Game Opinions

Venture into the Borderlands – Part 8: The End of Handsome Jack

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(Borderlands 2, 2K Games)

Phew, welcome back to my written Let’s Play of Borderlands 2 series; where sometimes I’ll try to make a joke and other times I analyse something that interests me as I trudge through the tale of Handsome Jack (something I think will be interesting to touch upon).

Jumping back into Borderlands 2, I headed closer and closer towards Jack, Lilith and the vault key via a narrative Rube Goldberg machine. To reach them, I must find out where the Vault of the Warrior laid since that was where Jack had gone. To find out that, I had to break into Jack’s information cache called the Info Stockade. To do that, I had to go to the Arid Nexus where it laid across a bridge that was blocked, so I had to go get the explosives. Fortunately, with the explosives given to the trustworthy Brick who probably didn’t pocket some for a rainy-torture-day, the bridge was now open and off I went to see about information.

Except, in accordance to the dark Borderlands 2 god Anthony Burch, it isn’t that simple. Upon trying to climb up a ladder that would hopefully get me from the Arid Nexus Boneyard to Arid Nexus Badlands (where the information headquarters laid), it broke. So off I went to do a handy mission Dr Zed wanted me to do, as I gathered body parts from creatures for him. What for… Well…

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(Borderlands 2, 2K Games)

…What the…?

…Next I knew, I was having to shoot winged skags out of the sky. Although precisely 20 of them, not all of them, so now I worry about future Borderlands games featuring the flying dog creatures. Then I had to go put down Zed’s abomination, where he decided to combine bandit with spiderants, which is roughly as hideous as it sounds and not as soul-crushingly depressing as it was vicious.

Back to trying to get into Arid Nexus Badlands, Mordecai decides the best idea would be to blow up a pipe filled with pumping liquid and that through said pipe I could climb into the Badlands. No comment about how the insides of the pipe will totally not peel the flesh off my bones or that he knows there wouldn’t be unintended repercussions for disrupting flow (e.g. maybe that fuel goes to a hospital, filled to the brim of those on life support machines). He then chimes that the best way to do it is to increase the pressure so a specific part of the pipe bursts. I’m glad Mordecai is trustworthy like Brick is, or I’d suspect he’s trying to get me killed via incompetency and poorly thought out schemes that depend on a part of the piping system to weaken in just the right place.

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(Borderlands 2, 2K Games)

Roland is that you? You didn’t die? Please help me with Mordecai and Brick as they are doing terri- GOD DAMN IT JACK. NOT NOW.

Finally into the Info Stockade area, I began to notice something creepingly familiar. That gate, two two buildings… The scenery… Something is creepingly familiar… Finally, looking at the voice-logs it hits me: For whatever reason Jack decided to be petty and build on top of Fyrestone (from the original Borderlands game) without demolishing the original structures. It serves as a reminder to the original protagonists that whatever they cherish can be corrupted including, eventually, Sanctuary. Although I guess looking as to how Sanctuary flourished…I guess Jack’s middle finger only served to motivate rather than dishearten the Borderlands cast.

After battling through all the robots Jack sent (and he sent A LOT of mean huge robots, including one as big as a building), I got the co-ordinates for where the Vault of the Warrior lies. So after going back to Sanctuary, Mordecai heavily hints that maybe I should wrap up any loose ends I still have lying about before waving my goodbyes to the various citizens of Sanctuary and storming to where the vault lies. To this, well, there was one little small loose end niggling at me:

Lynchwood.

So off I went to the town inhabited by a brutal sheriff who would make Judge Dredd blush, where even a wrong look would lead to being hung from the rafters. I admit I’m still not sure what it is about trying to undermine a Western town and its malevolent sheriff that reminds me of Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. As anti-climatic and odd as it feels, the main thing I got out of my misadventures in Lynchwood was helping a friendly skag pup with medicine, food and shelter. I also pulled a bank heist, destroyed a train delivering Eridium and shot the sheriff (who happened to be Jack’s current girlfriend) dead but, well, y’know, the friendly skag was pretty cute.

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(Borderlands 2, 2K Games)

Shame I can’t take him home.

With all the quests I wanted to do wrapped up (besides a tiny one that is incredibly hard that I’ll do later, promise), it was time to visit Claptrap to mark the beginning of the end. Very quickly Claptrap failed to face up against his arch-nemesis, stairs, and I left him behind to continue the trek towards the vault. I then had to besiege a settlement with the help of Mordecai and Brick who seemed to perish on a small ship under fire of rockets and the fire of lava below as they crashed. Yet, I pushed on, my purpose still clear: Kill Jack; and bring us the girl and wipe away the debt (sorry, disregard that, wrong game, should still save Lilith though anyway).

I arrived at the vault site and there still held prisoner was Lilith. As I approach, another figure fades in: Jack. Still sore about the whole unplugging his daughter’s life support machine, he decides to try to kill me with his bare hands upon seeing me. I figured him for the type of person who either would run until he’s got nowhere else to go or to put up a stiff-fight that would make bosses look nervously at each other. Sadly, the fight was brief and Jack stumbles in a wounded state. Before I got the chance to finish him off with one more bullet, he manages to trigger the vault key and summon The Warrior (sadly nothing to do with The Warriors); a boss which – while took a lot of ammo and sometimes descended into a visual mess – was also surprisingly easy to kill.

