Hands-on: Borderlands 2

Borderlands 2  - 1099469

It’s always great to see a developer try to go bigger and better with a sequel.  And that’s exactly what Gearbox Software is doing with Borderlands 2.  When we first caught a glimpse of the game last fall at PAX Prime, we were amazed by what the developer was putting into it, with bigger environments, a ton more enemies, and a storyline that sets the stage to bring along guns.  We’re not just talking five or six, but, as the advertising puts it, “bazilliondier."  You’re going to run into so many guns it’s not even funny.

Recently, 2K invited us to stop by and try the game out.  Yes, we got to play it before the game goes public for the first time at PAX East this weekend, and needless to say, they had to pry us off — with a crowbar.

The demo we tried out features two stages.  The first had us fighting through an animal preservation center, highly guarded by robot walkers and soldiers, searching for a particular character at the request of Mordecai, who was making a cameo from the original game.  The second takes place in more of a toxic swamp setting, where large creatures are walking around, and the only way to even do susceptible damage to them is to plow through their armor-ridden legs.  Yep, like the first game, you have to find a critical hit point on your enemies, plowing away at them until they die.  Or you die, if their aim is true.  (Yes, we died quite often.  Thank goodness for the respawns and the cost to back them up.)

Honestly, the controls feel a little better this time around.  Aiming is more precise when it comes to targeting and mowing down enemies, and the new characters feel just as comfortable as the old ones.  We were only able to play two of the four classes available, but both of them have something to offer.

The first is the Gunzerker, Salvadore.  He can dual-wield weapons, using stuff like sniper rifles and assault weapons together.  It’s a surprisingly good effect, though you can’t aim down sights for precision when you’re holding two weapons.  What’s cool is when he picks up stuff that complements one another.  The slag, for instance, is a new weapon that takes down an enemy’s vital stats rather quickly.  So if you have a slag in one hand and an assault rifle in another, you’d be surprised how quickly enemies topple.

As for the second, it’s the Siren class, which we became familiar with through Lilith.  For Borderlands 2, we have a new character, Maya, who can not only use her Phase Walk to turn invisible and get the jump on enemies, but also a new ability known as the Phase Lock.  Here, she can shoot what appears to be a containing bubble, trapping an enemy inside and making them vulnerable to gunfire.  For tougher enemies that don’t go down easy — like a walker with spinning blades that deflect gunfire — this is a great choice.

The game supports co-op, like the original, and though we didn’t do too much hands-on in this session (we prefer the tougher solo route), it’s quite responsive and a lot of fun.  Don’t be afraid to bring along friends.

Like the original, Borderlands 2 runs at a very fast pace, using great cel-shaded visuals to bring its world to life and barely slowing down during combat.  Granted, the version we played was using a high-end Alienware PC model, so we’re not sure how it’ll run on consoles.  At the very least, expect a 30 frames per second speed and a whole lot of action.  Plus, the new outdoor environments are superb, giving you way more room to run and a lot more variety than the first game.  You won’t see too many dusty environments here, but rather lush grass settings (like in the sanctuary) and wicked glowing areas (like the nuclear patch).

The audio sounds good, too.  It’s a bit limited, but Mordecai sounds like his old self (complaining about drinking while giving you the mission) and the sound effects, particularly the guns, are on the money.  Fans won’t be displeased in the least.

Borderlands 2 is set to bring the pain this September when it comes out for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.  Judging by what we’ve seen in the hour of time we’ve had with the game, you’ll be in for the long haul for sure.  If you’re in town for PAX East this weekend, don’t hesitate.  Make a plan to hit 2K’s booth.  In fact, set up camp.

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Robert Workman
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