Borderlands 2 (Vita): A Short Pause Review
Since most of you have already played Borderlands 2 – judging by the sales anyways – I’m not going to review the story in depth as you already know whether you like it or hate it. Long story short, four vault hunters are traveling to Pandora — the dangerous, loot-filled world that houses Borderlands 2 — in the hopes of finding a rumored vault that contains a powerful creature that can be controlled by whoever releases it. Unfortunately, their trip is cut short after a “warm welcome” from the ever charming — and psychotic — Handsome Jack leaves their train in ruins. Turns out that Jack wants to find this fabled Vault as well; he’s a control freak who wants the power that the Vault contains. The Vault Hunters, unintimidated by Jack's every attempt to destroy them, are determined to reach the Vault before Jack does. The story, while not bad by any means, takes a backseat to all of the colorful characters you encounter throughout your journey. The dark humor on hand here is morbidly hilarious, and will have you chuckling and shaking your head (in a good way) throughout most of the game.
When it comes to gaming on the PlayStation Vita, it’s important to keep your expectations in check. Granted, the system is an impressive handheld gaming device, but it will never be 1:1 with gaming on a PlayStation 4 — or PlayStation 3 for that matter. As much as I appreciate having dual analog sticks, I’ve just come to terms with the fact that they lack the precision you find while using a DualShock 4. I don’t have a problem with this for two reasons. One, I use the Vita for the very reason I bought it: gaming on the go in small intervals. I understand many folks enjoy long play sessions on the Vita, and more power to you. I just prefer to game on my handhelds in shorter bursts. Second, I just feel more comfortable engaging in long play sessions on my console while using a console controller. Even when I’m using Remote Play to grind away in FFXIV, it’s in small doses.
”When it comes to gaming on the PlayStation Vita, it’s important to keep your expectations in check. Granted, the system is an impressive handheld gaming device, but it will never be 1:1 with gaming on a PlayStation 4 — or PlayStation 3 for that matter. "
With that out of the way, I can honestly say that your level of enjoyment while playing Borderlands 2 will depend on how accustomed you are to first-person shooters on the PlayStation Vita. If you’re one of those amazing players I’ve had the honor of having my ass handed to me by while playing Killzone: Mercenary, then you will be right at home with Borderlands 2. Just like its console counterpart, the enemies in Borderlands 2 are a nimble group, and don’t often stay in one spot for very long. While running around trying to keep your sights on these guys may be a challenge for newcomers, the auto-aim feature does help offset the lack of precision in the analog sticks. With a little practice, first-person shooters on the PlayStation Vita can be very entertaining.
Even though many gamers still view touchscreen controls as gimmicky and forced, they appear to be here for the long haul. For the most part, the touchscreen controls are adequate, yet not perfect here. On the default settings, you tap the bottom right quadrant of the front touchscreen to throw a grenade, while tapping the bottom left will activate your player’s special ability. The rear touch-panel – used for sprinting (left side) and melee attacks (right side) – works, but there were a few instances where it didn’t register the input for me. Since I’ve begun playing on the new PlayStation Vita Slim, it’s been a much better experience, as the smaller rear touch pad has considerably reduced the amount of accidental melees while playing. All said, playing Borderlands 2 on the PlayStation Vita is a good experience overall, though the lack of R2 and L2 buttons will forever limit first-person shooters on the handheld.
Leading up to the launch of Borderlands 2 on the PlayStation Vita, there were some reports of the game suffering from lots of stuttering and other performance issues. There is definitely a new focus on a game's technical performance since the launch of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (thanks, Resolution-gate!), and apparently it’s trickling down to other devices as well. I think it’s important to remember that even though Iron Galaxy Studios has done a good job porting a massive game (with a massive amount of content) over to the PlayStation Vita, running a PlayStation 3 game on a PlayStation Vita is not apples to apples, and there is always the possibility that some things just may not run as well on a handheld as they do on a console. I’m sure that some folks would argue that if they’re paying $40 for a game, they expect it to work perfectly — especially in light of the technical marvel that was Killzone: Mercenary — and that’s understandable.
