One Final Borderlands Hurrah (On Current Gen)!
So here’s the thing about Borderlands, and it applies for the most part no matter which iteration you’re faced with. It’s just fun. It’s damn fun, and no matter how many Border-haters come out of the woodwork to tell you why it isn’t a real first person shooter or a true RPG, the funness (yes, it’s a word…at least for the purposes of this review) will always win out.
I offer up that initial proviso because without it at the forefront, I don’t believe I could give proper justice to the frame of mind within which I have played and ultimately reviewed 2K’s latest and greatest “pre-sequel” of its esteemed Borderlands franchise. To be fair, I am probably a bit biased going into this in the same way that I was the first time I fired up Batman: Arkham Origins. I knew the initial press wasn’t quite as positive as the previous main storyline titles, but it didn’t matter—I was about to play a game that was laden with history for me, from my surprise at the utter quality of the first release to the way the sequel blew the door off the hinges, and everything in-between. For me, that’s the framework I was working with when I popped in Pre-Sequel! for the first time, and no amount of intellectualizing would change that. It was giddy smile from minute one.
So now that we have all of that out of the way, let’s talk about the game, shall we? First off, it is worth noting that if you’ve played any of the Borderlands franchise games recently—including the polarizing Vita port—you will be right at home when you start up a new game. And when I say right at home, I mean right at home. The menu interface resemblance between the second Borderlands and the Pre-Sequel is uncanny, to the point that one wonders whether any changes were made at all (I didn’t take the time to investigate too deeply into this, so I’ll assume there are some ever so subtle distinctions available). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, as veterans of the series will undoubtedly recall the simplicity with which one can get started from scratch, and this applies whether the player is beginning a typical single player campaign or opting for online matchmaking (same opportunity to invite friends for some online or local coop action if you’re into that sort of thing late at night).
Something I made note of in the very beginning of my experience with the Pre-Sequel is the way the game welcomed previous players of the series with a simple “Thank You!” message along with the details of some skins, etc., that returning players would receive for demonstrating their loyalty to the franchise. Kind of Big Brotherly in one respect, but sweet in another. It’s the little things, sometimes.
After a brief introduction where a strung up Athena the Gladiator is explaining to her supposed torturer why she “did it,” we are re-introduced to the usual suspects of playable characters in the Borderlands universe: Athena, Wilhelm the Enforcer, and Nisha the Lawbringer. Oh yeah, and a little guy named CLAPTRAP THE FRAGTRAP. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, our favorite mechanical annoyance from the past is not only alive and well in this version of the Lands, but playable as well. I mean seriously, could the good folks over at 2K have offered a better early Christmas present? And right off the bat, no less!
Players are given the usual opportunity to select their desired character based on both the quick animation sets that the series has become so famous for, and an unfortunately slim set of profile traits making up each of the possible protagonists. As a veteran of the series I wasn’t in the slightest bit concerned at the lightness of things like starter weapons and abilities, but I can easily imagine a first timer in the Borderlands universe feeling unnecessary confusion at how to select without the additional necessary knowledge that these sorts of upgrades have a way of working themselves out before too long. And in this respect, the Pre-Sequel! is no exception, as within mere minutes we are whisked into a wonderfully colorful and ultraviolent altercation between “us” and “them,” where simply making our way from the game’s starting point to the enemies’ stronghold some fifty yards away offers up instance after instance after instance of loot crates and corpse drop offs (depending on how many bad guys you can off in the process), essentially leveling you up once if not twice in the process.
And this brings me to probably the biggest “gripe” I can offer about the Pre-Sequel!, though it isn’t immediately obvious how best to describe it. Perhaps the best way to illustrate my concerns would be to say that the feel of the game, while certainly one of a quality and entertaining mold, is a bit closer to a stand-alone expansion of the previous iterations of the series than a brand new, wholly independent game. The usual explanations and tips are provided throughout the first couple of gameplay hours with regard to things like Badass Rankings, SHIFT Codes and weapon or class upgrades, but I couldn’t help but feel as though these were provided to players more as a reminder of something already known (and recently discussed), rather than a potentially new intellectual property.
