The last gen spin-off of Borderlands struts its stuff in the face of Destiny on a moon full of unhinged Aussies
When Destiny came along there came a challenge to the co-op-centric, RPG, loot-tastic shooting action that has really been Borderlands sole domain for time. The games are from very different stock though despite the similarities, I suppose the best way to describe Borderlands to those that are new to the series would be Destiny with a knowing sense of humour and a set of characters that well - have character.
While Destiny struggles to give a story that at best is po-faced, The Pre-Sequel is rich with silliness, sci-fi plots that reference so many of the genre’s greats and plenty of Aussie in-jokes about Cricket and such. Gearbox has given a lot of licence to developers 2K Australia - there’s an awful lot of Aussies up on Elpis and I like this, it acknowledges there’s other gamers outside of America and Japan and when the game references and self parodies Australian history and stereotypes there’s a refreshing laid-back air to the humour.
The Pre-Sequel follows events in between the first and second Borderlands games with focus on the fortunes of Borderlands 2 antagonist Handsome Jack. Jack in this game isn’t actually that much of a bad guy (yet) and playing as one of his four equally morally vague hired mercenaries you aid in his escape from exile on the moon of Elpis, taking control of its moonbase for added measure.
And so in true Borderlands style you set off shooting stuff, pausing from time to time to decide which of the over-the-top stock of guns to do it with, whilst enjoying the overall raucous hilarity.
The story is told largely in flashback with previous characters from the series popping in via little vignettes. This really makes the plot one for Borderlands fans, as if you’ve not played it before you’ll not know who these people are and the fact they’re being shown in flashback.
Given that The Pre-Sequel sticks vigilantly to last gen you can forgive the way the game meanders off into deep avenues of backstory. It’s easy to sense the fan-service at work and it’s enjoyable to see the developers celebrating this.
All the new playable characters are taken from the previous games for example. Athena, the Captain America style shield-flinging tank from The Secret Armory of General Knoxx; Nisha, your sniping and quick draw specialist - the sheriff of Lynchwood; Wilhelm, a cyborg boss from Borderlands 2 and last but by all means least (with several prompts on selection to make sure you are actually making the choice) Claptrap. For the first time you can play as one of Borderlands’ Iconic droids - the gushingly over-friendly Claptrap. This character for me is the most amusing by a long way, pulling off semi-random special moves that are intended to be the best suited for the current situation. They have thankfully removed the joke that Claptrap can't climb stairs as well!
Some good ideas have gone into the game to make life on an airless moon seem as realistic as possible. A single jump propels you high up into the outside zero gravity areas and (unless you play Claptrap) you need to maintain an oxygen supply. I found the former new addition seems to fall in with the exo-suiting, double-jumping trend games like CoD are using to give shooters something new - now you’ve got to shoot people jumping over your head as well as zigzagging away from you (an experience that feels almost like Quake at points) The zero gravity battling also gives you the incredibly useful and amusing butt-slam technique allowing you to jump on your enemy's head and get a close quarters shot off as they bounce away.
Jumping around also opens up platforming elements and in built up areas, there’s more verticali exploration as you seek out chests hidden away on high roof tops.
Oxygen management brings in the addition of a new loot fascination factor with Oz Kits and adds an extra dimension to fights as you seek out air supplies in the heat of the high jumping crossfire.
Also new to Borderlands are Ice and laser weapons and a handy new item grinder that lets you randomly generate new items from your unwanted loots.
Strip away the new features and the game is the same old Borderlands at the core. Gunplay is fine, although you can argue Destiny does that better. Having a personality sets it apart though and the game has enough points at which you genuinely laugh out loud.
For people new to Borderlands the jokiness will appeal (if indeed you’re looking for a shooter with some personality). I did find the writing has lost something of the darker Mad Max style edge from previous Borderlands games in favour of out and out opportunities for gags and I suspect some fans won’t find the writing in the Pre-Sequel as good by comparison. I also think despite the neon spit-shine the graphics have been given that the style is showing some signs of aging.
Missions are pretty repetitive and you will end up switching on a lot of computers and fixing fuses. It feels that you’re playing a very similar game to previous Borderlands titles only this time it is shorter and the world less varied. There are a few noticeable bugs which gives the feel that 2K wanted to rush the Pre-Sequel out on last gen to keep the Borderlands name going. While this leaves me hoping for some big moves forward for a next gen Borderlands 3, the Pre-Sequel remains as entertaining as ever, especially in it’s main area of excellence - the co-op. This isn't the definitive Borderlands game but fans and newcomers alike will have a blast, in more ways than one...
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