As soon as I hear the word Borderlands my face often pulls a stupid grin. Both Borderlands 1&2 brought hours of joy, especially playing alongside friends and family, as we lay to waste the many tiny axe wielding psychos. So when I heard the aptly named Borderlands The Pre-Sequel (so named as the game is set between the events of Borderlands 1 & 2) was out in time for Christmas, it became one of the games that reached the top of my Christmas list.
Sadly this is the type of game you give to someone on the naughty list. Gearbox and 2k have handed over this episode of the franchise to 2k Australia, whom sadly haven’t captured the games’ true essence. Yes, it looks like a Borderlands game and perhaps even plays like one, but it certainly doesn’t feel like one.
The humour is tentative at best and is clearly pulling its punches in comparison to previous outings. The off the wall, over the top, gore fest would never have been afraid to go too far or too surreal. But this time the comic book styled, high-octane first person shooter mash-up feels somewhat subdued and lacklustre.
The jokes aren’t that funny, the characters are predictable and poorly scripted and the plot has a general lack of energy about it. The complete opposite to what made a Borderlands game so enticing. Before, Borderlands was fast, slick and all about gunning down enemies quicker than your comrades. You could set your stop watch to Borderlands The Pre-Sequel as almost every moment was pretty predictable and uneventful. Even familiar and much-loved characters seemed like a shadow of their former selves. Handsome Jack being the biggest let down. I appreciate 2k Australia taking the angle of Jack being ‘some what’ of a good guy before becoming the infamous super villain in Borderlands 2. But to mess with Handsome Jacks’ core isn’t sacrilege, but just plain dumb. Handsome Jack is by far one of videogames’ best villain and to let him be central to the story, yet put the shackles on was a poor move. Every time Jack came on-screen I was expecting him to deliver a killer line that would have me in stitches. I’m still waiting. In Borderlands 2 Handsome Jack was like a raging hard on, in Borderlands the Pre-Sequel he’s very much in need of viagra.
So we’ve established that tone, humour and characterisation are somewhat lacking. But does Borderlands The Pre-Sequel deliver in other areas. Well it’s hard to tell. The game is somewhat buggy and, for lack of a better term, laggy. But not on multiplayer, the game freezes or the frame rate jumps because of the sheer amount happening on-screen, except their doesn’t appear to be too much happening on-screen. Yes, the excessive blood, acid and lava spillage look great but surely not enough to tamper with the flow of the game? Sometimes I would come across broken quests or smash into something only to end up somewhere else on the map. This doesn’t make the new Borderlands unplayable, but just a little tedious.
During the preview trailers 2k Australia showcased some of the new features. The moon of Elpis is devoid of oxygen and players must refill their oxygen tanks by running indoors or standing over pockets of air spores dotted around the moon. Interesting at first but soon becomes pointless, because with certain equipment upgrades you rarely run out of oxygen, even during some of the more intense skirmishes.
With the lack of gravity on the moon’s surface, you can jump incredibly high but can then soon follow this up by smashing the ground knocking back enemies. For me the impetus of this effect is lost in first person mode as the devastation can’t fully be seen and the novelty to pound the ground soon wears off. In fact Elpis soon becomes a novelty in itself. For an enclosed sandbox most of the locations all look the same, an almost endless wallpaper of cold blue and off white colours that help accentuate the sprays of gore throughout the game. But this is reflective of the overall games lack of charisma.
There are also new ice and laser weapons. The ice weapons coupled with a melee or slam attack can cause your enemies to smash into a million pieces, which is incredibly satisfying. Laser weapons are pretty cool too as, depending on whether there is oxygen is present, they can cause enemies to burst into flame.
Another nice touch is that, for the first time, the four main protagonists have voices and that the games’ script adapts to whomever you are playing as. This is a nice way to get a sense of the character you are playing, rather than the faceless non entities often associated with FPS’. You can also discover various back stories as characters often radio in asking you questions about your past.
So what has Borderlands the Pre-Sequel managed to do well? Well the cell shaded comic book style graphics still look superb and provide an aesthetic that affords the Borderlands series to stand out from the crowd. The endless array of weaponry is almost unrivalled. Borderlands boast a ‘bazillion’ guns and that’s exactly what you get. Granted these are just subtle permutations or a splicing of one weapon with another, but still, no two guns are quiet the same. Each new weapon challenges you as a gamer as some are easier to handle than others.
The levelling up system is still one of my favourites. Simple and accessible to all, yet provides enough diversity to bolster your preferred play style. So whether you are aggressive, supportive or built like a tank, the three separate skill trees for each of the 4 playable characters has something to offer for everyone. Couple that with the fact that some of our heroes (or villains if you prefer) have some really amazing yet quirky abilities and powers to unlock, that never seem to get old.
Whilst Borderlands the Pre-Sequel isn’t a terrible game, it is a bit of a humdrum affair in relation to its predecessors. Poor characterisation, an un-engaging plot, mundane locations, tedious humour couldn’t be saved by some solid gunplay, colourful graphics, explosive weaponry and co-op campaign mode. By all means play Borderlands The Pre-sequel but don’t pay top dollar for it.
Borderlands The Pre-Sequel is available now on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC