Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel review (PS3)

>Sometimes it looks as if the video games release schedule consists entirely of sequels and spin offs. The latest Football Manager, NBA Live, Call of Duty, Halo, FIFA, Battlefield and LEGO whatever are reliably released at least once a year and almost guaranteed a place in the charts. It can seem as if there’s nothing original being brought out for the mainstream and that developers are either fresh out of new ideas or lack the courage to take a chance on them.

But I’ll be honest, one of the reasons this annoys me is that I don’t like any of those franchises. If the charts were full instead of games that I DO enjoy being released reliably once a year – like the Assassin’s Creed and Final Fantasy games – then I’d probably be alright about it all. While it’s true that in some ways it seems as if video game development has gone stale, on the other hand it’s hard to argue that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. I presumed after the last Borderlands game and the death of Handsome Jack, that would be it, so I was delighted when I heard that 2K Australia had been sneakily working on a sequel (technically a prequel) in their secret lair in the Aussie outback.

There are four new characters to choose from – Athena the Gladiator, Nisha the Lawbringer, Wilhelm the Enforcer and…Claptrap (the mistake). Each has their own special skill – Athena has an extra shield that she can use to absorb ALL damage for a short time and then, to add insult to injury, shoot it like a boomerang at her enemies. Nisha can use a rechargeable skill called ‘Showdown’ that increases her damage and speed, meaning she can quickly decimate a group of enemies to narrow the odds a bit. Wilhelm augments himself as the game progresses, becoming stronger and deadlier and less and less human. Claptrap has the program vaulthunter.exe that will give him and sometimes also his enemies some kind of different ability. You have to kind of try it and see what happens.

You start out as a bounty hunter that has been hired by arch villain Handsome Jack (who actually isn’t all that much of a bad guy really…yet) and arrive to meet him on the Hyperion moon base, Helios. However, when you board the base, you are both attacked by a bunch of kickass alien warriors and decide to do the smart thing – load yourself into the moon cannon and shoot yourself down to the moon’s surface on a rocket.

Walking on the moon adds a few new twists to the Borderlands universe – firstly, you have to worry about running out of air, so need to either plan your movements so that you find a new air bubble before you pass out, or use an O2 kit which will give you a bit longer to poke around before you need to find fresh oxygen. O2 kits can be upgraded and some also offer extra bonuses. You can’t use that spot in your inventory for anything else, so you might as well pick one up.

You can also use that useful O2 kit to expel air to give your jumps a boost and reach far away places – ah, the joys of zero gravity! Bouncing off jump pads (basically a giant trampoline) is also great fun. One more addition is that of cryogenic weapons to your arsenal, which allows you to freeze enemies and then shatter them with a subsequent melee attack. I can promise that this never gets old.

Everything that I loved about the first two Borderlands games is still there – the dark sense of humour, the gorgeous comic book style graphics, the randomized weapons and shields, vehicles to drive and enough side quests and secrets to keep you playing for a loooong time. An extra and extremely welcome addition is the Aussie humour and accents, something I think other Brits are likely to appreciate more than the American audience.

The only downside to the game is also an upside – there’s not really much difference between it and the last game, Borderlands 2. Although it’s called a Pre-Sequel, it actually takes place in between the first and second games and has a very similar feel to it and the latter. It takes place inside the same world, features a lot of the same characters and locations, and of course, the outcome is already known if you played through to the end. There’s nothing exactly wrong with this, but I think that after this romp, they might want to transplant the game’s unique style, sassy humour and nihilism and move the series on to a new storyline, introduce us to a fresh band of miscreant characters and give us a whole new world to explore.

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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