Welcome back to Pandora

Borderlands 2 stands as only the second game in its genre, really – an FPS with RPG elements and insane loot-styled overtones, wrapped in a black-comedy packet with a cartoon style. It’s weird – I still meet people who never played the first, and yet, ask anyone who did and they will tell you how great it was. You don’t need to be a loot-phile (but it helps), and you don’t even need to be a trad FPS gamer – offering a co-op gaming experience with interesting characters and diversions, Borderlands 2 is probably the best jumping off point for those wondering why we love shooters.

Basically, it’s a shooter, then, albeit a shooter with a big fat sweary mouth, a cheeky attitude and a desire to play against the rules. And, like that mate of yours who always gets you into trouble with fluorescent shots, dodgy nightclubs and 3AM games of strip poker, you can’t help but grin and play along at every opportunity.

Eschewing the corridor gameplay of the CODs and Half-Lifes of today’s gaming landscape, Borderlands 2 instead plonks you in a big, wide map with lots of things to do. Main story quests are generously sprinkled with diverting and exciting side missions, and often loading a new area goes from being a ten minute diversion to another three hours lost to the world.

Visually, it looks a lot like a living comic book, behaving like an obscure 2000AD strip, and quips, struts and provokes its way into something really addictive and fun. Running on the (slightly creaky) Unreal Engine 3, the visual style nevertheless compliments the gameplay perfectly, and many little niggles are easily overlooked by the striking beauty of how it looks and feels. Dribble on top of this some brilliant voicework, varied gun sounds and enough weird dialogue to keep even the most jaded profanisaurus happy, and it’s safe to say the presentation shines. And if you have 3D capabilities, oh, man – for some reason the cartoon styles absolutely sing in 3D. It’s a real beauty.

For most gamers, however, it’s all about character and gameplay, and on those two fronts, B2 is one of the most interesting titles in a long time. Rather than bore you with sad histories and long melodrama, Pandora’s inhabits feel real because they fill the right niches in the world – everyone is tough and yet cautious, and it’s clear they all have their reasons for using you to their own ends. However, for a change, rather than tugging at your heartstrings, each character offers quests of interest which drag you in because of what they ask you to do, not just simple progression. It’s mental – who wouldn’t want to hunt an “unnatural union between midget and beast”, hunt down a “princess with epic bazongas”, or destroy the volleyball equipment of the local flyboys (top Gun much??)? And it’s exactly this character of the world which makes the game so damn involving.

But, no matter how good the world, all games hinge on the gameplay, and again, Gearbox has pulled out something incredible. The variation of weapons is staggering – although ostensibly only having a few weapon types (rifle, sniper, pistol, rocket launcher, etc.) the variations are truly mental. Take assault rifles – I have has one that spits fireballs at increasing speeds from a chain gun barrel, and yet also another that works like a lighting sniper cannon. Getting a new gun is something of a true joy – you don’t know what it does until you fire it, and every single one changes the way you play. And by allowing the RPG elements to stay flexible, nothing gets locked out – any character can use any weapon.

On top of this is skill trees for each characters play style – at the start of the game you choose form a ninja, a turret-wielding soldier, a psychic attacker and a gun nut. Based on that, your overall play style changes – Zero, the ninja, plays well when using melee attacks and sniping, whereas Axton, the soldier, uses his guns and turret to dish out bullets like they go out of fashion. It’s deep enough if you care and shallow enough if you don’t, as character builds can really be tailored to your play style. And, even better, it’s cheap to reset and try again at any point if you so wish.I’d simply say it’s a brilliant game

Just a few lines on the multiplayer – it’s great, it rarely lags, and drop in/out gameplay is fantastic. Once again, however, the game is levelled to the host, so think a little before teaming up – taking your level 10 char into your mates third runthrough will leave you as a big smear on the ground at the first hint of trouble, and inviting them to yours will mean you’ll watch them destroy bosses with a single pistol shot. Far better to level together, then.

So, problems? Well, a few minor niggles can crop up. Extended gameplay can be a little draining, as in truth everything descends to shooting the crap out of everything you can see. Don’t expect stealth, or puzzles, or the like, ‘cos it isn’t really that kind of game, but in truth, how many shooters pull it off anyway? Secondly, one personal niggle, the death animation and reload is slow, and gets a bit tedious when you are pumped in adrenalin. Finally, it’s sometimes the case that you’ll find a gun that makes the next couple of missions a bit simple until you level, but really, that’s mainly a gripe of lootplay anyway.

Overall, I’d simply say it’s a brilliant game. Deep, lengthy, and with a lot of clever characters and dialogue, Borderlands 2 clears up most of the issues of the first game, and having a clear antagonist in Handsome Jack ties the entire story together far better than the original ever managed. Gearbox have yet again shown why they are second only to Valve in crafting interesting and diverting titles, and whether you are a solo shooter or a party gamer, BL2 will tickle your fancy. Two blown-off thumbs way, way up.

The Good: Wide, open gameplay married to clever gun physics creates a true unique FPS experience; brilliant world and characters that evoke empathy without laying on the schmaltz; obscene amount of weapon variance makes every pickup a new experience; looks and sounds amazing; huge and diverse; Handsome Jack brings a level of protagonism that was lacking in the first game; co op works perfectly, with vs options tooThe Bad: Death animations are a bit tedious; occasionally picking up a new gun can drop difficulty for a short time; if you don’t enjoy shooting there isn’t much else to do….

Gameplay: Gameplay - 10 out of 10 10
Graphics:   Graphics - 9 out of 10 9
Sound:      Sound - 10 out of 10 10
Overall:     Overall - 10 out of 10 10
Diamond Y AwardDiamond Y Award

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