Review: Borderlands 2 (Vita) [With tips and tricks!]

Developer: Gearbox Software | Year: 2014 | List Price: $39.99 | Buy from Amazon

BL2VitaBack in October, I got a PS Vita, my first and only non-Nintendo game console. It was bundled with Borderlands 2, a game which on Vita garnered a mixed reception. I had never really got into shooters, so I was interested to try out a new genre and I had heard so many great things about Borderlands in particular. I have since played the game, mostly solo, to the end of the main quest and would like to give a couple of my thoughts. The Vita version is the full version of Borderlands 2, but there are a couple of things to consider before you decide whether it’s for you.

Some Vita-specific comments, tips, and tricks: First, the game is rather massive: the base game is about 3.3GB and the DLCs total out to be about another 2. This means that if you got the digital game bundled with the Vita, like I did, the game actually takes up most of the 8GB card. The best solution is either to upgrade to a larger card immediately (which is pricey but worth doing anyway), or to not get the bundle and then buy the physical version of Borderlands 2, which’ll take 3.3GB out of the equation, diminishing the game’s footprint significantly. The good news about this is that no matter how you buy the game, you’re actually getting some DLCs included, which means you’re getting lots of content for a reasonable price.

Secondly, the game does suffer some performance issues on Vita. The framerate never really seems to hit 30 at the best of times, and drops almost to the level of a slideshow during intense firefights. Personally, I didn’t find this to be as bad in practice as it sounds, but I know how much framerate means to some people. Something I found to help is to enable Flight Mode while playing. This seems to increase the framerate and generally improve performance, though of course it won’t work in multiplayer. The load times are also really long, though they don’t happen very often, since environments are quite vast. Also, textures take a while to pop sometimes, making some characters’ faces look a bit strange sometimes.

Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention the controls. The Vita has four less buttons than the average gamepad, lacking the two stick buttons and the two triggers. These inputs are mappable to the touchscreen and rear touchpad, though I encourage you to manually map these for greatest effect. You can adjust how much of the rear touchpad is sensitive, in case you find yourself always touching the edges of it by accident. I personally preferred it to be really small, and I mapped the crouch button and the weapon toggle buttons to it, two inputs I use rarely. Ultimately, the control scheme on Vita isn’t a game-breaker, but it’ll take some customisation to get used to.

On to the real review: Borderlands 2 is the 2012 sequel to the 2009 hit Borderlands and is part of the larger Borderlands franchise. Despite being a first-person shooter, Borderlands 2 incorporates RPG elements such as a leveling system and an emphasis on loot. The series is also renowned for its crude but witty humour. Borderlands 2 received numerous accolades at the time of its release, actually being awarded Game of the Year by some publications.

The story picks off from the end of the original Borderlands, though I still found the game easy to understand even not having played the latter. Basically, Handsome Jack and the Hyperion corporation are controlling the valuable resource Eridium on the planet Pandora, and its up to you, a Vault Hunter, to join the rebellion and defeat them. The four Vault Hunters from the first game all play a large role in the story, They are likable and watching their interactions is fun even if I probably didn’t get all the inside jokes.

Honestly, the story of Borderlands 2 isn’t stellar, but you won’t notice it because the world is so quirky and the characters so bizarre. The dialogue is excellently voiced (especially that of Handsome Jack) and so hilariously written I actually found myself laughing out loud at times.

The gameplay is the real hook here, and though some might find the overall shoot-and-loot structure to be tiring or repetitive, I found it inexplicably addictive to level up and try to collect rarer and rarer loot. Whenever you open a chest or kill a boss, the guns are spawned randomly, meaning you’ll go through different playthroughs of the game with different weapons. There are four (6 with DLC) different characters to play as, all of which require different playstyles. I played through the game as Zer0, an assassin who relies on sniper rifles and melee damage and found the game really enjoyable.

I also mostly played solo, and though Borderlands 2 is undeniably built for coöperative play, I found solo play made the game even more interesting, in a way. Bosses regenerate their health when all players die, so when playing solo, you have to kill all bosses in a single life. There were a couple timed missions that were extremely frustrating solo, and I brought a friend in for a late-game boss, but if you’re a bit uncertain about how fun Borderlands 2 is solo, rest assured that you won’t miss out in terms of fun. In any case, the Vita version only supports up to 2 players, and I’m really excited to do a new playthrough with my little brother when he gets the game to experience the different dynamic.

Altogether, Borderlands 2 is a marvellous game, whether on Vita or elsewhere. You get it for free with the purchase of a new Vita, and the amount of gameplay you’re getting is no jest. I actually took 50 hours to beat the game, but I also dabbled with DLC and did over 90 side missions during that time. If you didn’t get the bundle, I still believe the game is worth the $40 purchase, but do your memory card a favour and get the physical version.  If there’s one real disappointment I have, it’s that the Tiny Tina DLC isn’t playable on Vita (I actually thought it was until half an hour ago, and was really excited to play it, so I’m pretty bummed!)

Design: 9/10 The story is interesting and humourous, with great characters, well-written dialogue, and excellent voice-acting. The Wild West-inspired planet of Pandora is a joy to explore. Say what you like about how it compares to the console releases, this is still one of the biggest games on Vita and that can’t be overstated.

Visuals: 7/10 The unique cel-shaded graphics work well on the smaller screen, and though it doesn’t always render well on the little handheld, Borderlands 2 Vita still has its moments of beauty.

Sound: 8/10 The music isn’t really memorable, though the themes serve well to add to the Wild West theme. What really is outstanding is the voice acting, especially that of Handsome Jack, who is voiced by award-winning Dameon Clarke.

Gameplay: 9/10 Borderlands 2 marries first-person shooter mechanics with an RPG leveling system that adds depth to gameplay. The shoot-and-loot formula is addictive and engaging, and you’ll enjoy coöperatively with a friend. The game is quite difficult at times, especially solo, but there’s so many options in terms of playstyles that you’re always bound to find a solution.

Value: 8/10 The Vita version of Borderlands 2 runs you about $40 if you didn’t get the bundle, though Amazon are usually selling it for around $20 (link below!). You’re getting the 30-40 hour main quest, the Captain Scarlett and Campaign of Carnage DLCs, not to mention the two additional DLC characters to play as. There’s also a New Game+ which’ll help you get the levels and weapons you need to take on extremely tough postgame bosses.

Total: 41/50 (B)

Have you played Borderlands 2 on Vita or elsewhere? Tell us what you thought of it in the comments!

List Price: $39.99 | Buy from Amazon

As always, I have over dozen games in my backlog that I still plan on finishing one day. I’ve put off finishing Final Fantasy X HD for a while and have been playing the PSone JRPG Suikoden. Another game in my library that I feel guilty not playing is BioShock, and I plan on playing a good chunk of it this weekend. In any case, stay tuned for more reviews and articles!

In the meantime, please check out the rest of our video-game related content here, and see an always-up-to-date ranking of my favourite games of all time here. Borderlands 2 may or may not have made the top 10!

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