Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Review - Games Weekly

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Review

Let’s see: a last-gen only Borderlands prequel developed by an outsourced studio under the guidance of Gearbox, who itself is still wrapped up in Aliens: Colonial Marines fallout. Yeah… it’s going to be really hard to convince you that this one isn't a train wreck, isn't it?

Quite the contrary, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel demonstrates 2K Australia’s spooky ability to impersonate an on-form Gearbox. The foundations of the game are unchanged and unwavering in excellence: it’s still funny, it’s still a seamless co-op experience and it still fetishizes the acquisition of a new boomstick better than anyone. However and this is its biggest accomplishment it also introduces new systems that feel right at home in the series.

These systems all pertain to your new setting on Elpis, the moon of Pandora you know, that planet you spilled guns all over in Borderlands 1 and 2. Fighting alongside Handsome Jack before he goes all dark side, you’re very much in alien territory in a narrative as well as a geographical sense. Elpis’ atmosphere isn’t breathable to humans, falling victim to a phenomenon called ‘the crackening’ some years ago, which broke up the surface with lakes of lava.

B:TPS weaponises every element of this new setting: enemies now wear helmets begging to be smashed to stylishly suffocate their evil occupants. Jump pads pepper indoor and outdoor areas, sending you hundreds of feet through the air across canyons and into gliding gunfights. Oh, and pressing -O- while skyward sends you crashing to the ground with shockwave inducing ‘butt stomp’.

It’s the Grinder that takes the spoils for 2K Australia’s best new invention, though. Chuck three weapons into its disquieting machinery and there’s a chance it’ll spit out a better one with a higher rarity.

There’s also a chance it’ll ruin three perfectly good guns and reimburse you with one of the same rarity. But if you throw in a few moonstones (Elpis’ equivalent of Pandora’s black market currency, Eridium) you ensure you’ll get the best outcome. It really feels like it should have been in Borderlands from the start.

As do, in fact, the game’s four new character builds. Because they kinda were. Wilhelm, Athena, Nisha and lovable ol’ Claptrap have all taken their turn in supporting NPC roles previously, but their Enforcer, Gladiator, Lawbringer and Fragtrap classes are all-new.

The latter two are the real highlights here; Nisha’s golden revolver auto aims and deals massive damage to all and sundry when her special attack is unleashed.

Whereas if like this insufferable writer you’ve been playing Borderlands in co-op with the same patient buddy from the very first game with the sole objective of annoying that other person, Claptrap is a gift from the gods. His feeble and always hilarious special attacks are funny enough that you stop caring about the numbers for a few seconds.

Unfortunately we do have problems to talk through. The first is framerate, and the plunge it takes when gunfights get busy. Given that you’ve already met B:TPS halfway by retrieving your PS3 from the flaming Viking funeral boat you pushed out to sea months ago, it’s just not acceptable to find the game struggling to run on such familiar hardware.

But what really holds 2K Australia’s largely successful addition to the series back from garnering the same praise its ancestors received is the sensation that this was never intended to further the Borderlands franchise. It’s not a serious attempt at evolution, but a best-case scenario of what happens when you give a popular series and an existing engine to a new studio.

2K Australia has done itself proud, not least for daring to inject a definite Aussie flavour into the game, including a Ned Kelly-inspired boss fight. But releasing as it is on old hardware, and reusing so much of Borderlands 2’s DNA admittedly to good effect Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel can’t help but give off a whiff of feature-length DLC.


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