Don’t you think it’s time we had a sit down with videogames and clear the air a little? It’s been a good long while since a a creature of pure unadulterated fun crept through our doors and wasn’t either aimed at children or just plain rubbish. Devoid of greybrown and free from the shackles of petty realism was the delicious child of Gearbox, Borderlands. For all intents and purposes a surprise hit, with the followup hot on its heels, Randy Pitchford’s band of merry men no longer have the element of surprise with Borderlands 2.
The result, however, is something bigger, badder and altogether more Borderlands than was ever imaginable. Left for dead by the smooth-talking Handsome Jack, another batch of vault hunters have now been sent out to thwart him, find another vault and kick a mountain of arse. Jack is everything you could want in a villain, stealing the show on multiple occasions, causing bouts of laughter through gritted teeth and determined to have your head upon his mantelpiece, sat in his space base with a mouth full of are presumably crisps. He’s Moffat’s Moriarty gone Gearbox, excellently written by and performed equally well by Dameon Clarke, something which can be said for virtually every character on Pandora. Gone are the faceless NPCs who exist solely as a means of lengthening the gameplay, each character is fully fleshed out, with a believable life outside the confines of your interactions with them, and each more ridiculous and insane than the next.
If it’s Tiny Tina, the thirteen year old bomb disposal expert who makes Hit-Girl look like Princess Bubblegum, or Ellie the morbidly obese hick who likes nothing better than to murder bandits in her car-crusher. Not only that, but a game with no less than two non-conventionally attractive, friendly female characters is an astonishing first. No, really. Name some more strong, non-conventionally attractive female characters in video games.
Borderlands 2 extends to even the semi-silent protagonists and enemies, all of which are dubious in nature. Take Axton, for instance, a Commando whose visible bump on the noggin perhaps explaining his discharge from the military and the alarmingly mechanophilic relationship with his beloved turret and, erm… wife. Enemies are frightfully insane, but still possessing a razor sharp edge to them, the only vaguely disappointing character in the entire game is Roland and that’s largely down to him being the only entirely straight edge person in the whole universe.
Combat is fun, plentiful and ferociously fast-paced, numbers littering the screen almost as often as the bloodied corpses of an impressively varied number of enemies, stand out appointments being: the One-Armed Bandit, a one-armed bandit carrying a one-armed bandit on his back, playable upon his defeat; or the Raging Midget Goliath, a burly brute of a thing now in pocket size, attacking comrades and becoming stronger in the process.
Even the locations carry his personality, some of the best places to find mid-level loot are portaloos and achievements; the term attitude is banded about all too readily but nowhere is more swollen and overflowing than in Pandora.
Borderlands 2 feels like a far more open world, doing away with the pre-made skybox of yestergame, allowing for some spectacular vistas due to an impressive draw distance in places. It’s not fully open world, but Pandora now feels far more cohesive, with some impressive ice textures and effects which compliment its highly stylised aesthetic. Occasionally plagued by short lived texture pop-ins upon entering a new area, somewhat masked by the cel-shading, improved somewhat with a hard-drive installation.
Between genocidal firefights and hurtling into Bullymongs at top speed, there are fleeting glimpses of an almost Fallout-like atmosphere. The solitary, down-tempo music in the less populated areas deliberate provide the teensiest bit of relief, subtle in its execution but all the better for it.
Petty grievances include the lack of an ‘escape rope’ after mission endings, making for some occasionally laborious treks back to turn in, but if played ‘properly’ with three others in online co-op, as Borderlands 2 should be played, japes and funnery will easily tide you over until the next completely barking mission. As well as class-specific customisation and RPG levelling, Borderlands 2 has also seen the introduction of aptly named Badass Ranks. Awarded for attaining certainly goals across all aspects of gameplay, linked to a profile rather than a character, permanently boosting chosen stats for all future characters.
The remarkable thing about Badass Ranks is they are quite literally unlimited, Randy Pitchford has explicitly state there are an infinite number, with the most hardcore players potentially reaching the hundreds-of-thousands, the sky’s limit.
Borderlands 2 isn’t just a marvellous antidote to grey-brown shooters, but also a boundlessly fun alternative to the more the dull the faceless niggles which plague open world RPGs. Take Skyrim’s myriad of grey side-quests of little to no interest, other than for experience, Borderlands 2 completely does away with such frivolity, thrusts a gun which shoots electric torpedoes in your hands and kicks you out into the open world.
It’s Fallout turned up to 11, with far, far better writing, characterising and overall game structure. This is a game truly designed without any pretence or reality, just built with the sole purpose of fun. And guns, so many guns.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.
Excellent characters throughout, an engaging well-written story, great textures and stylisation, bajillions of guns and seamless online co-op.
Some texture pop-in issues.