E3 2012: Borderlands 2 Co-op Hands-On
First-person shooters and I have a tenuous history. My first real FPS experience came at the hands of GoldenEye 64, a novelty that was made palatable by its pick-up-and-play nature, customizable matches, and couch co-op that brought out the competitiveness among siblings, friends, and whoever happened to be cheap enough to pick Oddjob. Between then and now, the only first-person game I’ve had any fun with in a multiplayer sense has been last year’s Portal 2. The cooperative nature of the gameplay made solving puzzles satisfying and the superb work by Ellen McClain as GLaDOS goading you and your teammate on along the way kept you listening for the next witty barb to come your way.
Perhaps it’s a combination of these two formative experiences that drew me in to the co-op demo of Borderlands 2 from Gearbox Interactive. Having not played the original Borderlands, I was hesitant to plunge straight into a co-op match in a universe I’d had no experience in. Instead what I found was a genuine delight, and one I may find myself drawn to come the game’s release.
Partnered with a media member similarly unfamiliar with the world of Pandora, we were informed that for the first time we’d be able to play as any of the four playable characters in co-op: Maya the siren, the “Gunzerker” Salvador, and newly playable Commando Axton and assassin Zer0. Encouraged by the opportunity to drop into these new characters, my comrade-in-arms chose Axton while I put my camping skills to use and grabbed Zer0.
Playing a PC build of the game with a 360-style controller, we were prompted upon dropping into the game to select our skills menu and upgrade our abilities. Like the original Borderlands, Borderlands 2 is a first-person RPG/shooter hybrid, and shots that hit their mark earn you XP that can be collected to enhance your character’s abilities. Each class has a unique set of characteristics that can be leveled up and used to unlock even more useful perks as you progress. Being an assassin, I poured my points into abilities that allowed me to achieve critical hits from farther distances, and more accuracy to ensure those sniper shots hit their mark.
The first thing you’ll notice about Borderlands 2 is the stylish rendering of the level design. In a generation that has cashed in on HD visuals to produce gritty, ultra-realistic settings, the cell-shaded, almost comic book design of Borderlands is a welcome and pleasing change of scenery. My partner and I set off in search of our objective: find a way to destroy the four statues through the plaza we’ve found ourselves in, each looking suspiciously like Presidents of old. To do this, we needed to find and reprogram a robot to do the heavy lifting for us, and protect that automaton as it laser-cut through the base of each statue.
Our inexperience within the Borderlands universe became very clear as we found ourselves swarmed early on by defense mechs, our skills clearly outmatched by even the simplest of enemies. However, the learning curve of Borderlands 2 proved to be quick and straightforward, as we soon found ourselves dispatching enemies quickly and in tandem, capitalizing on our need to rely on each other’s strengths. My assassin’s long-distance rifles were able to soften up enemies for my partner’s heavy-weapon-wielding commando to take down. Even when you’re not responsible for the final blow, you’re rewarded for each successful shot, which allows both players to bank XP quickly and level up quickly at early levels.
One of the benefits of our early failures was the opportunity to see the game’s second-chance mechanic at work, sometimes quite often. When your character’s health has been depleted, and your teammate is unable to revive you, your character goes prone and enters a third-person mode. The only options available to you are to sacrifice yourself and respawn, or try and kill an enemy from this position to give you a ‘Second Wind.’ With the change in perspective, shots are more prone to miss their mark, but the opportunity to take out an opponent and return to the match is extremely useful, especially if your teammate is in a similar position or too far away on the map to revive you in time.
The final notable moments from our demo came in the narration from two important characters to the single-player story, your antagonist Handsome Jack and the robot Claptrap who carries over from the first game. Claptrap’s helpful hints and odd, quirky dialogue were the highlight of an audio track that fit right in with the not-too-serious mood of the game, while Handsome Jack taunted you in a way that felt like GLaDOS all over again, just in a smarmy, TV announcer kind of way. Indeed the whole of the sound design for Borderlands 2 fit quite well, each gun sounding a little different to represent the class it belongs to, with heavy weapons given the appropriate heft and long-range sniper rifles quieter and lighter to help conceal.
Borderlands 2 was not on my radar coming into E3, mostly because I had no history with the previous title. With the unique style, fun gameplay, and wealth of character customizations options, I may have just found another co-op title to draw friends and Oddjob-abusers alike into come release on September 18 (September 21 in Europe). Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go track down a copy of Borderlands: Game of the Year edition.