath for getting anything more than the first game rehashed with a gimmicky new feature and terrible storyline tacked on. Thanks to every platform having some form of motion control now, even being a multi-platform game (360, PS3 and PC, in this case) doesn’t exonerate you from those dreaded mini games. But by jove! They’ve only gone and usurped my scorned assumptions!
The game follows a simple formula, the kind you’d spout to your friend during a 24-hour gaming/beer/drug binge (whatever flavor you prefer).
“Hey Sam, can you imagine like, a game, like, a shooter, but like the guns are random? You know like in Diablo where you find just a knife or you can find a Knife of Ultimate Buggery depending on how the game is feeling? Yeah that’d be pretty cool”
Give or take a few empty crisp packets and ball scratches, I imagine that was how the first Borderlands actually came to be. They focused so hard on that amazing combo in fact, that they decided to set almost the entire first game in desert wastelands because, grass textures are just time and effort, and the story was such an afterthought it was negligible (But by no means bad, it was just your staple treasure hunters search for a mythical vault, build allegiances, kill baddies, inevitable plot twist, end)
Fast forward 3 years, and they’ve upped the ante. The storyline is still simple, if not kind of undermining of the whole first game, but it’s implemented in such a dynamic and involved way it comes off fantastically. It starts by telling you the vault from the first game wasn’t actually just a cage for a raging tentacle monster (Not Japanese, if you’re wondering) and did actually have treasure in it, and the head of the Hyperion company (one of the gun manufacturers from the first game) named Handsome Jack found it all, and also found there was another vault which was even better. Cue the intro scene, where Mr. Jack is shipping in “Vault Hunters” from around the galaxy (Oh yeah it’s set on another planet, in case you didn’t know) to help him find the vault, only to try and murder them as soon as they arrive, due to what I imagine is some kind of vault hunter penis envy. Needless to say, you survive, and you’re sent on your merry way to find the new vault and beat Handsome Jack.
If you’re familiar with Borderlands 1, then this will be like coming home to find your bed still warm. It adds hardly anything new, because really there isn’t much you can add to an already fantastic system. They’ve done away with the character color picker, and instead you can change through different color “sets” that you unlock (Most of which are pop culture references, like my current black/green/purple one called “Why So Serious”.) and also different masks/heads/haircuts. (Again, pop culture references, like “Breaking Bald”. Seriously this game makes you “I see what you did there…” at least every five minutes). Weapon wise, they claim that “87 bazillion guns just got bazilliondier”. Let me tell you now, farcical numerical terminology aside, they flat out lied. This is, for me, one of the games two downfalls.
If you played Borderlands heavily, you may recall they released a patch that changed how the weapons work. Mostly due to modding, but occasionally just the game bugging out, it would spawn guns that would be absolutely mind blowing (Like a 20 projectile shotgun that had 90+ accuracy). They patched this, so that only certain features could be used with certain manufacturers, so whilst the guns still did vary wildly, it took out the absolutely insane game breaking (Fun) ones .
However they seem to have gone for the “Nip it in the bud” approach with this game. Whilst aesthetically, the guns do vary quite a lot, the actual behavior of the gun is very samey. You have your pistols, some with burst fire, some fully auto, revolvers, you have shotguns with varying number of barrels, you have rifles that are semi-auto/fully auto or have a mini gun barrel, snipers, pretty much all the same, SMGs, again just little differences, then your rocket launchers, which give the most varied results but are also quite rare, and then grenades, which is where they seem to have focused the most wild ideas. Give or take some elemental effect on your ammo, there’s nothing really wild or shocking (That I’ve come across yet, in 16 hours of gameplay). If this is your first time playing Borderlands, you first triple barrelled shotgun that fires explosive ammo will be a joyous, enlightening experience, and probably will be for the next 30 hours of gameplay you are guaranteed from this game. But if you’re a veteran (Of a two title series…) then like me you’ll probably find it nothing new. I mean, could they not have had a shock sniper that fired lightning bolts as opposed to standard bullets? Wouldn’t that make sense in a game that strives to put the most badass firearms into your sweaty basement dwelling hands? How about an actual flamethrower, instead of a shotgun with hot bullets that may or may not burn your target? You know, it’s just a bit underwhelming. However maybe the crazy stuff appears in new game+, a feature I am yet to experience, but knowing how Borderlands works I highly doubt it.
There was talk of a “Weapon customization” feature going into the game but apparently it was scrapped at last minute, due it not fitting with the ethos of a loot based game or something. Whilst I can understand, mild modification would not be a bad idea and in fact, the option to aesthetically modify your gun would have been a welcome addition. As much as I love having a sniper rifle with enough power to build considerable sized tunnel networks on nearby planets, I’m not a fan of the white and black checkerboard pattern haphazardly slapped around the front, like some spot-ridden teenager would do to his brand new guitar because he’s “punk as f-
I digress. I might as well get the second let down out of the way whilst we’re on a low note. This game, usually at a time when you could least do with it, involves a lot of walking. Seriously, for a game with a fast travel system, they sure went out of their way to make sure you were walking as much as possible to get to each damn fast travel point. Also they made the characters walk at “Not fast enough for long distance travel but just fast enough for fast paced shooting action” speed, and it cannot be changed. The sprint makes hardly any difference, increasing speed by a multiplier of maybe 1.2 or 1.3. I mean you know it’s an issue when you find yourself quitting the game and then reloading, just to get to the last fast travel point you encountered, instead of having to trek all the way back through a map. It’s not a game breaker, by any means, just a slight blemish on what is an absolutely fantastic game.