Now, the end. Jack continues to taunt me as I weigh up my options. I point the gun at him, and then lowered. I didn’t hate him; I couldn’t even bring myself to kill him, so I turned to Lilith and gave a nod, as she proceeded to destroy him with her powers. His body engulfed by a purple shine before fading away with Jack’s body collapsing as though his soul left with it. She then reached down to remove the key, since there was no use leaving unlocked an empty vault with its inhabitant dead, and in the process triggered a projection of where all the various vaults are.

And then that was it, left at the cliffhanger of sequels.

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(Borderlands 2, 2K Games)

In case you’re curious, the only other vault that has been opened since was Vault of the Traveller during Tales from the Borderlands.

I’m personally going to reserve judgement of the overall story to a post-Let’s Play dissection. Although before then, there is an interesting part of the narrative that did strike me about the finale.

I believe there are two common perspectives of narratives in classical story-writing: The environment and the protagonist. Environment is the more traditional story tendency, where there is a focus on the people who exist in the setting. The protagonist in this case acts a vessel (via interaction) to deliver information about the world, including the villains, protagonists and everyone in between. It tends to talk about everything without focus. In terms of popular fiction, this includes Lord of the Rings, American Psycho and the Discworld series. In terms of games, these tend to be more open world games like the Fallout series, Grand Theft Auto and Dark Souls.

The other side is the protagonist perspective. These are games where the focus in the story telling isn’t so much you learning about the environment, although there are often still scene-setting moments dotted about. Instead it tends to be an exploration of a singular character through their interactions with the world around them and their reactions to said world, with said setting taking a back-seat in comparison. Popular fiction examples include Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Dark Tower series and Lovecraftian stories. In terms of game examples, some include Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, the Silent Hill series and Lone Survivor.

The reason why I bring this is up is because Borderlands 2 seems to be part of a rarer third category that occasionally peeks its head from under the covers in a coy way. Borderlands 2 is not about the land of Pandora, nor is it a tale about the protagonists that exist in the world. Borderlands 2, at its heart and core, is a tale about Handsome Jack. It is a study into the consequences of Jack’s actions (e.g. Hyperion settlements, a village affected by Jack’s mining operation and those driven off their land by Jack), Jack’s actions themselves to those around him (e.g. his daughter Angel, his ex-bosses and his various girlfriends) and Jack himself (e.g. his feelings towards his own family, business success and Pandora).

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(Borderlands 2, 2K Games)

Handsome Jack is pretty hideous, but yet he is able to sell his actions towards Angel as necessary without appearing cold. 

Not only you get to watch him make humorous wise-cracks in terms of how much he hates you and the other vault hunters, but you also see a tragic side emerge slowly mostly in the form of Angel who is a siren against her will. She accidentally killed her mother and when you meet her in the flesh, she begs you to unplug her metaphorical life support machine. When Jack is furious at you for disrupting his plans, you watch the very real human phenomena of double-think and selective memory. Vocally he is more angry at you for killing his daughter than disrupting the vault key charging, but despite Angel’s wishes to die he blames you for murdering her. At no point does Jack seem to acknowledge Angel helped you put her to rest. This leads to an uncomfortable situation that maybe Jack saw her less as a person and more of the idea of a daughter. Although it is also just as possible that Jack saw Angel as a tool and he refers to you killing his daughter in an angry way to try to guilt trip you; this is something Angel did warn about during the battle to unplug her machine.

This focus on Handsome Jack over the protagonist simultaneously is interesting and awkward, in a way similar to Far Cry 3‘s focus on Vaas and Citra. In both games the player character is a passive vessel to the narrative. Far Cry 3 uses this to make a very brutal point that is, in the games industry known as, “bloody delicious”; in contrast Borderlands 2 fails to use this in a meaningful way. You are an empty individual, void of opinions of what is going on, and this leads to a lot of missed opportunities of dialogue between Handsome Jack and whatever character you’re playing as. You can also not witness the villain try to infect the player characters with their logic and see an exploration of Handsome Jack’s philosophies applied to someone else, in a similar way Far Cry 3 with Citra managed to.

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(Borderlands 2, 2K Games)

Although you get to witness the horror of Handsome Jack by major NPCs. 

With the story done, you may be ready for some closure to the Venture into the Borderlands series. That will have to wait. There are a couple of parts still left to do. Next week I’ve got Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt, and then it’ll be time to have a look into the Headhunter series. After that, I’ll have the finale to this series in the form of Tina Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep which some people keep telling me is the absolute bees’ knees.

Alongside this, since it is the beginning of a wrap up, I’m also beginning to work out which will be the next series. Again, if you have any thoughts just post them below. I’m currently weighing up between Fallout: New Vegas, Dark Souls/Bloodborne or perhaps even tackling a MMORPG like Guild Wars 2. I’ll preferably be trying to go for a game to go in blind with on some level, but while not completely dismissing games I’m very familiar with (e.g. I’m considering Fallout: New Vegas despite nearly completing it before).

In terms of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel… Well… That’ll be coming one day…

Anyway, I’ll see you next week with the first of the DLC chapters!

[Part 1: Funny Little Robot] [Part 2: Roland’s Disapproving Gaze] [Part 3: The Worst Fear & Loathing Tribute Band] [Part 4: Tiny Tina’s Troubling Temperament] [Part 5: CAPS LOCK IS CRUISE CONTROL FOR HUMOUR] [Part 6: There’s Brakes on the Plot] [Part 7: It’s Fear That Gives Men Wings.]

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