Don’t get me wrong, I would be the first to encourage developers to rely on previous storylines and gameplay strategies to set the stage for a new episode in a gaming series, so long as there is the requisite time and energy spent in allowing newbies of the franchise to acquaint themselves not just with things like shooting mechanics and movement techniques, but also with the universe itself and where we all are at that point in the game (no pun intended). I could be alone in this, and in some sense I almost hope I am, given how much I enjoyed the rest of the components of the game, but it almost feels as though the Pre-Sequel was willing to sacrifice the initial story development for the speed of just getting into it all. It’s an all too common tale of substance versus style, and while no one in their right mind could accuse any of the Borderlands titles of lacking in the style department, a little more “Ok, that’s why we’re here” could have been helpful in the beginning.
So there’s the bad. Fortunately, the rest of my experience with the Pre-Sequel felt right at home with some of my best memories of the series, especially from the standpoints of gameplay and humor. The replacement of the barren wastelands of the first two titles with Pandora’s moon as the primary gameplay environment is more than just a nice updated tweak to an old formula; it is a true game changer in many respects. Not only does anti-gravity and its various effects on running, jumping, and so on pervade actions previously taken as a second nature on Pandora, but the character’s very ability to breathe becomes a constant concern as he or she attempts to huff it from one spot flush with oxygen to another without perishing in the process. And while it does admittedly get a bit old, even with fast travel locales, having to spend that amount of time within a twenty-or-so hour campaign just, well, hopping through the atmosphere to get from point A to point B, the bonuses are truly worth it. Sneak attacks and aerial assaults take on entirely new meaning when you can jump like Michael Jordan in Space Jam, and that added dimension was a welcomed one in my book.
Returning to the second component of the Pre-Sequel! that made playing through it so enjoyable, humor once again takes center stage—but in a slightly different way than before. Actually, in an entirely different way, and it’s all due to a guy we’ve come to know as Handsome Jack. The ruthless, vicious, murderous, and everything else bad while still being funny as all hell super villain of Borderlands 2 is “back” in this prequel (for him) appearance, only this time he hasn’t crossed over to the dark side. Yet. But worry not friends, as voice actor Dameon Clarke is as on point as ever before with his treatment of the guy who, before all of the mania and ultra-violence, just wants to stop a bunch of criminals from blowing up the moon. With the confidence and swagger we became used to replaced by a sort of pathetic sarcasm and wit, Jack still shines as the character that we look forward to hearing from, even if he is finding nice ways to predict our upcoming deaths. He’s just cool like that.
Skill trees are back and about as crazy as ever before, with each available character having specific abilities tailored to their experience sets. As I played for the most part as Athena, I got used to having a kind of laser light Captain America-style shield available for throwing (although to be fair, it looked a lot cooler than it was effective), but I am pretty much guaranteeing myself that the next go-round will be with Mr. Trap and his bag of undoubtedly useless tricks. Beyond the solidly funny but at times dragged out single player campaign I was able to spend a bit of time dabbling in the online multiplayer/matchmaker options available to me on the PS3, and I was immediately impressed with the speed and fluidity with which the game was able to match me with a couple of players who were at my part of the story. It’s hard not to wonder, as always, how much of this is based on the internet connection and infrastructure as opposed to the game itself and its dedicated servers, but I figured I’d leave those considerations for smarter techies out there and just say it all seemed to work fine.
In summation, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! by no means reinvents the wheel that has been keeping gamers satisfied for years now, and it doesn’t appear to have intended to. While there are some flaws in the narrative setup of the story and the manner by which players are able to get from beginning to middle to end, all in all it is what I always expected it to be: a fun, funny experience with colorful characters, colorful environments, and colorful loot throughout it all. Could be worse, right?
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Same old Borderlands visuals, but that’s not a bad thing. PS3 version had a few minor glitches, but nothing terrible. Colorful as ever. 3.6 Control
2K took some interesting chances with the anti-gravity environment, and it paid off…usually. While slow motion and high area jumping was a welcomed addition, turning and firing in mid-air was nowhere near as intuitive as one would have thought. 4.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great, as always. Funny dialogue, Handsome Jack is great as usual, and the score takes on a creepier than normal vibe. 4.4 Play Value
FPS principles + Looting + Comedy – Full gravity = A damn fun experience overall. 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best