Now Playing: Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

I know most players can probably take or leave the crass sense of humour Borderlands so often touts, but it’s hard to deny just how satisfying the core acts of shooting and looting both feel in Gearbox’s trademark series. By the time of The Pre-Sequel’s release in 2014, this formula had been well established. That’s why, when returning to this zany, space-based spin-off now on Nintendo Switch (in advance of Tiny Tina’s Wonderlands’ release later this month), gunning down endless legions of crazed psychos and scavs is still second nature. ‘Pop. Pop. Pop’ each of their heads go after falling victim to my fire-equipped pistol. Oh yes, it’s good to be back hunting vaults.

Of course, helping to separate it from any entry that came
before, Pre-Sequel places much more emphasis on story this time around. And
while that sounds like it could be counterproductive within the confines of an
already excellent shooter, hearing your character whoop and taunt in the midst
of a firefight brings an added sense of personality to each mission. No longer
is my vault hunter character simply a voiceless conduit comprised of two arms
only useful for gun switching. Instead, my Level 11 Enforcer feels like a true
part of this world, bouncing off my online companions in our effort to help the
man who would become Handsome Jack fight back against a hostile interplanetary

Taking events off-world for this self-proclaimed sequel of
sorts – it’s sandwiched between the events of Borderlands and Borderlands 2
might mean you have some knowledge of where events lead, yet it hardly matters
when there’s this much variety to gun-play. There’s a near-limitless number of
randomised guns to take hold of in Pre-Sequel, each one more tactile than the
last – and now with new elemental effects like ice. Delicate additions like
this don’t outright change what it means to mow down badass psychos, true, but
when did having more ways to dispatch your enemies ever hurt anyone? Except for
the aforementioned enemies, obviously.

Borderlands enforcer

Being set on a moon’s surface rather than any planet with a
reliable gravitational pull also sees Pre-Sequel make significant changes to
the way you move around. Hopping from destination to destination now feels a
lot floatier by design. Now, I know plenty of people who found this change more
of an annoyance rather than a cool way to indicate a distinct change of setting
between games, but the truth is, I like it. Not only because it inadvertently
makes every shoot-out feel like it’s taking place in a John Woo movie (firing
guns in slow motion? Yes please!) but also because it feeds into the Borderlands
franchise’s intrinsic sense of humour. This is my not-so-subtle way of saying
that zero-G butt slamming needs to make a comeback in first-person shooters;
not that it ever took off in the first place.

Pre-Sequel might successfully build upon Borderlands 2’s
foundation through the inclusion of character voices, elemental upgrades,
laser-based weaponry, and floatier battles, but if there’s one area it pales in
comparison, slightly, it’s in the central hub area. The whole game is tinted in
harsh blues, purples, and deep blacks that chime well with the thick lines of
its cel-shaded comic book art style. And while it works to establish a
noticeably old-school sci-fi atmosphere that wasn’t there before, it does make
the space-port town of Concordia a little, well, dull. Everything just looks
very samey, which isn’t ideal for a location you regularly return to.

True, Concordia’s closely-knit mesh of tight spaces, office
levels, and Mad Moxxi’s bar (of course) doesn’t make or break the game, but
it’s got nothing on Borderlands 2’s floating city of Sanctuary. Whereas that
setting offered up visual respite against the chaotic shooting asked of you
elsewhere, I constantly found myself quickly wanting to escape Pre-Sequel’s hub
town soon after picking up or handing in missions. In Star Wars terms, it’s a
bit like completing a bounty on Jakku, only to visit Tatooine right after – two
distinct locations riffing on the same sandy vibe.

It makes sense once you realise Pre-Sequel doesn’t actually
promise you the world. In fact, you only get a single moon. In a way, it’s
pretty impressive that interim developer 2K Australia managed to make blasting
your way through a fixed environment as fun as it is, but it all coalesces
beautifully whenever you do so with up to three friends, each playing as a
distinct vault hunter class. Four-player online co-op has always been the
beating heart of Borderlands, so it’s no surprise that getting set up on Nintendo
Switch is just as seamless. Although I wouldn’t recommend breaking off the
Joy-Con and attempting local play for fear of dropping frames all over the

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel may not have originated the
co-op loot-shooting formula the series is now known for, but it did help
solidify its sheer brilliance. Playing it again now, nearly a decade on, that’s
made immediately obvious the moment you break out a rifle that spews acid.
Plus, unlike many other similar games of its ilk today – Aliens: Colonial
or Back 4 Blood, say – everything just works. Hit-or-miss humour and a
forgettable hub aside, Pre-Sequel represents the comfort food of first-person
shooting, and I’m quite happy to keep on going back for seconds.

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