Borderlands 2 Review

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The newly released Massively-Multiplayer-Online-First-Person-Shooter-Role-Playing-Game (otherwise known as MMOFPSRPG) from Gearbox Software and 2K Games,  Borderlands 2, is out and we here at 9-2-5 have given it our once-over. Is its critical acclaim worth a look or should it be tossed to the wastes?

If you’ve never played the first Borderlands, the game was a bit like a mix between XIII, Firefly, Mass Effect 1, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day. It’s a weird combination, granted, but the mesh of gunplay, RPG elements, and the essence of a sci-fi/western/comedy create a unique and memorable experience. Gearbox software only needed to create more of that wonderful recipe in a sequel to have a success, and in most ways, they have. This game is still a fully fledged MMOFPSRPG sandbox with zany characters, endless stats lists, numerous pop-culture references and hours of side-quests.

Just like in the first game, the player can choose between solo play or to join up with a band of up to three other players in cooperative multiplayer. The game automatically increases the difficulty based on the number of players. Thankfully, there’s no longer a need to use your Gamespy account on the PC version, and Borderlands 2 uses your Steam account instead.

Regardless of the number of players in the session, gameplay is broadly the same as the first game: complete missions and shoot things; if they don’t die, shoot them more. It’s not brain surgery, but you do see a lot of cranial tissue.

A big factor in the first game’s success was its large, varied arsenal. In this area Borderlands 2 is amply gifted. There are guns for every type of psychosis from ones that explode when you reload to ones with bouncing electrically charged bullets full of “Love” (deadly, deadly love). The weapons of Pandora bring out the gun nut in even the most level-headed of individuals

In fact, there are too many guns. Yes, I know, an impossible thought, but somehow it’s true. There’s such a plethora that there’s often an extended period after a firefight which involves sorting your inventory to

accommodate the new arms and armor. While this type of forced compulsive organization can be fun occasionally, it is so routine it’s turned into a chore. It’s forgivable, though; all it takes is a sniper rifle that fires an accurate burst of acidic bullets and has a bayonet fashioned from, what looks like, a Katana. Watching waves of robots disappear into a puddle of green goo at the other end of the scope seems to wash away the criticisms of the cumbersome inventory system.

On first glance, the graphics in Borderlands 2 don’t look all that much different from the first game. They’re still cell-shaded and stylized, however after a while the improvements start to become more apparent. The cell shading is more subtle than it was in the first installment. At 1080p the posterized edges of the models (that is, the lines which make the outer edge of objects) are thinner and less obtrusive than in the preceding game. It looks more like a moving comic book than a computer-generated world.

For the PC version, there are even added nVidia PhysX effects which garnish the world with small stones and pebbles kicked up from firefights, acidic goo and sludge from barrels and even some more particulate blood and guts from your victims/enemies. It is a subtle improvement, but it is noticeable, and an enjoyable touch.

The sound in Borderlands 2 is a mixed bag. The voice acting, the music and the effects are all great, but the game engine itself sometimes creates issues. The most common issue is drowned out speech. With the default sound balance NPC speech is muffled easily by other effects and even the music. This is fixed by using subtitles, but it’s not an ideal solution and still distracting during intense boss battles.

The best part of the sound, when contrasted with the first game, is the increased importance of dialogue. No longer are there mission statements without accompanied verbal descriptions. Every mission includes guidance from the NPC which assigned it. It’s a great touch, which alleviates the tedium of grinding and keeps the story in focus for the player.

Most modern games come with a number of bugs, it’s just a fact of the medium. Borderlands 2 is no different. Aside from the aforementioned sound glitches, there are random, but fairly regular, game-breaking bugs which force an immediate restart of the program and the loss of progress. One of these even occurred during a major boss fight, as the boss was defeated, which locked the game into an endless fight of waves of minions until the game was reloaded and the boss battle restarted. It would be unfair to hold too much against them for the bugs, though: the game is a long adventure with more content than almost any other in recent memory.

Final Words

Borderlands 2 is, for good and bad, mostly the same as the first Borderlands. The gameplay is a great mix of genres and the experience is a treat both visually and audibly (for the most part). The game isn’t without flaws: the inventory system can be clunky, the gameplay is directly lifted from the first game with little alteration, and there are occasional sound and logic bugs which break immersion. That may sound like a lot, but when the game has more than 40 hours of gameplay, some concessions to human endeavor must be made. If you played the first Borderlands and found you wanted more, this game is a perfect choice. For everyone else, Borderlands 2 is a great romp.

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