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Borderlands 2 360 Review

26/11/2012 Thinking Story Gamer Review
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Borderlands 2 360

Borderlands 2




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Borderlands 2 360 is a pretty much perfect sequel, a whole world packed with funny, violent adventures to have alone or with friends.

The first Borderlands game began with your character getting off a bus at a bus stop. Borderlands 2 begins with your character being thrown from an exploding levitating train and left for dead on a barren glacier.

How's that for a statement of intent? From the very first moment, Borderlands 2 is gleefully determined to deliver more of what was great about the first game, whether that be in terms of quantity or depth or size.

Bigger, stupider monsters. More frequent, sillier jokes. Way bigger explosions. Unbelievably way more and varied firearms tucked away in more little boxes across the planet of Pandora.

It's not like the previous game was holding back on any of this stuff: the first Borderlands was a joyously brash and bold shooter/RPG hybrid with an over the top cartoon aesthetic.

But where that first game discovered its voice late in production - it was famously a much more sober proposition until the art team secretly worked on the now-signature cel-shaded graphics style and pitched it to the leads - Borderlands 2 has the advantage of being developed from the ground up knowing exactly what it wants to be.

And what it is is tremendously entertaining, and a lot more nuanced than its bold, humourous surface may suggest.

Borderlands 2's narrative picks up from the ending of the first game in an interesting way: five years on, the opening of that first vault has caused devastating environmental upheavals that have, in turn, uncovered further vaults that have inspired new waves of vault hunters to set out in search of loot.

An easy place to lose hours searching for more loot.

The heroes of the first game have stepped away into the shadows - although they're not as forgotten as they may at first seem - and the player steps into the shoes of one of four new miscreants.

Whichever character you pick, you end up in the same place at the start of the game - face down on the ice on the aforementioned glacier, the last surviving Claptrap unit about to bury your body before he realises that you're alive and, potentially, his way off this icy rock.

The one-wheeled, one-eyed CL4P-TR4P robots were Borderlands' signature creation, and remain the face of the franchise even now new villain Handsome Jack - the same guy who left your player character for dead - has decommissioned all but one of them.

The surviving Claptrap - the same one you met off the bus in the last game, presumably - remains a delicious foil for the gruff cool of the vault hunters: talkative, deranged, self-serving and never less than entertaining. He's the perfect distillation of this cartoonish SF world, and therefore the perfect character to introduce you to it.

That world is Pandora, a lawless hellhole where bandits, cultists, maniacs, mercenaries, mutants, monsters and troops from ruthless intergalactic corporations roam the badlands killing anything they encounter, preferably vault hunters.

While the specific locations are brand new, and starting the game in the frozen wastes does make a step-change from the dusty plains that characterised most of the first game, Pandora remains reassuringly familiar in its beautiful, stylised bleakness.

It remains a terrific planet to explore, with endless little nooks and crannies to discover, and an easy place to lose hours searching for more loot or uncovering a named location far off the beaten path - but more on that later.

There are flashes of wit and humour in the smallest places.

One major change to Pandora isn't on the ground, but up in the sky - the looming space station where villain Handsome Jack resides.

While Claptrap may be the voice of the series, Handsome Jack is the character who drives the plot of Borderlands 2, whose voice taunts and challenges the player. It doesn't take long for Jack to find out you survived his assassination attempt and contact you via the ECHO communication system, and his mocking, deadpan messages are a definite highlight.

Jack's presence brings a consistency and persistent humour to the story - who can resist a villain boasting that he's bought a diamond pony?

There are plenty of other great characters to be found, old and new. Scooter, Doctor Ned and other old favourites are all still around, while newcomers like bumbling colonial cyborg Lord Hammerlock are welcome additions.

There are flashes of wit and humour in the smallest places, too: get killed, and the machine that respawns you reassures you that it thinks the guy who killed you was a jerk, with a disclaimer to ignore that statement if you committed suicide.

Even the dying utterances of enemies can be funny, like the bleak pathos of a masked psycho moaning 'I regret everything!' as he keels over.

Throughout, the story, exposition and character building is delivered in a way that balances the conflicting demands of story, character, and the needs of an action game with a strong emphasis on co-op play.

Found recordings are the main methods of adding depth and character to the game without unduly holding up the mayhem.

It's not the kind of game that can afford to grind to a halt for long cinematics, and so ECHO messages and found recordings are the main methods of adding depth and character to the game without unduly holding up the mayhem.

Whether you catch any of the story, of course, depends on how you're playing the game. Both Borderlands games are different experiences depending on whether you play with friends or alone, the presence or absence of voice chat creating a different, equally worthwhile ambience.

Play with pals, and Borderlands 2 is a riot, with multiple power-ups and vastly increased waves of enemies causing the screen to fill up with gunfire, explosions, flying bodies and elemental effects. It's tremendous fun, but in some ways it can become a little too much - I completely missed several chunks of story exposition playing socially, not because I was talking to friends but just because I wasn't listening while frantically trying to stay alive.

It was after just such a hectic social session that I decided to restart with a second character and play for a while on my own. With no distracting voicechat, and a rather more manageable level of - admittedly frenetic and exciting - combat to deal with, the atmosphere of Borderlands 2 was decidedly different. Pandora is a different place when you're on your own, still colourful and humorous, but also starkly atmospheric.

Crossing the wilderness between objectives is a romp with friends, but going solo it's a lonely business, the brooding, minimal musical score emphasising the emptiness of the borderlands.

There's so much to do, so much depth and detail to explore on Pandora, that it's worthwhile dabbling in both play styles to get the most out of the game, as well as trying all the different character types. Borderlands 2 is a great game in this respect, as well as a terrifying timesink.

A quick example. Having spent a couple of hours playing with friends, I decided to go back on my own to one of the game's earliest locations, Southern Shelf Bay, to complete one of Borderlands 2's many challenges. Completing challenges provide stat boosting Badass points, but are also an incentive to explore the more obscure corners of the map.

Funny, bombastic, addictive, vast.

Anyway, I set off in search of four telescopes in Southern Shelf Bay. I didn't find all of them, but what I did do was discover a chain of icebergs around the bay, completely separate from any story mission, which could be explored to find monsters and loot. I criss-crossed the area searching for my objective for an hour or so, before jacking the whole business in at stupid o'clock in the morning.

A fruitless expedition, but one which had the unexpected reward of giving me a mini adventure of exploration, all on the very fringes of just one of the game's environments.

My point? Borderlands 2 is an incredibly rich game: funny, bombastic, addictive, vast. It has a great, witty central narrative, but it also provides plentiful opportunities to explore Pandora, making your own stories, either with friends or on your own. It's a game you can get lost in for months.

Written by Mark Clapham

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Mark Clapham writes the Story Gamer column.

"I love a good story. Games tell many different stories: the stories told through cut scenes and dialogue, but also the stories that emerge through gameplay, the stories players make for themselves."

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