Borderlands 2 – Preview

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In a way, the original Borderlands was shackled by its aesthetic. For all of the wacky violence and seemingly infinite combinations of guns, the dull, dusty browns of post apocalyptic Pandora quickly lost their appeal, and the identikit goons you chopped down blurred into a homogenous singular. That’s something that the inevitable sequel seeks to put right, and from the demo level we saw at Rezzed, it succeeds with aplomb.

Playing a mission from late on in the story, with characters levelled up to 25, we’re thrown into a glittering city square, all lush green trees and shiny walkways. The cel-shaded style from the first game remains, but it’s clear that the engine is pushing the boat out further, and that the designers have been given much wider scope to explore the different possibilities Pandora has to offer.

The mission starts off with acts of petty vandalism, but soon escalates into a pitched battle between the four stars of the game, and the security forces that patrol the raised platforms and plazas that make up the intriguingly organic structure. There are choke points and sniping vantage points, all worked into a level that never feels like it’s been built solely to cater for a gunfight, but manages to fill the role perfectly.

All four characters are player controlled, and the HUD keeps you well informed of their position. The four different disciplines are the same as in the last game, with a few new twists, and they compliment each other well, with their roles in the ensuing chaos defined by the talents and abilities they posses.

That chaos is even meatier than it was in Borderlands. Guns recoil with a delicious snap, and the game sticks to RPG traditions by showering numbers out of enemies as you pepper them with bullets. It’s glorious to behold, as powers are thrown, turrets are built, and an angry hairy midget stomps around with a rocket launcher and machine gun blasting holes in the armoury of a variety of drones, walkers, and cutthroat troopers.

Working as a team is essential, and whilst the “last stand” mechanic from the previous game, which sees you resurrected if you manage to kill another enemy before a time bar runs out, is still present, a helping hand from a comrade is always welcome.

As the fire fight plays out, the suns of Pandora set and night breaks, bringing a palpable shift in atmosphere. It’s clear that Gearbox have attempted to right the wrongs of their first, fantastic but flawed attempt at mashing together the shooter and the RPG. The world feels more solid, the story fed out in snatches of dialogue between the characters rather than the reams of text that filled the first.

Worth the wait? The shooting at the core of the experience is certainly a more refined beast, the loot less incessant and the weaponry just as excessive. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether Gearbox can create a world varied enough to justify the thirty plus hour narrative that the game boasts. On this evidence, they’re certainly on the right tracks.

For: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
When? 21 September 2012

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