Gearbox Software’s Borderlands has had quite the story regarding its development history. Originally, the first person shooter/RPG/loot-mania featured pseudo-Mad Max visuals that inspired memories of the wasteland. However, Gearbox chose to overhaul this style in favour of a cel-shaded approach using Unreal Engine 3. Over time, Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel made use of the Willow Engine, which was essentially Unreal Engine 3 modified to an extensive degree.
The result combined strong draw distances with depth of field. Some of the choices made with the Willow Engine had consequences – the adaptive V-sync resulted in screen tearing whenever the frame rate went below 30 frames per second. This was at a native resolution of 1280×720 on both the PS3 and Xbox 360.
Borderlands 2 and The Pre-Sequel Head to Head comparison between the PS4 and Xbox One versions. Please select 1080p and 60fps for best possible video quality.
Now, all those years later, Borderlands: The Handsome Collection looks to bring both Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel to the Xbox One and PS4. For the first time, it will be bringing the Borderlands series to consoles at 1080p resolution and a targeted 60 frames per second. Of course, it includes all previously released DLC (with the Claptastic Voyage content being added as a post-launch download) but what kind of the changes do the visuals see?
Before highlighting the changes, it’s important to note some of the detriments. First off, neither the PS4 nor the Xbox One version is locked at 60 frames per second. Fortunately, the frame rate holds steady through most sections we tested, even with a lot of action happening. While the PS4 averaged 56 frames per second on the PS4, it hit 54 frames on the Xbox One.
By comparison, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel saw an average frame rate of 57 frames and 55 frames on the PS4 and Xbox One respectively.There are some pretty drastic drops at times though with the PS4 version dropped to 45 frames per second while the Xbox One can hit 43 frames. The PS4, by virtue of less stuttering and fewer frames dropped on average, scores in both games. Both console versions are rendered at native 1920×1080 resolution though.
It will be interesting to see where Iron Galaxy Studios (which worked on the remastering) will take the frame rate in the future. Though it could easily lock the frame at 30 FPS, and attain this result more easily than the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of either game could, it’s more likely to release performance patches to stabilize the frame rate. At this point, with so many current gen titles failing to deliver a locked 60 frames per second, it wouldn’t hurt to have a second option for locked 30 FPS. How that would translate as a selling point would remain to be seen.
Over 90 screenshots showcasing the difference between the PS4 and X1 versions across Borderlands 2 and The Pre-Sequel.
Borderlands 2 [PS4 followed by Xbox One and so on]
Borderlands The Pre-Sequel [PS4 followed by Xbox One and so on]
Borderlands: The Handsome Collection also surprisingly lacks much of the PhysX effects you’d expect from an Nvidia-exclusive title, which results in less spectacular physics. Due to the Xbox One and PS4 being inherently AMD-based machines, it’s understandable but it would have been great to see a comparable solution used instead.
One of the key issues with Gearbox’s Willow Engine was the screen-tearing. It returns on the Xbox One which, just like the Xbox 360, features screen-tearing throughout but mostly in cut-scenes. The PS4 version handles this much better and you’ll very rarely see any hint of screen tearing.
Another issue is the use of FXAA. While both current gen consoles can handle much heavier AA solutions, the Willow Engine doesn’t support any other anti-aliasing. On the one hand, it’s understandable to see this is in the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions though it also results in outlines and edges for objects looking odd. However, in the translation to current gen, some other solution should have been used (even the HRAA in Far Cry 4 would have been better).
At least anisotropic filtering is present in both the PS4 and Xbox One version though it comes off as quite inconsistent. At times there will be textures that look to have better filtering compared to others. Texture streaming is unfortunately another sticky issue along with pop-in and occlusion. While it’s nowhere near as bad as the PC version or even at the level of the previous gen consoles, it’s still noticeable and takes the visual quality down a notch.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Iron Galaxy had made significant improvements to the GPU particle effects, simulating complex cloth, force field and persistent mesh debris in a much better fashion than the previous generation. Despite the texture streaming issues, the overall texture quality is very good, similar to the PC version’s High settings. A custom ambient occlusion solution ensures soft shadow effects. The main purpose of the Willow Engine was to improve draw distance and suffice to say, the PS4 and Xbox One help improve the same. Foliage distance is also better though the quality of density is still pretty much the same.
Judging the visuals of Borderlands: The Handsome Collection is a little tricky. It’s not as if many of these issues weren’t present on the previous gen versions and for the most part, they’ve been mitigated on the PS4 and Xbox One. The lack of PhysX is disappointing but along with better draw distance and improved texture quality, along with the full HD resolution, Borderlands: The Handsome Collection further improves on the strengths of its previous games. This is especially so when you consider that Unreal Engine 3 isn’t suited to either current gen console.
See how Borderlands 2 and The Pre-Sequel on PS4 and Xbox One have evolved compared to the PlayStation 3 version.
Screenshot comparison between PS3, PS4 and Xbox One versions.
It should be noted that both console owners will need to download sizable patches for The Handsome Collection. While PS4 owners have an 8 GB patch, Xbox One players require a 16 GB update (3 GB for Borderlands 2 and 13 GB for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel). Though they add more content in the form of an additional story campaign, it’s still a rather annoying inconvenience that consumers will have to put up with.
The PS4 version is clearly the winner though with its frame rate and near complete lack of screen tearing. The Xbox One version still looks solid but serves to highlight the many issues of The Handsome Collection more than the PS4. Iron Galaxy Studios did a good job porting both games but if you truly want a Borderlands title built for current gen, you’ll have to wait for Borderlands 3.
Note: GamingBolt’s Bill Smith carried out the performance analysis for this title.