Thursday, June 19, 2014

MiniReview - Borderlands 2 on Vita.

Borderlands 2 on Vita is "the worst version of a good game."  That's true, but I can't make it my final word on the subject.  Textures are far lower, framerate isn't (nearly) as smooth as on consoles and details are reduced.  I wasn't the biggest fan of Borderlands 2 on PS3 in 2012 - it's not a perfect game, and didn't feel any great need to check out its Vita port when it launched in May.

Reviews, in general, were pretty negative about the port - but I picked it up anyway.

Why?  Because fellow gamers in every gamer forum I visit were telling each other it actually does a fine job of letting you play Borderlands 2 on the go.  In 2012 I suggested that, for all its faults, "an open-world space western lootfest RPG/FPS is still a beautiful thing", and two years and one platform later, that remains true.

Even in its reduced role, here, Borderlands 2 retains all those delicious facets that made it a hit in the first place.  It wasn't because it's the best damned shootin' game around - it wasn't true on your PS3 and it's not true here, as Killzone Mercenary still holds that distinction on Vita - it was because the game is a huge, rootin' tooting open-world sci-fi-western FPS RPG with all the fixins.

It doesn't hurt that the Vita version includes Gaige the Mechromancer and Krieg the Psycho, the two interesting character classes that came along as DLC in the original game, along with the Captain Scarlett and her Pirate’s Booty and Mr. Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage expansion packs.

Despite fitting in your hand, Borderlands 2 retains its hugeness.  It provides a colossal world to wander and the endless pursuit of ever-higher levels and ever-deeper penetration into your chosen skill tree.  It continues to offer a literally-infinite number of possible guns to obtain and turn against your foes (all guns in Borderlands 2 are randomly-generated, save for a few mission-specific weapons that usually suck).  It still allows for a cool wealth of character customization, its quests are still zany fun, its characters are still entertainingly written, funny and well-acted.

It has grenades that teleport out of your hand to detonate twenty yards away, spliting into twelve enemy-seeking projectiles which robs foes of their health as it applies fire damage, and returns that health to you via ethereal, floating first-aid symbols.  That's awesome.

Everything you loved about it there is here.

It's just that the framerate's not quite there.  Before going hands-on with it, I was terribly worried that its controls would hurt the title.  The Vita lacks R1 and L1 buttons, and its un-clickable analog sticks lack the L3 and R3 inputs.  It makes up for these with the left and ride side of the touchscreen functioning as buttons, as well as the left and right edges of the rear touchpad.  The default control scheme didn't work for me, at first, but after mapping things where I wanted them - exit vehicle and grenade on the front touchscreen, run and melee on the rear touchpad - it plays great.

You can remap every single input in Borderlands 2's Vita version, and it's a lovely addition.  The game is perfectly comfortable to play, now, and one finds themselves losing track of time while fighting off psycho bandits with a slag-throwing submachine gun in one hand and a brutal shotgun in the other.

And that's... all Borderlands 2 on Vita needed to do.  It needed to offer the same breadth and depth - the same content, the same sense of humor, the same scale, the same huge experience - and it does.

Borderlands 2 works on Vita.  I didn't believe it at first.  Back in May I "strongly suggested you wait for reviews," but the final word is this:

The framerate is lower than on consoles, but it hasn't limited my ability to shoot and snarl and kick asses across Pandora on the go.  Once again, even with its faults, an open-world space western lootfest RPG/FPS is a beautiful thing.

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