Right in your eyeballs

Borderlands 2 Review: Kirk Mckeand

Borderlands 2 Review: Kirk Mckeand.

Gunfire lands around you like hail, in the confusion your co-op buddy gets overwhelmed and his incessant cries for help dominate your headset; you leap into action and toss an incendiary grenade into the masses, which upon impact turns into a Catherine wheel of destruction. Satisfying numbers pop all around you, enemies flail and scream as their flesh chars; it seems you have brought yourself some time. You reach your friend with five seconds to spare and  jump straight over his stupid head, his cries for help turn into insults as you casually stroll up to the weapon case behind him. Who needs friends anyway? A sniper rifle that fires anti-tank rounds is much more reliable.

   Let us get one thing straight, Borderlands 2 is fun… a lot of fun. The opening cinematic grabs you by your nethers and refuses to let go; in about 4 minutes it crams in: midget headbutts, animal cruelty, a double impaling and more humour than most games fit in their whole run-time. This introduces you to the 4 playable characters: Axton – the commando, Maya – the siren, Salvador – the gunzerker and Zero – the assassin. Each character has unique abilities and on top of that each has 3 different skill trees, allowing you to specialise in certain areas; like sniping or melee.

The X Factor auditions became heated.

I instinctively went for “Zero” on my playthrough, maybe because there is nothing more satisfying than seeing the red mist through a sniper scope, maybe because I have wanted to be a cyber-ninja since Hideo Kojima showed me how cool they are. Zero’s special ability is to turn invisible and simultaneously create a decoy, I mainly used this ability to allow my shields to charge, to revive a downed ally or to flank enemies. Of his 3 skill trees, I went for the one focused on sniping; increased headshot damage, accuracy bonuses etc. Although I love sniping,   you really must adapt your tactics on-the-fly. Some encounters call for a subtle approach like sniping, some call for a beast of a shotgun that blows the crap out of everything.

Borderlands 2 is all about having 50 bazillion guns, and eviscerating the various denizens of the hostile planet Pandora with them until your eyes bleed. There really are some great toys to play with, you have your standard fare: Sniper rifles, assault rifles, pistols, SMG’s, shotguns and giant rocket launchers. The variations on these specific weapon types though, are anything but standard. There are pistols that fire needles, which explode and set enemies on fire, there are weapons that you throw like a grenade when you reload, and when they explode they re-materialise in your hand; fully loaded. Every gun feels unique, you might have a slow-firing, accurate,  flame-spitting sniper rifle one second, and the next a sniper rifle that fires on full-auto, has explosive rounds and shakes more than an addict going cold turkey.

Gun no.400330004943

Your weapons can come imbued with a variety of elemental buffs, in total there are 4: incendiary; useful against flesh, corrosive; burns through armour, shock; takes down shields, and finally slag, which coats enemies in a substance that increases the damage dealt by none-slag weapons. If you have a team of 4, all tooled up to the eyeballs with the right weapon selection, you can literally tear through the opposition.

In my playthrough most of the useful weapons came from completing side missions, but with the chests being completely random, you could find your dream death-dealer at any time. The guns mostly feel satisfying to handle (there is the odd one that is totally unwieldy) the game could easily be a standalone shooter and it would still be miles ahead of similar games like RAGE. Do you remember the first time you dropped an enemy on Call of Duty multiplayer? Every encounter on Borderlands is that satisfying. Numbers pop up, indicating the damage you are causing, and watching them increase as your gear gets stronger along with your character is hyper-addictive. Enemies react to every bullet too, a leg shot will trip an opponent, you can shoot mechanised enemies limbs off, you can shoot thrown projectiles straight out of the air etc. The feedback you get from shooting, coupled with the physics engine, just makes the combat feel great.

You also get a variety of shields that equip you with various buffs, some deal elemental damage when you are attacked by melee, some drop boosters that instantly recharge your shield and some even talk to you. Once your shield is depleted you take damage to your health, but if you manage to avoid damage for a set time it will recharge. If the odds are stacked against you and your health is depleted to zero you enter “last stand” mode, in this mode you will respawn instantly if you kill an enemy, or one of your teammates can revive you. If you bleed out while in “last stand” you will respawn at the last checkpoint (which will take a percentage of your money) and even these checkpoints come out with some witty one-liners, my favourite is when it tells you to try not to think about your body being a digital reconstruction, as your original body died the first time you did.

The frame rate mostly keeps up, which is some accomplishment.

