Borderlands 2 Eyes-On
In typical Borderlands style, our Gamescom demo of Borderlands 2 threw up a number of random, bizarre, humorous moments. The most memorable of these involved a boss known as ‘Nomad’. Nomad – a giant of a man that wears a large red, face obscuring hood – carries a missile launcher sized mini-gun and a riot shield formed from ripped and riveted steel. So far, so normal.
As Nomad approaches, though, one realises that strapped to the riveted steel shield is the kicking and screaming “Midget Psycho”. Here’s where the non-scripted magic that made the original Borderlands a success first reveals itself in the sequel. When shooting at Nomad three things can happen to Midget Psycho. One, you accidentally (or on purpose) shoot Midget Psycho and he dies. Two, you kill Nomad while somehow managing to keep Midget Psycho out of harms way. Or three, you shoot the ropes tying Midget Psycho to the shield and he escapes. Disclaimer: there may be other outcomes.
It was the latter result that came to pass during our demo. The genius though is that, rather than simply running away, Midget Psycho shows that he possesses some gigantic balls by turning and attacking Nomad. Being so small and lacking a proper weapon the little guy doesn’t last long (getting stamped into a congealing puddle of blood), but he provides enough of a distraction to allow you to unload a few clips into Nomad without retort.
In short, if Borderlands 2 can recreate enough of these moments throughout its entire length then we’re never going to be left wanting in terms of pure, violence-driven entertainment.
Gearbox Software’s Steve Gibson, the man given the task of presenting the game to press at Gamescom, reassured us that such moments are numerous and that different players will experience and interpret them in a unique manner. What he also said was that the company are not interested in producing rushed knocked-off sequels (a statement used to validate the ‘fiscal year 2013’ release window).
On the evidence of Borderlands 2’s successful Gamescom showing (and in contrast to the usual PR crap-o-la), Mr Gibson might just be telling the truth. Borderlands 2 looks set to expand on the original in almost every area, along with adding a bunch of new elements for good measure.
One of these new elements is split screen multiplayer. More than simply a dividing line down the centre of the screen though, Borderlands 2’s split screen is a means to an. Two players playing in split screen can join up with other Borderland-ers online in the same way as you can in competitive games of Halo Reach or Call of Duty: Black Ops -allowing for numerous wandering duos to join up and kill some Midget Psychos togethers.
Gibson also promised that the matchmaking issues that plagued so many online matches in the original have been fixed; an issue that frustrated a large bulk of players without access to other Borderlands aficionados on their friend lists.
Also new is the ability to wield any two weapons in tandem. The possibilities of dual-weilding are obvious: hook yourself up with a shotgun and sniper rifle and you’ve got a close and long range option, pack two big machine guns to deal with big groups Rambostyle or go all James Bond with some smaller, more sophisticated armaments. How dual-weilding affects your accuracy, movement speed and the like (if at all) is yet to revealed but the potential seems to be there for players to further indulge their preferred style of play.
Like the first game, weapons are grouped in aesthetics and performance according to their respective manufacturers. The finest example of a new weapon was an energy rifle developed by one of the game’s more advanced companies and, rather than standard reloading, allowed you to throw the weapon away when its clip ran out and have it replaced by a magically manifesting weapon of an identical nature. More than just a fancy visual effect, the act of throwing the gun away can be used as an attack; if your foe is low enough on health the impact can end their life.
Firearms produced by roaming gangs and other under-funded organisations are lacking in comparative technology and therefore tend to focus on pure brute force over finesse. Predictably, they’re also more prone to jamming and wear down faster than more reputable models.
Along with manifesting weaponry there are numerous other upgrades to the game’s visual appearance. The user-interface employed for your inventory and skill-tree looks much more attractive this time around and, as a result, is easier to make sense of. When roaming such menus you can now see your character in full view of to the side of the screen; presumably so that you can see how attractive they look/don’t look when equipping new items. It’s a small but welcome change that rids the game of the traditionally lacklustre approach of such elements in the bulk of titles that include them.
The skill tree itself seems to pack robust and extensive depth for a game that’s still very much in the throngs of development. Different skill threads are designated to weapon, physical and passive abilities etc. We didn’t have time to take note of many of the individual skills and their various uses but one stood out above all else in the naming stakes: ‘Sexual Tyrannosaurus’, granting the ability to regenerate your health more quickly.
Our demo ended with a frantic shootout against all manner or robots (both ground and air based), foot soldiers and manned mechs. The area, ‘Bloodshot Ramparts’, was situated at one end of a working dam and provided a wonderful panoramic view of the area, showing off the impressive draw distance. Apparently, unlike the first game, any area that you see can from such a vantage point can be visited no matter what your character level.
This particular Bloodshot Ramparts mission involved saving Roland (yes, Roland from the original Borderlands) from the mobile, floating jail cell we find him trapped within. As the mini-cell moves deeper into the battlements it’s up to the player to battle through the assembled guards in a bid to keep pace with Roland and his vehicular containment vessel.
Eventually, the cell itself transformed into something resembling the ED-209 ‘chicken walker’ from RoboCop. A brief skirmish later and a cut-scene kicks showing us being flung unceremoniously from the heights of the dam. Fade to black during mid-fall. Demo over.
Nothing like a cliff-hanger to keep us coming back for more.
Considering the amount of time remaining until release and the fact that this is the first showing of Borderlands 2, things look impressively well thought out and intelligently implemented. Even the textures, frame-rate and loading times seemed ‘retail-ready’. Let’s hope that Gearbox use the remaining time wisely and resist the urge to over-engineer the concept and the mechanics to the point that it becomes a caricature/satire of itself. Then again, caricature and satire are two of the things that made the original so charming…