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Borderlands 2

"As someone who's beaten Borderlands 2 on PS3, I have no regrets about buying it again on Vita."

Every so often, a game comes along that begs you not to review it. Sometimes, it's because the game has issues that could be solved with just one more patch, and sometimes it's because you're having enough fun playing that you can't put down the controller and start writing. (The truly awful games rarely try to stop you from revealing their shame. They know what they are.) Usually, however, it's just one of those things. I think Borderlands 2 on Vita is the first time that I've played a game that was both slightly issue-filled and yet still too much fun to stop playing.

The Vita version of Borderlands 2 has identical story and gameplay mechanics as its home console brethren. You play as one of several classes of character in a unique hybrid of first person shooter and RPG where stats are as important as your aiming ability, and you travel the world of Pandora attempting to save it from destruction (or at least a thorough drilling) by Handsome Jack, CEO of Hyperion Corporation. A description of any of the characters, the dialogue, or the story as a whole would inevitably include the words "over the top," but the game's humor and refusal to take itself too seriously keeps that over-the-top-ness from becoming annoying.

However, if you're like me and didn't purchase any of the DLC on the home console Borderlands 2, there is still new content waiting for you in the Vita version. It includes six DLC offerings: the Mechromancer class, the Psycho class, the Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate's Booty campaign, the Mr. Torgue's Campaign of Carnage campaign, the Ultimate Vault Hunter upgrade pack (which raises the level cap to 61), and the Collector's Edition upgrade pack (which gives you a couple of items). If you have both the PS3 and Vita versions, you can transfer characters between the two, and doing so is very easy. You can transfer a Mechromancer or a Psycho over to the PS3 even if you don't own said DLC on that console, but they're unable to equip class mods or any equipment that's specific to DLC that you don't own on PS3, which is a little frustrating. It's not frustrating enough to overshadow the niceness of being able to transfer the characters in the first place, however.

Unfortunately, although it has the same story and gameplay as the home console version of Borderlands 2, the Vita version runs into issues in all three of the remaining categories on which we score games here at RPGFan: graphics, sound, and control. Let's start with graphics, because the issues there are the smallest. For the most part, the game looks good. It's instantly recognizable as Borderlands 2, from the environments to the weapons to the menu screens. However, the particle effects have been ramped down noticeably, particularly on explosions, which look downright amateur. What's worse is that there's a lot of pop-in. For example, at one point, I took several seemingly perfect shots at a bandit who seemed to be standing out in the open, but to no effect. I then moved forward a bit, and a wall appeared between the two of us. I hadn't hit him because he was hiding behind it. This isn't a frequent enough issue to ruin the game, but it does have an impact for players (like me) who enjoy sniping enemies from as long a range as possible.

Sound is also an issue. The music and voices are just as good as they were on home consoles — they are likely identical to the home console version — but this is where the aforementioned bugginess actually causes trouble. The release version of the game had several places where story dialogue failed to load, which sometimes caused the game to crash and sometimes simply stopped you from moving on in a quest. Fortunately, the developers released a patch a few days prior to this writing that seems to have mostly taken care of the issue. Unfortunately, there are still times where dialogue takes several seconds to load, leaving you wondering if you're about to deal with another crash right after a big boss fight.

Controls, however, are the biggest problem in the Vita version of Borderlands 2. As crazy as it sounds, the main problem is that the hardware simply doesn't have enough usable controls to accommodate the game. The home console version uses every button including clicking the analog sticks. On Vita, every button has a function, as well as the left and right sides of both the front and back touchable surfaces, and that makes for some uncomfortable hand positions. I've spent quite a bit of time remapping the controls (thank goodness the game allows this), and I'm still not entirely happy with the results. My setup works pretty well, but I find myself accidentally touching one of the surfaces fairly regularly. As I use the left analog stick to strafe to the right, for example, my thumb often comes close enough to the screen to throw a grenade. Fortunately, I don't rely on grenades much, which is why I put that control where I did, but it's gotten me killed a time or two, which is a little aggravating. The handling for the vehicles seems to have really gone downhill as well, both in terms of handling and object collision. That is, I seem to get knocked flying from hitting rocks that I was able to simply drive over in the PS3 version. This is sad for me, because I love driving around and running things over. (In Borderlands!)

The thing is, as I said at the beginning, despite the issues in the Vita version of Borderlands 2, it's still a lot of fun. So much fun that I could have written this review several days ago, but I didn't want to put down the Vita and spend my free time writing. The graphical issues don't cause problems often, the patch fixed most of the actual impact of the audio problems, and the control issues are helped by the fact that I'm playing as a Mechromancer. Her main skill summons a robot who flies around attacking enemies, and her passive skills do things like add ricochets to your bullets, so she can still dish out the hurt even with control problems.

I can't unconditionally recommend this game to you, but I can say that as someone who's beaten Borderlands 2 on PS3, I have no regrets about buying it again on Vita. If you enjoyed it on home console and would like to keep playing, it's probably worth the price, which is about $5 less than the current price of the DLC that the Vita version includes. If you haven't played it at all, then I'd definitely recommend one version or another, but I'd leave it up to you to decide whether that version should be on Vita or on a home console.


© 2014 Sony Computer Entertainment, Gearbox Software. All rights reserved.




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