Another thing that feels fantastic is the driving. The driving model is ripped straight from Halo, one stick gets pushed forward to accelerate, the other points the camera where you want to go. You can perform power-slides with the right trigger and boost with the left, it takes a bit of getting used to, but it is never anything other than fun. The car you start with is a fast little 2 seater (1 driver, 1 gunner) but you unlock more as the story progresses, and you can spawn 2 vehicles at a time to cater for 4 player co-op.  Fighting other vehicles is also a joy, as your guns tear into them, sparks fly and chunks of metal fly off, and when you land the killing blow slow-mo kicks in as they spin to their fiery deaths. You can also customise your vehicles with paint jobs, purely for aesthetic preferences, you can also customise your characters skin and change their faces.

The environments in the game are massively improved from the original, you traverse icy tundras, explore hidden caves with corrosive lakes, and visit countless other memorable locations, there is just a world of variety. Throughout the game you can see the base of your enemy “Handsome Jack” floating in the atmosphere, and on occasion it even fires upon Pandora. There was a particular interactive cutscene, I was so busy admiring the detail and trying to get a perfect viewing angle, I strafed off the edge of a cliff…to my death. The cell shaded art style suits the game perfectly, and I certainly didn’t expect it to be able to compete with more “real” games in the looks department, but the style works brilliantly. The sky changes hue depending on the time of the day, and the colour palette reflects off surfaces like water, it is just a massive breath of fresh air in a world of grey/brown me-too shooters.

The environments really are brilliant, and each area is unique.

 It is a shame then that small details break the illusion that 2k Games have obviously worked so hard creating, in my playthrough I have encountered texture pop-in on a regular basis, invisible walls, the odd area where you can see how the scenery fits together and enemies turning invisible. The game is huge, so problems are to be expected, and they are minor compared to other open-world games, it is just a shame these details hold the game back from perfection. Another problem I came across was objective markers not moving with the character that the quest is associated with, this cost me 30 minutes, but en-route I came across a couple of side quests I had missed, and my character gained a level so I didn’t mind.
  There are hundreds of quests, and there is a surprising amount of variety in them too considering it is really just an FPS. Some quests have bonus objectives (like kill the enemy with a specific weapon) which yield greater rewards, adding a tactical element to otherwise straightforward encounters. You also complete challenges ranging from kill a certain amount of enemies, to trade with co-op buddy 10 times. These challenges increase your Badass rank, and every time you fill the bar you get a token to spend on a statistical increase; this increase is permanent and increases the stats for all of your characters. The Badass ranks are infinite, and as long as you keep completing challenges you can become infinitely more powerful; I am sure months down the line we will start to see some massively overpowered players.

How Badass do you want to be?

  Another thing I’m going to gush over is the writing, this is the only game I have played recently where I have actually laughed out loud at the dialogue. They really are the most memorable characters in recent memory, “Tiny Tina” a 13-year-old pyromaniac sociopath is a particular highlight. Even the standard enemy types have more character in their short lives than most games cram into their short-by-comparison run times, one of my favourite one liners was when i shot a bandit in the face and he retorted “you think that’s the first time I been shot in the face?” Handsome Jack is another brilliant character, and even though he is pure evil, you will find yourself growing fond of him, one of my friends said he reminded him of “The Joker” and I must say, his comparison is spot on.
    If you are going to play the game solo you will enjoy it, but the true game is when there are four of you kicking ass and taking names. The monsters get stronger, the loot gets better and there are countless other advantages of playing online. One thing I would suggest though is play with people you know, because as my  opening paragraph states, it is a bad idea to play with strangers.So to summarise, Borderlands 2 is a kaleidoscope of explosions and comedy, wrapped around a meaty shooter served with a side of awesome, but if you are going lone wolf deduct 10% off the final score.80%

 

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6 responses

  1. Borderlands 2 is a game I know I will love…and yet I have no hype for it. I think the first game burnt me out a little.

    October 15, 2012 at 10:05 am

  2. Kai

    Also i might add that this game basically makes RAGE seem redundant

    October 6, 2012 at 7:49 pm

  3. Kai

    Borderlands 2 is probably my game of the year so far.Mass Effect 3 comes very close!

    October 6, 2012 at 7:48 pm

  4. Already told you on twitter, but i loved this review Kirk! Unfortunately haven’t had a chance to play it myself (lack of funds) but this makes me just want to more! Added your site to my favourites 😉

    October 1, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    • Thanks man, you should play it when you get chance. One of the best games of the year.

      October 1, 2012 at 8:25 pm

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