2K games and Gearbox software are back with a sequel to the 2009 hit game, Borderlands. The original game was met with high praise for its seamless blend of FPS and RPG genres along with the unique, cell shaded art style and presentation. Players assumed the role of a vault hunter, any one of 4 characters who would set out on an adventure across the hostile planet of Pandora to find the fabled vault, which was supposedly filled with unimaginable treasures and alien technologies.Borderlands 2 is pretty much identical to the first game where gameplay and presentation are concerned. The game basically plays like a standard First person shooter but with leveling and loot, which comprises mainly of guns, guns and more guns.
Most weapons are found on defeated enemies or inside chests,toilets or piles of alien dung. The amount of unique weaponry to be discovered in this game is truly astonishing. There are 7 basic classes of weapon – pistols, rifles, sub machine guns, shotguns, sniper rifles, launchers and grenades. Some weapons will have a chance to trigger bonus elemental damage type on an enemy such a shock, corrosion, fire and explosive. Each weapon then has a list of stats including rate of fire, accuracy, base damage, reload time and clip size.These factors would alone allow for a huge number of gun variations, but then there are added characteristics that mix it up even more, which we will talk about later.
The first thing to do is choose which of the new characters is to your liking. All of them have a particular special ability and unlockable skills to compliment alternate play styles along with bonus experience with certain weapon types. The soldier class, for example, can summon a stationary turret to the battlefield which can eventually have 2 guns, increased accuracy and fire rockets or even nukes, if that is your thing. There are 3 skill trees for each character and points to unlock. These are allocated each time a new level of experience is reached. There is decent scope to build the player you want to be, whichever character you choose, with the option to start over and allocate all of the skill points again at any time. This is handy for switching between a team player or lone wolf build as required.
The setting for Borderlands 2 is, again, the planet of Pandora and the search for a second vault that is rumored to exist. A man called Handsome Jack, an evil billionaire with a love of murder, torture and sarcasm is already searching for the vault . Considering that he owns the huge Hyperion corporation, capable of producing all manner of crazy guns, war robots, mutants and has many established and well defended bases on Pandora, he holds a serious advantage. Oh, and he has the vault key as well apparently. The story does not take itself seriously though… it takes nothing seriously for that matter.
There is comedy everywhere in Borderlands , everything is a joke. Humour is a matter of taste, but the first couple of hours are pretty painful in this regard. The player is instantly paired up with a robot called Claptrap, who has the most intensely annoying voice paired with a juvenile sense of humour. As an example, there is a moment where the ground shakes due to Hyperion drilling in search of the vault. Claptrap decides to make a joke of it.”That was an earthquake, or maybe your mom just got out of bed ..ZIING!!” That is the level of his comic genius. He doesn’t relent either, just keeps on blabbering on, it’s like being locked in a room with a thirsty school bully and an espresso machine. Thankfully, it transpires that this was a character design choice, rather than the overall style of the game, and all the NPCs in the game are equally inclined to see Claptrap smelted. The jokes and puns are so relentless throughout the experience that everyone will find some of it hilarious in parts and ridiculous in others.
The first hours of Borderlands 2 are the worst parts of the game, which could put many people off altogether. At first, the game seems like a generic shooter with a pretty useless shotgun and pistol giving the impression of a lacklustre game ahead. This hides the true potential of the experience though as when things really get going, the gameplay is intense, challenging, frenetic and rewarding. Guns and loot are colour coded based on the rarity – white being the most common then green,blue,purple and orange respectively, and once you are throwing homing cluster grenades that leech health, melting bandits with acid spurting smgs and shooting a rapid fire rocket shotgun that doubles as a grenade ,the boredom will, for a time, become a distant memory . There are some problems with the gameplay though. There are too many fetch quests with little imagination that often have you visiting the same area, fighting the same enemies, two or even three times over. If you play alone, this is especially frustrating as it can take some serious time and a lot of deaths to make progress.The Borderlands 2 gameplay format works wonderfully as a co-op experience, but as a single player game the pace is slow and there is far too much grinding for it to be fun for very long.
The sound in Borderlands 2 is excellent quality throughout. Voice acting is generally very professional and great adds real character to the NPCs. The soundtrack is an awesome mix of slow paced western style ambiance music during exploration and faster, rock style tunes for battles and bosses. Again, the guns are the centrepiece and there is great variation in the way they all sound. There are huge, booming explosive shotguns, spluttering elemental weapons, and even a gun that dispatches advice and encouragement to the wielder. The audio during battles is the star of the show. Enemies will be shouting obscenities when they spot you, begging for mercy as you attack them and then delivering some comedic final words upon death. Finish them with electricity, acid or other elements though, and they tend to just let out a torturous scream . The different way enemies react to damage are some of the funniest moments in the game.
The art style is unique to the Borderlands games, a cell shaded wasteland with pastel textures and colours that creates a hand drawn effect. It works surprisingly well and and certainly allows for more outlandish artistic experiments with the characters and animations than your average shooter. Visuals look bright and exciting when inside a bandit hideout or military complex, and the fighting is intense to watch. All manner of weaponry will be causing mayhem, especially with 4 players and 20 enemies. Grenades, bullets and rockets will be flying in all directions, enemies will be burning and melting all over the place, and loot will be littering the battlefield constantly. Outside though, there is a lack of anything to look at. Backgrounds are sparse and without character and it often looks like the distant enclaves have been painted onto a blank canvas. A lot of time is spent walking or driving across these baron and empty areas and Pandora has little soul or sense of place because of this. There is also considerable slowdown and lag at times, but this is a fairly rare occurrence. Texture loading however, is a really serious issue even when very little is happening on screen. Opening a chest can cause the graphic engine to act like a broken digital camera, not knowing which textures to apply as a priority and giving a sense of being unable to properly focus. I have rarely seen a worse example of texture lag in a game, if ever.
I was a huge fan of the original Borderlands game when it first released, mainly due to the original ideas it dared to experiment with, both in terms of gameplay and visuals. This game sticks so rigidly to that same formula that the novelty factor is lost. Borderlands 2 is a a good game, but only with a group of trusted friends who will play it through with you without hoarding the loot. 4 players can race through this huge adventure at a pace that feels right, whilst a single player will probably suffer a huge amount of frustration and slow progress. If you are new to the world of Pandora though, I would strongly recommend the original game as an entry point. Borderlands 2 is certainly bigger, longer, and more focused on a comedic approach to story telling. Also there are gazillion more guns (apparently). The problem is that these tweaks to the formula have only served to highlight the problems. Repetitive side quests, graphical issues, extended grinding and empty, bland maps are much more obvious in Borderlands 2 so I would suggest that the more streamlined, compact and accessible original Borderlands is the superior game, especially if you wish to play alone.