Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC
Gearbox Software/2K Games
Once you get to a certain cynical age, Christmas morning (or whatever gift-giving holiday you personally celebrate) changes. It’s still fun and all, but maybe you feel a pang of nostalgia for the days when you gleefully ripped paper off presents and gasped with wide-eyed wonder at your shiny new toys.
Enter Borderlands 2, Texas-based Gearbox Software’s follow-up to their hugely successful 2009 sci-fi Western, Borderlands. This is a game so stuffed with digital playthings of mayhem that you’d have to be awfully jaded not to crack a smile.
Case in point: My Borderlands 2 character, a rail-thin assassin named Zero, has just cleared out an encampment of bandits on the Road Warrior-esque mining world of Pandora. It’s been a long, tough fight, with the ultimate goal being to exact revenge on behalf of a dude named Loggins by, uh, setting the bandits’ volleyball net on fire.
Apparently the enemies in this stronghold – a pilot training academy of sorts – wouldn’t let Loggins play volleyball with them.
Pilot academy? Volleyball? Loggins sending me into the danger zone to fight some top guns? I see what you did there, Borderlands 2. And the final mini-boss characters are shirtless men with ripped abs, brush cuts and Ray-Bans. Playing with the boys, indeed.
Once all the enemies have been dispatched, I open a chest – one of literally hundreds upon hundreds of crates, lockers and other loot-holding containers scattered around the world of Borderlands 2 – and discover a sniper rifle more powerful than any current weapon I own.
It fires in bursts. It shocks bad guys with electricity. If I hit them in the head, it does ridiculous amounts of damage. I feel like a kid who just unwrapped a Red Ryder BB gun. Until an hour later, when I discover an even deadlier, cooler, more bad-ass gun. Rinse and repeat.
And that’s the magic of Borderlands 2. It’s a game that takes the piss out of the Gears of Duty on the Battlefield gun-porn shooter genre, yet invigorates it through well-meshed systems of drip-fed rewards that are so slick, you almost don’t realize you’re the video game equivalent of a chicken repeatedly pecking at a button to make a food pellet drop.
Picking up five years after the events of its predecessor, Borderlands 2 casts players as one of four adventurers who have travelled to Pandora looking for a hidden vault – basically, the same set-up as the original Borderlands, but with different heroes (once again, up to four people can play together cooperatively), fresh places to explore and a new villain in the form of corporate CEO Handsome Jack, one of the most wonderfully douchebaggy baddies in recent gaming memory.
It’s a first-person shooter at heart, but also taps into the kill-and-loot-and-level-up cycle that makes games like Diablo and World of Warcraft so addictive, with a little bit of Grand Theft Auto’s open world approach mixed in.
Is it fresh? Is it new? Not really. Borderlands 2 sticks to a familiar formula, but is elevated by deft humour, clever design, graphic novel-inspired visuals and that constant push to keep pecking at the button to get another pellet.
And really, any video game that can get me genuinely excited about opening boxes to see what’s inside deserves a lot of credit. It’s like Christmas. With guns.
Borderlands 2 is an efficient and well-oiled – if somewhat familiar – fun machine.