Borderlands 2 Review: Kirk Mckeand
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.
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.
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.