Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Xbox 360 Review
Publisher: 2K Games Developer: 2K Australia, Gearbox Software Genre: Action, RPG
Players: 1-4 Age Rating: 18+ Other console/handheld formats: PS3
Borderlands and its sequel mixed several different ingredients together to make a heady brew – the unique graphic style, the loot drops and the sci-fi first person firefights. Now Gearbox has entrusted the franchise to 2K Australia, who have created a new story that fits between the first two instalments.
The story of the Pre-Sequel starts after the events of Borderlands 2, with the Vault Hunters capturing Athena the gladiator. She then recounts her story of meeting Jack on Helios station – the man destined to become the Antagonist of the second game. With Jack’s help Athena and her colleagues escape Helios by moonshot (as in, being fired from a giant cannon) to Elpis.
It is here that the major new elements of the Pre-Sequel come into play. New weapons include lasers and elemental effects; this includes cryogenic abilities that can freeze enemies in their tracks. And as with any FPS explosive barrels litter the environment, augmented this time with shock barrels (electrocuting anything nearby after it activates) and cryobarrels (freezing them).
But perhaps the biggest change is the low gravity environment of the moon and the need to find oxygen supplies. The player obtains an O2-Kit, allowing them to breathe more freely. This can be topped up in buildings with sealed atmospheres, at generator units and the many vents on the surface. The O2-Kit also opens up new tactics and combat strategies. Jumping in the low gravity, the jump button can be pressed again to give a boost and increase the hang time (effectively a double jump). In combat, the player can use this boost and then press B to perform a “butt stomp”dropping to the surface rapidly and causing damage to any enemy caught underneath.
There are four different characters for players to choose from, which can be upgraded with new skills and weapons. Athena the Gladiator is an assassin, using her shield to protect against attacks. Nisha the Lawbringer develops stronger attacks and healing abilities. Wilhelm is an Enforcer, augmenting himself with cybernetic parts as the game progresses and finally Claptrap the robot upgrades and offers new skills to the accompanying characters. Some of these will be familiar to those who have played the other games and their DLC. Earning XP (experience points) from killing enemies and completing tasks increases the character level, rewarding the player with an extra skill point for each level gained. These can be spent on the skill tree, offering different ways to upgrade and progress through the game. Completing challenges – from simply opening chests to killing enemies with certain weapons – will award additional “badass tokens” which are spent to improve the basic stats and abilities.
Built on the existing Borderlands engine, the stylish graphics impress with detailed characters and the unique style of cel shading. Enemies include the fire breathing kraggans (larger specimens spawn smaller versions on death) and the leaping lunatics (who will butt stomp the player when close enough). These enemies level up and become stronger as the player progresses, keeping the challenge going. It is a shame there is not more variety displayed in enemy types and tactics. Discovering the most effective weapons takes time, but it can be satisfying to pick up a stronger gun among the large amount of loot dropped.
Choosing to tell the story in flashback can make it slightly confusing for the player to follow the narrative. Both the “future” characters and major NPCs the player meets talk, appearing as a small face at the top of the display. But it’s not always clear whether this is a comment from the future or a taunt from an enemy. The speech is clear and fun, filled with quirky humour (and Australian accents betraying the origins of the developer).
The major problem is the difficulty level. After the tutorial formed by Helios station, the major missions and side quests fluctuate wildly in complexity and the boss fights represent large spikes in difficulty. It is therefore trial and error to discover winning tactics – so it is fortunate that the player respawns close to the last place of death, ready to try again. Even with the fast travel stations, there is a lot of backtracking across the moon to complete objectives and turn in for the rewards. Grinding to level up and discover the best weapons may either appeal to the player (especially those that have played Borderlands before) or become a real chore. The story does its best to drive the player forward but ultimately comes across as lacking in new ideas.
The Pre-Sequel joins a long list of sequels and spin-offs that could not hope to live up to a superior original. Given the choice to stick with last generation hardware, the next instalment will have to impress and offer a lot of innovation to keep players interested.
Note: this review is based on a single player experience; due to time restraints it was not possible to take part in any co-op sessions. It is also the view of a player who has not experienced the original Borderlands games.