This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Borderlands 2.
Borderlands was a game from 2010 about a prolonged second-hand gun bring-and-buy sale that some people liked and I didn't very much. There's a longer version of this story obviously, but basically while shooting Jason Vorhees in a scrapyard might sound like a stimulating escape from the workaday world, it loses something when it's all you're supposed to do for about twelve hours. Borderlands? More like Bored...rlands!
But now it's time for the sequel and just to remind you of my personal formula for sequels, a good sequel leaps off from the original spreading silvery wings to explore uncharted skies while a bad sequel spends most of its runtime motorboating the original's titties and rubbing its head in the gravel. So in what category sits Borderlands 2? Well, from the comfortable territory of shooting Jason Vorhees in a scrapyard, Borderlands 2 has shyly thrown aside its dressing gown and taken its first nervous tentative step into the unexplored realms of shooting Jason Vorhees in a scrapyard and also it's been snowing a bit. Borderlands? More like Snore-derlands... 2!
Anyway, we return to the planet Pandora (or to give it its full name, the planet Pandora-No-Not-That-One) with four Vault hunters of varying skill sets, different superficially from the four Vault hunters from the previous game but not in any practical sense, and after the Vault that drove the first game's plot was revealed to be short on treasure and long on tentacles, it turns out there's actually more than one treasure Vault on Pandora-No-Not that one, some of which actually do have treasure in. So that means that everyone in the game gets to keep calling you Vault hunter. Phew, thought we'd have to change our stationery!
But now your quest is to end the tyrannical regime of one Handsome Jack who lures you out to Pandora-No-Not that one and then try to kill you because he hates Vault hunters! Oh no, wait, actually he wants to manipulate Vault hunters, but then why would he try to kill you? Oh stop thinking about it and kill some more Jasons, Mr. Picky-Pants! After Rage demonstrated that you can't ask someone to hate a villain who spends most of the game quietly minding their own business behind a big wall, Handsome Jack's job is to call you up every five minutes and be an asshole at you, although come to think about it, that might describe the behaviour of every character in the game.
The hilarious thing about Borderlands 2 is that its main strategy for ramping up the stakes is to tell you the stakes are ramped up and that's about it. The player characters from the last game show up as NPCs just to confuse matters, let's call them Team Widdlebiscuit, and when a big robot boss shows up some way into Borderlands 2, they make a point of going, "Oh no, not that guy! He defeated all of Team Widdlebiscuit off-screen, no really!" And then I took him down inside five minutes! Now bearing in mind Team Widdlebiscuit basically defeated Shub Niggurath last time around, either we take from this that the new characters are all super-powered in the least apparent way possible or maybe Team Widdlebiscuit have spent the last two years sitting around drinking pints of cream with ring doughnuts hooked over the rims.
Or alternatively, Gearbox is trying to dress up the sequel as bigger and better despite it being neither of those things and not having significantly evolved in the slightest degree, and if that's the case, then the really insulting part is the halfheartedness in the disguise. It's like a small boy sitting half-in and half-out of a bear's mouth and trying to get into a nightclub by claiming to be Robin Williams.
So like its predecessor, Borderlands 2 is a game that's all wallpaper and keeps introducing new quirky characters with graphical freeze-frame effects like how a character called Jimmy Ninecocks would be introduced in a Guy Ritchie film, and then every single one proceeds to stand around doing bugger-all except explain that you're going to have to raid another bandit camp. Usually it's because the bandits nicked some component you need for the story mission. Yes, bandits snuck into someone's house while the occupant was presumably off doing something wacky and hilarious, and made off with a single dubiously resellable piece of highly technical equipment rather than any, say, money.
Perhaps everyone should rethink the standard home security policy of letting every random thug wander in and ransack every box with a green light on the front. It's like bandits are the local equivalent of Oompah-Loompahs whose job is to contrivedly pad out the gameplay before too many interesting things happen in quick enough succession to actually start engaging me. Strip off that quirky wallpaper and we're left with dull repetitive shooting where every gun somehow manages to be slightly worse than the previous one.
Borderlands is a game in which the central mechanic is the maniacal gathering of random objects, like a fat bastard who suspects he's about to be thrown out of the buffet, and proudly self-identifies as a shoot-and-loot game. Personally though, I call it stop-and-start. It's like riding a rollercoaster that just won't build up a decent speed because it comes to a lurching halt every ten feet so you can pick some flowers. You clear an area of baddies (perhaps you might even enjoy doing so, you monster), but then you have to rummage around opening the empty boxes and lockers, holding down X to pick up the ammo and money, checking every weapon against all your current weapons to make sure they wouldn't make things 0.1% more dead. Why make us open five adjoining lockers one by one when we could have dumped all their contents into one convenient trough? It's like the game takes perverse pride in flowing like a string of three-inch beads into a virgin butthole.
And why can't I track more than one quest at a time? Is it so maddening that I might want to take care of a few issues in the same general area at once rather than adhere rigidly to the to-do list like a passive-aggressive bureaucrat? Believe me, Borderlands, it would work in your favour to let me spend as little time as possible in the company of your user interface. Me and that guy, we don't get along too well. He got drunk at a party once and started asking women to sort his tabs. I can't remember, did I mention that the vehicles in Borderlands handle like ass? Well, they do, as in they literally handle like someone stuck a steering column into a giant pair of twitching buttocks that slide along the ground leaving a trail of ball sweat.
The best way to review a game I find is to start with the broad overall gut opinion about it and then work backwards to explain those feelings, and in the case of Borderlands, my broad analysis is that it bores me to fucking tears, and in fine analysis, there are lots of little reasons for that: the quest system, the item grind, the fact that I spent several hours stuck using an assault rifle with a ten bullet clip and a four-second reload time. But at the end of the day, all you need to take is that after a while, I was greeting each new swarm of baddies as a data entry clerk would treat a fresh stack of forms plopping into their in-tray at four in the afternoon.
I don't even have the enthusiasm to hate it that much. Well, I used to, but then some bandits nicked it!
Got a finger stuck in Pandora's Box: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
I never understood the phrase 'bored to tears' until the day I accidentally mistook an upward-pointing drill bit for a bicycle saddle
How can a whole planet consist entirely of 'borderlands' anyway