A bazillion guns too many for the poor little Vita?
B rainchild of the often controversial Gearbox Software, Borderlands first reared it’s unique head back in 2009 with the brilliant concept, but flawed execution of the original game. The popularity of first person shooters and Diablo-esque loot driven, co-op action melded together brilliantly, and several years later into 2012, it spawned Borderlands 2 (You can read our original review here). Bigger, better and much more varied, the sequel introduced four new vault hunters, a wider cast of supporting characters and one of the best villains in recent memory.
It wasn’t just the advertised “Bazillion” guns that kept players on Pandora either, two full seasons of DLC offered several hundred more hours to those who opted in. Now, a collaboration between Sony, Gearbox and Ironside Studios saw fit to shrink Pandora down to the thumbsticks of the Playstation Vita, and throw in a handful of DLC while they were at it. While some unfortunate concessions were made in the conversion, Borderlands 2 is still a very solid title.
"Bigger, better and much more varied, the sequel introduced four new vault hunters, a wider cast of supporting characters and one of the best villains in recent memory. "
For the uninitiated, Borderlands 2 reintroduced players to the untamed lands of the planet Pandora, brimming with badass bandits, fierce wildlife and an annoying android or two. The Vita version includes the two DLC character classes out of the box, giving six drastically different play styles to experiment with, all with unique specialties and action skills. These vault hunters are arriving on a Pandora to find it under the heel of the Hyperion corporation and it’s mysterious, egotistical CEO, Handsome Jack. Jack sets them up the bomb, leaving players for dead in a frozen tundra. The game unfolds on a mission basis, with both main and side missions contributing to your ever growing experience bar, with each level past five offering up skill points to sculpt out whatever build suits your play style best.
This mission structure often drops players into its semi-open world with a direction and a gun. These missions vary widely from tracking down audio logs to taking out anything that moves. Bonus goals are frequently stapled onto the real mission goals, and while they do nothing to further completion of the mission, they do facilitate progress in special “Badass challenges” that can go towards global boosts to all your characters.
Either side missions that help build the world or story missions can take anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour, and as such not always conducive to handheld play. The sheer amount of content however, across both the main game and included downloadable content, as well as repeated plays with new character classes and the “True vault hunter” new game plus mode, totals several hundred hours at minimum. Borderlands 2 still ranks amazingly high on any value scale, especially on handheld.
"Either side missions that help build the world or story missions can take anywhere from 15 minutes to over an hour, and as such not always conducive to handheld play. "
The Vita version isn’t without it’s problems though. Immediately noticeable to anybody who played the other versions are the drastically worse presentation. Textures are radically more muddy, visual effects extremely downgraded, and models are far more jagged. More open areas of Pandora suffer from a highly erratic framerate which is only exasperated during multiplayer sessions, though thankfully the design of the game makes the dips more annoying than crippling. While it might not be perfectly correct to draw parallels between the open fields of Pandora to the far more controlled, visually impressive corridors of Killzone, it still comes across as less then it could have been.
Audio didn’t make it by untouched either, losing any effects on the voice acting such as radio noise. Music was never the star of the show in Borderlands 2, mostly serving the mood. Enemy chatter is clear enough through the Vita speakers as well, and in general the voice acting is still fantastically done, with every player on the stage big and small delivering on the excellently written lines. While it’s nothing special, headphones are recommended to get the full experience.
Mechanically speaking, the Vita version cuts the total multiplayer count in half, a drastically unfortunate omission that for multiplayer minded gamers, turns the port into little more then an interim solution for those who want to grind a bit on the bus before picking it up on the console. A lack of buttons also leaves four functions tied to the front and rear touch pads, and although you can completely change the controls as you see fit, the touchy nature of these inputs leaves four too many functions more difficult to activate than they should be.
" Immediately noticeable to anybody who played the other versions are the drastically worse presentation. "
The port fails to address problems of the original game as well, such as only being able to track a single mission. Given the unfortunate state of the very system the port is on, odds are it will never see the rest of the DLC that the other versions enjoy. Cross-save works flawlessly, though not thoughtlessly as it requires an upload and a download. The Vita version content is not cross-buy however, creating numerous glitches when trying to move one of the extra characters to the PS3 should you not also own that content, though it is technically functional.
Borderlands 2 is a fine port that does about as well as can be expected. While cuts had to be made, and some sting more than others, it’s hard to deny the almost unparalleled value. Few games, especially on handhelds can boast the hundreds of hours shootings and looting on display and that makes it a bit easier to swallow the control shortcomings and visual downgrade. Though it might never enjoy all the content that can be found on other versions, cross-save insures that you can pick up your journey relatively painlessly on the PS3, should you find the need. Corners may have been cut, but Borderlands 2 is still a rare drop on a handheld and should serve those interested very well.
This game was reviewed on PS Vita.
Borderlands 2 is still here somewhere at the end of the day, and the gunplay, world, characters, most everything that made it enjoyable on the other platforms, arrives unscathed. The further content bundled into this port only adds to the insane value.
The poor little Vita struggles to hold Pandora, and the presentation globally suffered for it. Textures are nearly PS2 level, visual and audio effects are drastically lower quality or completely absent. The touch pad is poor replacements for proper triggers.
Even given all the shortcomings of the cramped port, Pandora still offers something special. Whether or not your a veteran looking for a reason to return, or just prefer the handheld experience, Borderlands 2 on Playstation Vita is worth a look.