One area that looks like it wasn’t at all affected by the port is the art design of Pandora; all of the cell-shaded beauty that stood out in the console versions is just as impressive on the PlayStation Vita. The world is huge, the draw distances are impressive, and the character models still look good in the palm of your hands. I did notice that when you’re being attacked by a group of enemies their numbers are less than what you would expect to see in the console versions, but this goes back to what I mentioned earlier; in order to port a console game over to a handheld, concessions need to be made. Whether or not these limitations are acceptable will vary based on each individual’s expectations and preferences.
There’s not much to report in regards to the game's sound design that wasn’t already covered when the game launched back in 2012. The same witty banter and dark humor is present, and Handsome Jack is still as charming as ever as the eccentric antagonist. While using the PlayStation Gold Wireless headset, most of the weapons had some good pop to them, and explosions sound good as well.
Now, I have to address the stuttering that is present in the game. First, you’ll experience some stuttering when you walk past a save station, but that’s nothing new, as the same thing would happen while playing on the PlayStation 3. There were, however, other instances where the game would stutter, if only for a split second. I couldn’t tell if it was happening when I entered an area and it had to load the appropriate enemies, because I wasn’t doing anything other than wandering around the map. Then it became a little more prevalent during the battle against Boom and Bewm (lol, oh Borderlands), and we (Ben and I, more on co-op coming up) had to worry about multiple Psychos chasing us down. It was noticeable, but very rarely did it result in a cheap death. I can understand the frustration when a game bogs down to a crawl for seconds at a time, but I never encountered that. Yes, there are some occasional stutters, but it’s hardly a deal breaker. Would I have liked the game to run without any hiccups? Absolutely! But then I wonder what else, from the presentation or the co-op, the developer would have had to cut out in order to make that happen. The game just launched, so there’s always the possibility that Iron Galaxy Studios can address this stutter in a future update.
”Would I have liked the game to run without any hiccups? Absolutely! But then I wonder what else, from the presentation or the co-op, the developer would have had to cut out in order to make that happen."
As I mentioned above, we tested the game's co-op functionality to see if that gave us the true Borderlands experience. It was announced about a week or so before launch that Borderlands 2 would be limited to two-player online co-op, as opposed to the normal four-player option found on consoles. Understandably, there were some gripes and moans, but I’m happy to report that Ben and I had a very good time playing Borderlands 2 cooperatively. You can join your friends game from the main menu exactly like you can on the console versions, or you can send an invite to a friend to join your game. Matchmaking is available as well, although we didn’t try that out. When you team up with a friend, you can use the in-game chat functionality to communicate, but we found using the PlayStation Vita’s party chat to be a much better experience. While playing Borderlands 2 solo is a good time, it’s always been much better with another person. While it would have been ideal to squeeze in four-player co-op — as that is the ultimate Borderlands experience — it's possible it would’ve led to more performance issues with the game. If this were the case, I’m glad they didn’t force it into the final product.
Overall, Borderlands 2 on the PlayStation Vita may not be on par with the console and PC versions, but it’s still fun and entertaining. While there are some cutbacks here that were necessary to bring the epic to the PlayStation Vita, and a frame rate that isn’t consistent, you’ll still find yourself spending plenty of time exploring the unpredictably violent world of Pandora. Packed with an incredible amount of content (most of the released DLC), memorable characters, and a “gagillion weapons” to be looted, Borderlands 2 for the PlayStation Vita is a good time on the go, and a welcome addition to the ever-expanding library of games available for the PlayStation Vita.
- It's Borderlands 2 on the go!
- Tons of content
- Good story with memorable characters
- Cross-save with the PlayStation 3 version
- Minor technical issues
- Not the "full" Borderlands experience
- Rear touch pad controls are spotty