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October 20, 2012
Borderlands 2 - PS3 Review
Release Distributer Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
20/9/20122K Games2K GamesGearbox Software1-22-4
Media HDD Install Resolution Move Controls Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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Borderlands 2 is out now for PS3.
As I sit here writing this review it's almost three years to the day since Gearbox Software and 2K Games released a new IP on the world. Labeled as a Role-playing Shooter, Borderlands was a surprise hit and helped Gearbox establish themselves on consoles. Now Borderlands is back with the aptly, if unimaginatively named Borderlands 2. They've ditched the 'role-playing shooter' tag and gone with the more fitting ‘shoot and loot' moniker, but the real question is whether or not Borderlands 2 is just as much fun as its predecessor. The short answer is yes, but if you want the long version keep reading.

Borderlands 2 picks up five years after the original game ended. The Vault promised advanced alien technology and untold riches but all it delivered was (as the intro refers to it) 'tentacled disappointment'. The opening of the Vault did cause one unforeseen development; the discovery of a new and valuable mineral known as eridium. The Hyperion Corporation, led by the villainous Handsome Jack, has come to Pandora to control the planet's reserves of said mineral. Needless to say Pandora hasn't thrived under Hyperion and Jack's iron-fisted rule. Rumours of a new Vault containing great rewards have started circulating again and that's where you, as a Vault Hunter, come into the story.

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The character Mordecai in Borderlands 2.
Just like the original game you get to pick your character from one of four pre-set characters. There's Salvador the Gunzerker, Maya the Siren, Axton the Commando and Zer0 the Assassin. Salvador is very similar to Brick from the first game in that he is a muscle-bound hulk of a man who loves to melee just as much as he loves to shoot. His special talent is duel-wielding any two guns in his arsenal to deal out maximum damage. Maya has a much more slender build, but that doesn't stop her wielding guns with deadly efficiency. Her special ability is Phaselock, which allows her to temporarily trap an enemy between dimensions, rendering them immobile and allowing you to pepper them with bullets.

Axton is extremely similar to Roland from Borderlands because his special ability is being able to deploy a powerful turret. Roland could only dream about the destruction Axton has at his disposal though, because Axton can launch small nuclear missiles to go along with the bullet storm Roland had. The last character on the roster is Zer0, who favours a stealthy approach to killing his numerous enemies. His special ability is to briefly turn invisible, leaving a sword-wielding decoy in his place, before re-appearing to unleash major damage on unsuspecting victims.

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The cel-shaded visuals are gorgeous.
If you're anything like me, part of the appeal of the original was the incredibly zany and over the top characters. In that case you'll be stoked to hear that favourites such as Patricia Tannis, Dr. Zed, Marcus Kincaid, Moxxi, Claptrap and Scooter all return. They're joined by a host of newcomers that are just as over the top, like Scooter's sister Ellie (a plus-sized redneck with a penchant for murder), Sir Hammerlock (an eccentric gentleman fond of animal research), Tiny Tina (an unhinged 13 year-old explosives expert) and of course Handsome Jack himself. Brick, Lilith, Mordecai and Roland all return too, though they play it straighter than most of the other characters in the game.

The basic structure of the game remains unchanged, which is to say you still run around killing enemies, leveling up, and picking up as much loot as possible. One of our criticisms of the first game is that it lacked much in the way enemy variety, but that's been improved here. While plenty of enemies will be familiar – skags, bandits, psychos and shotgun-wielding midgets – there are also plenty of new enemies such as Goliaths (who get stronger if you shoot their head off), the Bigfoot-like Bullymongs (if you don't like the name you'll enjoy one of the quests), Threshers (large worm-like creatures who pop in and out of the ground at will) and Buzzards (low-flying enemy copters). Overall it's a much more diverse group of enemies for you to mow down.

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Shootout on top of the dam in Borderlands 2.
Leveling up is the key to unlocking new abilities for you characters, and like the first game there are multiple skill-trees for you to choose from for any given character. Take the assassin Zer0 as an example. His three skill trees are sniping, cunning and bloodshed. The sniping tree gives bonuses to critical heads (i.e. head-shots), better zoom and accuracy, and improves the stats of sniper rifles. On the opposite end of the spectrum the bloodshed tree rewards every kill with bonuses like faster shield regeneration and some health. Melee receives the bulk of boosts in this skill tree, encouraging a completely different approach than the sniping tree. Happily you can re-allocate skill points (for a price) any time you like, so you can try out various combinations until you find one you're happy with.

Loot, and the desire to find ever better loot, remains one of the biggest drawcards of Borderlands 2. There's a huge variety in weapons, despite the fact there are only five or six gun-types. Each weapon has attributes like damage, accuracy, reload speed, magazine size and whether or not it has an element effect. And there's more to it than that, because the level of the weapon and the manufacturer also have an impact on its usefulness. The same goes for shields and grenades, so trying to find the perfect gear will be a challenge, even after the main story is complete.

