‘Borderlands 2’ survives on Pandora with a sense of humor

Sept. 17, 2012 | 9:00 p.m.
maig7epd ‘Borderlands 2’ survives on Pandora with a sense of humor

Salvador battles River Threshers in a scene from the video game "Borderlands 2." (2K Games / Gearbox)

maig9spd ‘Borderlands 2’ survives on Pandora with a sense of humor

Zer0 takes on Stalker enemies at close range in a scene from the video game "Borderlands 2." (2K Games / Gearbox)

maig8fpd ‘Borderlands 2’ survives on Pandora with a sense of humor

Zer0 closes in on a flying Bug Morph in a scene from the video game "Borderlands 2." (2K Games / Gearbox)

maig7lpd ‘Borderlands 2’ survives on Pandora with a sense of humor

Maya uses her phaselock ability on a Spiderant in a scene from the video game "Borderlands 2." (2K Games / Gearbox)

maig5xpd ‘Borderlands 2’ survives on Pandora with a sense of humor

Handsome Jack's robot army is deployed from his moon base in a scene from the video game "Borderlands 2." (2K Games / Gearbox)

maig6dpd ‘Borderlands 2’ survives on Pandora with a sense of humor

Mordecai, one of the heroes from the 2009 video game "Borderlands," returns in the sequel as a non-playable character. He is shown here in a scene from "Borderlands 2." (2K Games / Gearbox)


“Borderlands 2” puts a happy face on the apocalypse.

What makes the barren rocky terrain and endless sand dunes of the future worth exploring here is not the stress-relieving pleasure of destroying tiny, psychotic mutant humanoids. No, what drives this shoot-and-loot space western is far simpler: humor.

For starters, the game’s ultimate villain is not an alien life form but a far more familiar manifestation of evil: the power-crazed CEO. Handsome Jack of the Hyperion Corporation has taken over planet Pandora to harvest its natural resources and kill off its would-be colonists. That’s you. Your mission is to stop him, although his ultimate nefarious goals are unknown.

You do have a sidekick though. Claptrap is a chirpy robot who cheers on the carnage — but admits that under his perky programmed facade he’s in fact severely depressed.

The setting of “Borderlands 2” is familiar to anyone who’s seen “The Road Warrior”: tattered flags, lots of rocks and a bunch of loosely constructed steampunk structures. The details and color are in the guns — available from vending machines and painted with designs such as shark’s teeth — as well as the spare-but-sharp dialogue and the pleasingly drawn backgrounds. For the latter, think anime, but via the animated scenes in Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” franchise rather than the source material.

“Borderlands” was a surprise hit when it came out in 2009, and developer Gearbox (plus publisher 2K Games) have invested heavily in expanding the world. The game offers a lighthearted — if not topical — touch to the often violent and crass universe of first-person shooters.

In the distressed economic climate of Pandora, the omnipresent Hyperion Corporation is almost impossible to avoid. Though gamers are free to pick one of four new players — a sci-fi ninja, two dump-truck-looking men and one girl of nearly every man’s dreams — it’s never quite clear if they’re all just pawns in a Hyperion-crafted plot. Plus, it’s always a mystery just which part of their insidious plot you’ve wandered into.

Why else, for instance, would they ensure that gamers never actually die? Because for just a few dollars in electronic currency, Hyperion will have you resurrected, or “respawned,” in “Borderlands” parlance.

Time and again, the resurrection machines are careful to thank users for continually dying while maintaining good credit.

And die regularly you will. The game is vast and difficult. In terms of sheer gameplay, the $59.99 game, available for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC, boasts a nearly 60-hour campaign.

It’s best not to go on this long journey alone, as a solo adventure amounts to little more than shooting and picking up loot. A two-player split screen, or a four-player online version, is where “Borderlands” excels, allowing for a more expedient and strategic exploration of the game’s many missions.

Character growth and weaponry is modeled after a more traditional role-playing game, where completing missions results in experience points. The new character Maya, for instance, can lift and freeze enemies in place, yet this isn’t an ability she opens the game with. In short time, multi-player gaming allows users to mix and match character traits, making carnage and destruction a group sport.

maig4apd ‘Borderlands 2’ survives on Pandora with a sense of humor

Maya, right, and Salvador, left, join forces in a scene from “Borderlands 2.” (2K Games / Gearbox)

The robot companion Claptrap can irritate, but his advice is good for a chuckle. When mapping out a plan of attack at one of the game’s first major crossroads, he takes after “Futurama’s” Bender and says, “We’ll need booze in case that other stuff doesn’t work.”

Drinks aside, “Borderlands 2” could use a way to ease new gamers into its complicated world. That’s coming in a downloadable character update next month. The Mechromancer is a petite punk rock girl who will cost $9.99 and has a skill that shifts the game into easy mode. This was a matter of some debate in the gaming community, as a “Borderlands” designer was quoted as describing the Mechromancer’s ability as “girlfriend mode.”

Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford took to Twitter to clarify, explaining that there is no such thing as “girlfriend mode,” only an ability that makes it easier to share “Borderlands 2” with the unfamiliar, regardless of gender. An unfortunate turn of phrase as “Borderlands 2” lacks the boys-club mentality of a genre forebear like “Duke Nukem” (there is no strip club here).

Yet as someone who spent nearly nine hours on the game’s first major quest, a little hand-holding would have been nice. The game’s built-in characters don’t offer much help in the way of guidance, but have what it takes to survive in such a cutthroat corporate world. “We gotta get moving,” said my double-gun-wielding mercenary during an extended pause to admire some icy scenery. “I’m starting to think about stuff.”

— Todd Martens


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One Response to ‘Borderlands 2’ survives on Pandora with a sense of humor

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