They’ve also added a feature called “Badass rank”. If you remember the challenges from the first game, it’s pretty much the same thing, except instead of giving you experience it gives you ranks in your…. Badass-ometer, for want of a better word. When you get enough of these, you earn a Badass token that you can then use to buy a perk, like increased melee damage. This badass rank is linked to your profile, so any new characters will also have this melee damage. In the interest of keeping the early game from becoming a total cakewalk, they added the option for you to disable the perks.
The four character classes do all feel unique in play style, for example I have Zer0 set up to clear an entire area using just his melee attacks whilst invisible to the enemy, whereas my friend uses Salvador to dual wield shotguns and then run in through the front door. Also the bosses in this game are all fantastic, whilst some you expect to appear and they’re not too impressive to encounter, some appear and you genuinely think “Oh shit”. In fact, one appears and you genuinely shit, it’s an absolute behemoth.
So all in all, not much is different from Borderlands 1. Controls are great and fluid, it gets fast paced without being too Quake-esque and you get your fix of Diablo style looting, which you may be lacking since a certain recent Diablo-esque game, *cough*Diablo 3*cough* sucked balls. It’s unfortunate that they tried to prevent a repeat of the rampant modding of the first game and ended up almost nerfing what makes the game so great in the first place, and it’s odd that they expanded the size and scope of everything (Great!) except the fast travel system (Oh..).
I’m playing this game on my PC, which is only a budget level gaming rig, and let me tell you it runs amazingly. I actually run this on better settings than the first Borderlands. Whoever they hired for the optimization job, they need to give him extra cuddles/whips (However Gearbox pay their staff) because he’s a wizard.
The game does the cel-shaded art style so well. It isn’t a very commonly used (rather unfortunately, in my opinion) technique anymore, but it’s hard to name a cel-shaded game that I haven’t enjoyed (the Jet Set Radio series and XIII spring to mind). Coupled with nVidia’s PhysX particle effects (which admittedly, come across “too real to be real”, some times) this game does the best it can with the chosen art style. Sure you can’t see beads of sweat running down the characters nose and dripping onto their damp cleavage as they sit on a rock which uses a texture with a resolution higher than your eyes can comprehend, but who gives a rats ass when you can dual-wield rocket launchers in a huge canyon full of sociopathic axe wielding psychos?
The sounds in the game are all well done, surprisingly the intro song (Short Change Hero by The Heavy) lives up to the predecessor, which I thought would have been almost impossible giving how apt it was (Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked by Cage The Elephant). The voice acting is top notch, definitely one of the better examples of high quality voice acting in a game, and the script is delectably outlandish at times. Not even 15 minutes into the game has it made a “your momma” joke (Which as it turns out are still funny if they’re timed right!) and not long after you have to listen to a tirade from Handsome Jack about how he’s so rich that he bought a living horse made of diamond, and he wanted to name it after you, but didn’t think “Piss for Brains” was suitable, so he settled for “Butt Stallion”. Even after 16 hours of gameplay this game still comes out with quotes that make me burst out laughing, which is rare for any game. I’d go as far as to say that the only game I’ve played that is as funny or funnier is Portal 2. And since that was about 4 hours long if you took your time, you can clearly see that Borderlands is doing something right.
- Hours upon hours of play time
- It’s funnier than homemade dog shit
- Epic story scenes that actually create tension and suspense
- Consistent flow to gameplay/No dull patches (Minus the walking)
- Guns don’t expand much for people who played the first game extensively
- Sometimes you are forced to walk for a long time before getting to a vehicle/fast travel station (easily remedied by quitting and reloading your game, mind you.)
Borderlands 2 expands on everything that everyone loved about the original. It optimized all of the best features, looked at everybody’s nagging complaints and addressed them (Like the ability to automatically pick things up off the ground instead of having to walk around inspecting the floor) and surprisingly, made an open world game very story-driven (Not in the mafia 2 sense, where there wasn’t actually any open world) which I can’t actually recall any game pulling off as well as Borderlands 2 does (GTA IV, almost). My two earlier downers, the guns feeling a bit samey after a while and the sometimes ridiculous amount of walking, are problems that are easily fixable in a patch or DLC, so hopefully other people will express these problems to Gearbox and they will have an almost flawless game. Fantastic replayability, fantastic depth, fantastic everything. Impossible to play this game and be disappointed unless your idea of a good time is sticking your face in wasp nests.
I give it…