While those three gameplay elements remain unchanged, there are a host of improvements in the game. The most noticeable and appreciated is the introduction of a mini-map. In the original game you had a marker on your compass pointing you in the direction of objectives. Suffice to say the mini-map is a significant improvement. Another thing you'll notice early on is the ability to move (slowly) when fighting for your life, that is just after you die you're given a few seconds to kill an enemy and get a second wind (i.e. stay alive).

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Things are getting frosty, and bloody!
There are a bunch of other new features, like Badass points which reward all of your characters with small permanent bonuses when you complete listed objectives. Badass challenges are apparently endless, so in theory your character progression is endless too. Some quests can now be failed (and re-tried if you fail), or can be handed in to multiple characters for different rewards. You can customize the look of your character and vehicles much more than the first game, with hundreds of heads, clothes and skins in the game.

You can also trade items and cash with other players while playing online. Menus are much improved too. After completing the game you can enter True Vault Hunter mode, where enemies have more than just scaled skills, they also have shields more often, or appear in their Badass version rather than regular. When you add it all up, these make for a much-improved gameplay experience compared to the original Borderlands.

Borderlands 2, like its predecessor, can be played in multiplayer, both online and locally. If you play locally it's split-screen, and you get the choice of either horizontal or vertical split-screen. Whether you're playing alone or with a friend you can also go online and form a group of up to four players. The game is a stack of fun online, particularly with friends and people of roughly the same level. There have been improvements here too. Now any quest you complete online can be fast-forwarded when you get to it in single-player. You're no longer limited in what quests are available either, making online play that much better and smoother.

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Checking out the Gunzerker Skills.
The one knock on online play is that it's still a free-for-all as far as loot goes. This can make it extremely tough to get any loot at all unless you're in the right place at the right time, or sprint ahead opening chests. This is made somewhat worse because playing in groups apparently offers better loot (I didn't notice much difference to be honest) than playing alone, so competition is fierce for any dropped item.

The only knock I have on Borderlands 2, and it's a very small one in the grand scheme of things, is that it's a little too similar to its predecessor. There are a huge number of improvements here, and the game is much better for it; however there is no home-run, game-changing improvement in evidence. That may sound a bit frivolous (heck, it does to me as well), but I did find the experience a bit too familiar at times, and would have loved at least one out of the box surprise.

Visually the game is a delight, with the beautiful cel-shaded graphics improved on the original. More emphasis has been placed on the outlines of objects which in turn making everything clearer and more defined. Just about everything has more detail now too, from character faces, to enemies, to random objects out in the world. The game oozes style and the post-apocalyptic world is wonderfully realized. The only knock on the visuals is that there is some texture pop-in at times, so objects occasionally look blurry and grey, but then the proper texture pops in and they look normal again. It's something Borderlands suffered from too, and while it's noticeable it's not too frequent or problematic.

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In short, Borderlands 2 is superb.
The speech is once again the highlight of the audio, and given the strong effects this speaks volumes of the work done by both the actors and the writers. Handsome Jack is just about the perfect villain for this universe, using humorous barbs to insult you throughout the game. Right from the get-go when he names his diamond pony ‘Butt Face' in your honour his wisecracks had me chuckling away. Later in the game he'll even give you a quest to commit suicide, promising great rewards. Getting to the cliff he wants you to jump off you'll see another character go running off the ledge shouting “I'm gonna be rich”. It seriously cracked me up, something few games have managed in the past. It's not just Handsome Jack either. Patricia Tannis has some genuinely funny lines, and a bunch of the newcomers are funny too (Tiny Tina especially). The sound effects are great and pack quite the punch. This is one game that's a lot of fun to play with the volume up nice and high.

Borderlands 2 is the rare kind of sequel that eliminates almost all of the faults from the first game, and makes improvements in other areas as well. While I can sit here and say I'd have loved at least one game-changing improvement, the reality is that Gearbox has done a truly fantastic job with the game. The characters are funny, and the tone of the game (i.e. irreverent, funny and over the top) is perfectly pitched and suits the game world perfectly. If you enjoyed the first Borderlands then picking up the sequel is a no brainer. If you didn't grab the first game then there's no better time to join the fun.

Review By: Mike Allison

GRAPHICSThe cel-shaded visuals are much-improved on the already strong original, and are truly like a comic come to life.
SOUNDThe voice-acting and writing are in a league of their own. The effects are meaty too.
GAMEPLAYThe same great gameplay as the original – now with mini-map.
VALUEAttempting all quests will stretch the story out to 25-ish hours, and True Vault Hunter Mode and Badass points add plenty of reason to keep playing.
OVERALLBorderlands 2 is the first fantastic (non-sports) game released in the pre-Christmas window. If ‘shoot and loot' sounds like your cup of tea, this game comes highly recommended.

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