When the first Borderlands came out, it was a revelation. It took all the exploration and looting of a Zelda and combined it with the fast-paced shooting of a modern FPS. It made everyone remember the fun that video games can be. Luckily for us all, Borderlands 2 is no different. It takes everything that was wonderful about the first game and amps it up massively. It also addresses some of the biggest complaints about the original, the story being first and foremost.
The plot of Borderlands 2 has drastically improved from the original’s virtually non-existent story. You control one of four vault hunters (The Assassin, The Commando, The Siren, and the Gunzerker) who have crossed paths with Handsome Jack, the head of Hyperion and de facto ruler of Pandora. Jack is attempting to access a hidden vault that contains a being known as The Warrior, who has the ability to destroy all life on Pandora. Unfortunately, the person who opens the Vault controls The Warrior, and Handsome Jack holds the vault key. You, along with the original vault hunters and everyone’s favorite robot sidekick, Claptrap, must stop him.
The story, while simplistic, is able to keep the player entertained for the duration of the game. However, an awful lot of the credit must go to the humor found throughout. There are some genuinely hilarious lines and moments, so much so that it rivals the Portal series in hilarity. From a simple mission involving Claptrap’s exceedingly sad birthday party to Handsome Jack’s ever present communiqués, the jokes fire on all cylinders, and you will find yourself genuinely laughing. Almost every character has at least one great line, and others (such as Claptrap) will keep you chuckling the entire game.
A perfect complement to the humor is the art design. Borderlands 2 has a very distinct look about it, calling to mind more childish games; however, the cartoonish quality of the graphics quickly fades when you shoot a bandit in the head from 300 yards away. This juxtaposition creates an overall sense of irony, which only adds to the humor. Seeing a beautifully rendered cartoon monster swarming at you, only to have his head explode at the last second can make anyone chuckle.
The music also brings a lot to the table. It’s fairly unobtrusive; however, it swells at exactly the right moments, creating a wonderful ambiance. A perfect example is when you make your way to the area of Lynchwood, a Wild West type of town run by a maniacal sheriff. When a fight breaks out, an amazing take on the traditional “Shootout at the O.K. Corral” type music begins to play, providing the perfect complement to the scene taking place. Overall, it’s a great soundtrack that serves its purpose fully: to fine tune the atmosphere to perfect levels.
The controls are dead on: quick, responsive, doing exactly what you need, exactly when you need it. There’s nothing special about them, but familiarity isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The menus are easy to navigate, cutting down on time spent trying to equip a new favorite weapon. A new mini-map has been added to the HUD; however, it’s nothing to write home about. It can help out somewhat in finding your objectives, but it can easily lead you down the completely wrong path as well. One complaint, though, is that you cannot have multiple tasks active at the same time. This can get quite frustrating when you’re doing multiple missions in the same area, as you could be heading towards one objective, only to find out that you passed an objective for a different mission on the way. It’s a minor complaint, but it seems like a bit of an oversight on the designers’ part.
With all that out of the way, we can finally get to the important part: the looting. The looting in Borderlands 2 is, quite possibly, the most rewarding of any game out there. The weapons are innumerable and loot chests are plentiful, leading you to wait with bated breath while they slide open and reveal their coveted contents. On top of that, taking down some of the stronger enemies can net you some ridiculously amazing weaponry. You will never lack for new, better guns; however, Gearbox seems to enjoy toying with their fans. There are multiple weapons that you will get through side quests that are virtually unusable. While they can easily be your strongest gun, they have issues, such as a sniper rifle that chastises you relentlessly or an SMG that screeches like the pipes of Hell when you shoot and brings your movements to a literal crawl. Luckily, this comes off as funny, rather than mind-numbingly annoying; at least, most of the time.
The basic gameplay of Borderlands 2 is familiar to all modern gamers: get guns, find enemies, destroy them. A few new enemies do mix it up a fair bit, though, such as an enemy called a Goliath, who will turn into a raging monster if you shoot it in the head. The robots also add an extra level of challenge, with their critical points being the relatively small joints on their arms and legs, as well as a tiny “eye” in the middle of their bodies. Even if you play as a sniper, you’re going to want to keep a good shotgun on hand for certain enemies. Gearbox has done a great job of making you use every type of weapon possible, while not feeling heavy-handed about it.
The difficulty level of Borderlands 2 has definitely been raised from the first, with massive amounts of enemies pouring out of the woodworks to swarm you. However, as difficult and fun as wiping out bevies of bandits can be, the repetitiveness can sometimes be overwhelming. There are a few missions with “puzzles”, if they could be called that, but they are few and far between. Most everything is just go here, kill everyone, and hit a button. A majority of the time, that’s enough to keep you entertained, but after playing for hours at a sitting, it gets a little old.
Another issue that must be broached is the glitches. There are numerous times that you get stuck in the scenery with no outlet other than restarting the game. As frustrating as this is, there are worse things that can happen. By far, the most annoying glitch that can be encountered is to battle a boss to the bitter end, using most of your ammo, and letting out a victory cry once the health bar drops to zero, only to have the boss sit there convulsing, but not actually dying. Your only way to get by this is to go through the battle again, hoping that it will not happen a second time, or, in one case, a fourth time. Luckily, most of these glitches are few and far between, so they do not affect the game enough to ruin it.
Every once in a while, a video game comes along that reaffirms your love for the industry, and Borderlands 2 is one of these games. It makes you remember why you began to play games in the first place: fun. The loot, the headshots, the comedy, the characters: it all comes together amazingly. The few issues that hold it back are ultimately minimal. If you are a fan of fun, humor, and guns, do yourself a huge favor, and pick Borderlands 2 up as soon as possible.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Xbox 360 version of Borderlands 2 developed by Gearbox, distributed by 2K Games.