- Ask me what I think about Borderlands 2 from Gearbox Software, and I’d tell you about its dubious, convoluted plot. I’d talk about a mind-boggling array of guns and loot. At no point, though, would I ever say I was ready to “joy puke” my face off, as the game box predicts players will do.
- The sequel to the highly acclaimed 2009 Borderlands game goes on shelves Tuesday in Xbox 360, PS3 and PC versions for around $60. At that price point, the first-person shooter, published by 2K Games, inevitably invites comparisons with the Halos and Calls of Duty games already out and due to come in the next few weeks and months. Borderlands 2 falls short because it’s missing several key elements you need to have in a 2012 first-person shooter game – most notably, a rich multiplayer online mode. There’s an extremely limited four-player cooperative mode, and if you have an Xbox Live Gold account, you can team up that way, but this isn’t the type of deeply engrossing FPS game the headset-wearing COD crowds gather to play months and months after release. In comparison, I read on several sites that COD: Black Ops 2 will feature up to six teams, for a total of 18 simultaneous players, in multiplayer mode.
- It’s apparent that Borderlands 2 is going after that testosterone-filled, 18-35-or-so demographic, with its over-the-top marketing verbiage (eg. “a bazillion weapons just got bazilliondier”), gratuitous cussing in the game and prominent placement of a pre-order advertisement on the ESPN.com homepage. I played the Xbox version of Borderlands 2 for close to a week, and while the development and upgrades from the original are apparent, the quirk and novelty that made the 2009 game so endearing and popular (according to VGChartz.com), combined unit sales of the original topped 4.5 million for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC) feel dated and tired in this game.
- Borderlands 2 doesn’t just bill itself as an FPS. It’s a space Western FPS or a role-playing shooter, with the ability to build and customize characters. The game’s premise is that you’re a loot hunter fighting to free the planet Pandora from the evil CEO of Hyperion Corp, Handsome Jack. The evil CEO wants to wipe out the planet’s ragtag population and turn Pandora into an industrial playground for his company. His presence is felt throughout the game by the hovering H-shaped space station that serves as his and Hyperion’s headquarters. In actual gameplay, you’re expected to fight your way across Pandora, hoping to stop Handsome Jack from awakening “the Warrior,” an alien even more evil than he is. The events in Borderlands 2 take place several years after the original game and are a continuation of those events, albeit with four new playable characters.
- I had to go back to Wikipedia descriptions of the original game to remember all the intricate twists and turns of the Borderlands backstory, which involved a couple of mega-corporations, called Dahl Corp. and Atlas Corp. Atlas set up shop on Pandora one fine winter, hoping to find a vault filled with high-tech alien weapons after finding a similar one on a neighboring planet. Alas, Atlas didn’t realize what a hellhole Pandora was in summer, when horrifying alien monsters come out of hibernation, and abandoned the planet. Enter Dahl, which basically pillaged Pandora for the sake of mining its resources, using convict labor that it shipped in. Complicating the already complicated plot, a xeno-archaeologist working on Pandora while Dahl was in charge, actually did find the mysterious vault. When Atlas heard that, it sent in a private army to claim the vault. Dahl, doing what all brave corporations do when faced with imminent invasion, skedaddled, leaving behind the poor, huddled masses and convict labor on the monster-filled planet. The vault is uncovered at the end of the original Borderlands, but is resealed for another 200 years.
- In this new game, in your battle against Handsome Jack and his minions and the Pandora monster aliens, you have your choice of playing as one of four protagonists – Axton the Commando, Salvador the so-called “Gunzerker,” Zero the Assassin, or Maya the Siren – each fully customizable in appearance and each displaying unique traits. The game’s opening sequence reminds you that Borderlands’ developers chose to go the animation route, and I don’t like it very much. The game isn’t manga-like enough to be super-hip, so instead, it just feels cartoonish. Menacing characters like Handsome Jack, who tries to you off in the opening sequence via a double-crossing explosion, are not at all fearsome. Your four heroes from the first game all appear as non-playable characters in this game. They are pretty cool in conception and rendering.
- Also back is Claptrap, a droid that’s somewhat of a cross between a snarky, profane C3PO with the body of an R2D2. Claptrap acts as your guide, and is a fairly detestable character, who left me cold. When his camera eye got plucked out by an alien on the first mission, I didn’t care. Still, I had no choice but to go out and put my Zero character at risk to restore the loathsome droid’s sight.
- Borderlands 2’s single-player campaign mode isn’t as good as what you’ll find in games like COD: Black Ops or the Medal of Honor series. There’s too much “feast-or-famine” hunting for tasks, supplies and a good battle for this to be a fun game all the way through.
- I played with my 14-year-old son, and we found ourselves spending a lot of time mindlessly opening supply boxes and mailboxes to find bullets, health boosts and other goodies we didn’t really want or need yet. You also wander a lot in winter wastelands that are hard to find your way around, due to the cartoonish blockiness. The game’s mapping was detailed, though, and at first, it was fun to explore a bit. It became a nuisance later. I was reminded a couple of times of the desolate feeling you have on the road while playing Skyrim and struck by how long it took to get from one action point to another. Luckily, the developers built quick-travel machines into the game, allowing you short-circuit some of that boring travel time.
- Controls are very similar to COD, which makes the game very familiar and easy to play right out of the box. Combat is definitely the best part of Borderlands 2, and when I found a good fight, I really got immersed. There were, however, too many interludes between pitched battles. The artificial intelligence of the aliens and other enemies in this game is excellent, and I found it hard to outsmart and outmaneuver them. I tried to outfox stone-throwing monsters by racing from one side of a sheltering shack to another, but they blew my strategy by simply coming at me from all sides, and in numbers. The best way to fight, I found, was to wade right in, blasting away with whatever weapons I had at hand.
- The types of guns and sheer number of available weapons in Borderlands 2 is overwhelming. There are pistols, shotguns and automatic guns and lots of variations and accoutrements you can add to make them better or more deadly. Incendiary guns are a good way to stop other humanoid enemies, I found. In the early stages of the game, I was able to switch between two different weapons, and had to go into my backpack if I wanted to switch them out. Keeping an inventory of your weapons is a bit complicated as the game goes on, and I found myself holding onto too many guns that were too similar to each other to be of much use. Likewise, you can acquire or purchase better shielding for yourself.
- There’s a “fight-for-your-life” mode that lets you get a “second wind” if you kill an alien before your life meter runs out. The game slows down and goes black-and-white during this mode, and aiming is slower and harder, so you’ll have to be deft to recover.
- As a $30 impulse buy, priced about the same as games like “NASCAR Unleashed,” I wouldn’t have a problem recommending Borderlands 2 as a fun diversion. At twice that price, though, I think it’s fair for players to demand the whole magilla – cutting-edge development, engrossing campaign gameplay, scads of downloadable content, a rich social media/community experience, sharing of loot and gear and online multiplayer modes that keep you and your friends coming back until the next version of the game comes out.
- And Borderlands 2 misses on enough counts so that I not only didn’t joy puke, I didn’t even get a tiny bit of mirthful bile in my throat. It may be the game for you, but if you’re in the market for a new FPS, I’d at least counsel waiting to compare it to Black Ops 2, due out in mid-November, or Halo 4, which is slated for an early November release.
a guest Sep 18th, 2012 18 Never
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