Despite being the most well-funded, iconic release from any Australian developer this year, it’s telling that Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel isn’t launching on the current-gen consoles. That isn’t a slight against Borderlands or 2K’s Canberra-based studio but an acknowledgement of our station, that our industry isn’t purpose-built for major AAA blockbusters any more but the smaller space underneath.
But as iconic as the Borderlands series is, playing a major role in reinvigorating the industry’s passion for co-operative gaming a few years back, The Pre-Sequel only preaches to the choir.
If you weren’t already a convert to the loot-driven first person shooter and its maniacal sense of humour, then the ocker charms and icy wastelands of Elpis will do little to win you over.
The game kicks off with the heroes from the original Borderlands interrogating one of the new playable characters, Athena, about her motivations for supporting the reign of terror lead by the Hyperion corporation and Handsome Jack, the antagonist from Borderlands 2. From there, the plot becomes the backstory for the events between the first two games, with the vault hunters occasionally interjecting from the present to question your actions.
It allows for some smile-inducing, if not quite genuinely funny, one-liners that don’t require the over-the-top displays or setups Borderlands is known for.
It’s refreshing given the humour and styling The Pre-Sequel relies on, which reflects an ideal of how Americans see our sunburnt country, much in the same way Crocodile Dundee did.
For everyone else, the regular shore-living, urban dwelling Australian, The Pre-Sequel might be a fraction too bogan to be genuinely funny, although there will always be some cheerful tropes, like the side mission from The Don that riffs on cricket with an irreverence many detractors will find all too familiar.
The setting and plot aside, The Pre-Sequel is really all about guns, loot and the vault hunters that wield them. There are four new playable characters, although the starring cast is making more of a return appearance, with each of them either having featured as bosses or prominent NPCs in Borderlands 2 or Borderlands 2 DLC packs.
Out of the four, the divisive chatterbox Claptrap is the most curious, with an action skill that differs markedly depending on the situation. It’s designed to calculate the situation and offer you the best mix of skills from other vault hunters to suit.
What ensues is just as bizarre as it is amusing; sometimes you’ll get a support AI that helps clear out enemies for you, while other times you’ll spawn in a constantly bouncing rubber duckie that reflects all bullets.
Claptrap’s general skills, however, are largely attuned for co-operative play than a solo campaign, making the one-wheeled robot more of a novelty. The other characters – Athena the Gladiator, Wilhelm the Enforcer and Nisha the Lawbringer – have more defined personalities as actual vault hunters, with powerful individual skills and group bonuses, rather than having to trade off accuracy, shields or gun damage as Claptrap often does.
I’d already given The Enforcer and his assault-style abilities a go at EB Expo, so I spent the majority of my playthrough with Nisha’s brief but exceptionally powerful core skill. Called Showdown, the ability automatically aims at targets and boosts your damage, fire rate, reload speed, movement, accuracy and bullet speed until the timer runs out.
When paired with weapons and abilities to ricochet projectiles among enemies, the result is the kind of colourful, chaotic carnage only a Borderlands game could deliver. You’ll get more of that frantic action in The Pre-Sequel too, with the low gravity environments and ground slams encouraging aggression from both the player and the AI.
The new laser and cold weapons pack a punch, although I found the lasers far more versatile particularly when paired with Nisha’s skill that guarantees headshots.
Mostly I reverted to type though, deploying the sniper rifle/pistol/rocket launcher/semi automatic combination that worked well for me in Borderlands 2, changing out individual guns as I found more powerful ones and holding a couple of elemental types in reserve just in case.
Most of The Pre-Sequel is fairly familiar, with the mission structure largely based on running back and forth, pushing buttons and retrieving items for NPCs. The visual variety and diversity of the characters Elpis and the Helios space station, the two locations you’ll traverse in The Pre-Sequel, doesn’t save the fact that you’re still carrying out the same type of busy work you did when the first Borderlands launched.
2K Australia are relying on the characters and the voice acting to pull players through, as well as the slow descent of Handsome Jack into his psychotic megalomania that was so prominent in Borderlands 2.
But while it’s nice to see Australia get more representation, the humour isn’t consistently funny enough or nuanced to make The Pre-Sequel more appealing to anyone who wasn’t hooked by the previous games.
That said, the Canberra-based studio has comfortably managed to make Elpis and the Helios station lively enough – particularly with the low gravity environments and the oxygen mechanic that allows for higher jumps, mid-air boosts and ground slams – that The Pre-Sequel doesn’t feel like a slightly larger, more expensive DLC pack.
It has its own soul, its own character and for fans of the previous games, The Pre-Sequel should be considered a must play. The ultimate shame is that 2K’s local studio hasn’t been able to vary the formula enough, despite the heavy dose of Australiana, to convince non-believers to jump on board the Borderlands train.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is available now on PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Mac and Linux.