When Borderlands 2 released in 2012, it earned Gaming Illustrated’s Best First-Person Shooter for 2012. Back when Borderlands 2 was gearing up for its initial release, Randy Pitchford bandied about the desire to see a Vita port of the game. It wasn’t in the cards at the time, but the title is now out on the PS Vita.
Originally developed by Gearbox Software, Iron Galaxy–the developers who brought you Divekick–handled the task of porting the game to Vita. Naturally, porting a massive game like Borderlands 2 to a handheld console was a difficult task. Certain elements were sacrificed or downgraded so the game could run properly. There are obvious areas where the Vita version lacks compared to its console and PC brethren, but the essential essence of Borderland 2 remains in tack.
No Such Thing as a Free Train Ride
It is a tale as old as time: Vault Hunters take up an offer to hunt for a vault only to be backstabbed by a grinning jerk who tries to blow up their train. Betrayed and left for dead, it is up to the intrepid Vault Hunters and a delusional robot named Claptrap to figure out a way to strike back at Handsome Jack.
Along their journey, players will encounter murderous psychos, rampaging four-armed apes, killer robots and disgusting dog-like mutants. Killing massive amounts of enemies is necessary in order to reach the ultimate goal of getting revenge on Jack. Players get plenty of help from retired Vault Hunters-turned-resistance fighters, sassy mechanics and a deranged little girl. What is the best payback for a greedy and sociopaths capitalist? Easy. Mess with his money and steal the vault he is desperately trying to open.
Humor is a tricky thing. Sometimes it ages well but more often the jokes don’t have the same impact years later. Borderlands 2’s writing remains sharp with a great sense of humor, style and tone. However, certain jokes fall flat after revisiting them nearly two years since the game’s initial release. When humor lands in the game, it remains hilarious as it ever was. What does age well is the game’s structure, from the brilliant opening to the well timed re-introductions of Borderlands’ Vault Hunters in their new roles and their missions. The best thing about Borderlands 2 is that unlike its predecessor, the ending doesn’t suck.
Touch My Claptrap
This is a game about shootin’ and lootin’. To that end, it is highly successful in delivering a fun shooter-looter experience. While the shooting is not as visceral or as immediate as the console experience, the feel is approximated well on Vita. In Borderlands 2, players take on missions both story related and side quests that net them experience and loot. Leveling up is an important aspect to the game as it features heavy RPG elements to temper its FPS gameplay.
As Vault Hunters level up, they gain access to better loot but more importantly, they gain skill points that can be invested into improving overall effectiveness against enemies. Each Vault Hunter has a specific skill they can upgrade in three different tracks. Depending on play style, players can choose to spread points among all skill trees or focus on a specific one. Success in the game becomes a balance between natural FPS skills, solid loot and smart use of skill points. These different elements come together to create a dynamic experience.
One major issue with bringing Borderlands 2 to the Vita is the controls. On console and PC, players used a traditional controller with normal face button, a D-pad, thumb sticks and shoulder buttons or a wide range of key bindings to bring the FPS experience to life. The Vita’s design lacks clickable analog sticks and additional shoulder buttons. To get around this, Iron Galaxy assigned specific functions to the Vita’s front and rear touchpads. On the PS3 and Xbox 360, melee and sprint actions were done by clicking either of the thumb sticks whereas on the Vita these controls are given to the left and right sides of the rear touchpad. While this seems like an awkward way to perform essential actions (and they are at first), they become intuitive and comfortable after a just few minutes.
To compensate for the lack of additional shoulder buttons, performing skills and throwing grenades are assigned to the front touchscreen. Tapping on the left corner of the touchscreen pops off a player’s skill while tapping on the right side throws a grenade at the enemy. After a brief adjustment period, controls feel natural. This is an elegant solution to the Vita’s setup and uses the Vita’s unique features to create a smart, intuitive control scheme.
A Borderlands 2 By Any Other Name
On Vita, the game does not look nearly as good as its previous versions, but it doesn’t look bad by any means. There are obvious downgrades to the resolution and compression, but the scope and overall visual look remains in tact. The reason the game makes a successful transition from console to handheld is the cel-shaded, heavy lined art style, which looks solid on Vita, especially the environments. However, character models show clear fuzziness.
The bigger issue is performance. There are frame rate issues (not necessarily worse than the console versions, but different) and issues with frequent texture pop-ins or textures loading slowly. This is somewhat forgivable since it is a miracle it runs on the Vita at all, let alone running so well. These issues don’t necessarily hamper the experience but they are noticeable.
Unfortunately, the game lacks Cross-Save support. The title menu shows a Cross-Save option that allows users to upload and download their Borderlands 2 characters but it doesn’t work. The PlayStation 3 version has no Cross-Save option meaning it is not currently possible for players to take their character on the go and keep leveling up. The feature is a major draw for the Vita version of the game so it is disappointing it is not working. There is a chance Cross-Save support will be added in the near future but it is shame It does not work at launch.
Borderlands 2 was a good game when it originally released on consoles and it still is now. There are obvious limitations to the Vita version of the game, but thanks to a smart art style, it translates well. Despite its flaws, Borderlands 2 on Vita delivers the same snappy shooter gameplay the original did.
There was clearly plenty of care and thought put into bringing Borderlands 2 to Sony’s handheld device. From creating an intuitive control scheme to account for the loss of buttons to optimizing the experience for the handheld without sacrificing the game’s core, Borderlands 2 successfully makes the leap to the Vita.