After what seems a eternity, what began as a loose flirtation of an idea from Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford is finally here. The sequel to one of 2009’s biggest hits finally found its way onto the Vita – a full 18 months after it originally hit consoles – but has it arrived at a cost? Is it the title to convince the naysayers of the worth of the handheld, or does it just add another string on the bow for those that are convinced it is doomed to fail?
A lot has been said about this Vita version – which has come in for a lot of criticism for performance issues. I’ve only got my hands on it at the end of May (due to the UK release) and I’ll be honest, there are a few issues, however the game is still enjoyable in spite of them. I’ll outline my grievances with the title a little later on, but in short this is still the massive blockbuster that is was on the consoles, it’s just had to take a few hits in order to make the journey over.
Borderlands 2 picks up the pace a few years on from the first title, and all is not well in Pandora. Following the destruction of the Destroyer a valuable new material called Eridum started appearing throughout the world. The Hyperion Corporation and through its leader, Handsome Jack secured this new resource to bring “peace” to the world, but in reality now rules over the people. A new legion of Vault Hunters have arrived and this is where you fit in and the quest to free Pandora from Handsome Jack can begin.
For those not familiar with the first game, Borderlands 2 is a first person shooter at its core, complemented with a RPG-style levelling system for your character. You can choose from six different classes all suited to a different style and can be customised with different abilities. As you progress through the ranks, these perks can be modified depending on the way you like to play, and each class has a different special skill. Throughout your journey you will also earn “Badass” points as a reward for completing challenges. These will allow you customise your experience further, with improvements to shields, health and damage, or reductions in recoil or shield recharge rates. It’s surprisingly deep and allows you to fine tune the experience to your needs.
Back to the start though, after choosing your character you are (re) introduced to Claptrap – who is an annoyingly squeaky little robot – and given a quick tutorial with the controls. The default settings have the left and right triggers for aiming/shooting, X is jump, Circle alternates your stance, Triangle cycles your weapons whilst square reloads or interacts with your environment. With the Vita lacking buttons compared to its bigger console counterpart, the touch screen and pad are used for deploying grenades, running or activating your characters specific skill. I personally got on fine with the controls, but many have found them annoying. Thankfully they can be tweaked very easily through the options screen and tailored to suit. It’s not perfect, but the Vita is lacking the buttons and it’s manageable.
The story is well done – and at times emotional – as you progress through your adventure. You are reunited with the previous title’s cast as they take up supporting NPC roles this time, although previous experience with Borderlands is not required as you will be able to enjoy the game regardless. There is also a tremendous amount to see and do, with multiple side quests alongside the campaign, and that’s before taking into account the DLC bundled in with the title. It’s not quite the full collection, but this is not a game of the year release and it’s nice to have additional content. I just hope the remainder makes it over.
Whether you are a fan of cel-shaded art or not, it’s difficult not to be impressed with Borderlands 2. Sure, it’s not as sophisticated as the console version but it sure does look pretty, especially in person – aside from some very enthusiastic strong bold lines in places. As is sadly commonplace with the Vita, screen shots really do not do this game justice, it does look magnificent at times. Sacrifices have been made in areas to keep the game running as well as it can, with defeated enemies the obvious element. Instead of littering the wastelands, they explode into a mixture of blood, money and ammunition. This is not the only drawback though.
As you may have already picked up on, not everything is perfect, as has been well documented elsewhere. During my experience I have encountered many enemies that appear or disappear, and on occasion they have jumped around unnaturally. Pandora is a wasteland, but often it does feel completely devoid of anything, with a lot of aimless wandering around before ambushes with enemies – and many encounters I had in the game had a massive jumps in difficulty. If you are soloing the game, be prepared to grind a little bit, or at the very least make sure you are completing the side missions. The loading times are among the highest I have experienced on the Vita, but with the title loading between areas thankfully these are not commonplace. The biggest problems with Borderlands 2 lie in visual issues, including a delay in rendering textures upon entering new areas but most notably frame drops and some texture clipping, usually in tandem with an increase in action. I also had around fifteen game crashes during my main play through. It’s incredibly frustrating and disappointing as at other times you will be simply mesmerised with what is in your hands. The title could easily have done with a little longer in development, although it is worth noting that I have still enjoyed the game despite these frustrations. SCEA is working on patches, two of which have already been released (although the latest is not in EU at the time of writing).
Borderlands was always intended as a multiplayer experience and this leads to another gripe; whilst co-op play is present in the Vita version it has been limited to two players. I’ve played a few times online with The Vita Lounge’s Charlie Large and the experience works well enough, but it is a shame that it’s only two. We still had a great time playing.
The game has the ability to utilise cross save with the PS3 version, however with the Vita version missing some of the additional content, not everything is playable on the Vita. It’s still a nice feature to have and hopefully – as noted above – we will get the remaining content at some point. I suppose it all depends on how well the game performs sales-wise. Missing the Ultimate Vault Hunter Upgrade Pack 2 – which raises the level cap beyond 61 – means that your character cannot earn any XP beyond that on the Vita, but your stats will return when sent back. You obviously also cannot access areas that the Vita doesn’t have.
It’s a game which mixes pleasure and frustration in almost equal parts, which brings us to the summary. It’s a difficult one to assess for me, as I have really enjoyed playing through the game, although I suspect I was in the minority of those who deliberately waited for the Vita version. It’s an 18 month old title that has arrived to a tirade of fanfare from Sony acclaiming that AAA titles can happen, but a tirade of abuse from many other quarters for the very obvious technical issues. For me it was worth waiting for, because the convenience of playing a title of this calibre at my leisure, whenever, illustrates the point of the Vita. This surely isn’t the best example of the title, but it is the same game, it’s great value and at times it is incredibly impressive. If these are thoughts that resonate within you then Borderlands 2 is definitely worth buying.