While Borderlands 2 has been out long enough for us to ferret every piece of loot out of every Psycho’s brain cavity, the game recently made its portable debut on the Playstation Vita. What, Borderlands 2 on the go? You can make a meat bicycle in the break room at work?! Darn tootin’ you can!
Priced at 39.99, it’s a tempting steal if you own a Vita. Alternatively, if you haven’t decided to invest in Sony‘s portable console, you can get the Borderlands 2 Vita 2.0 Bundle, which offers you an 8GB memory card as well as the game for free. The Vita itself will be saved for another article, as right now, we’re just going to focus on the game that joined it on the launch of the re-hauled handheld.
The price might look high for a handheld title that’s just a compressed version of a shooter released some time ago, but it’s not just the game you get. It’s chock full of goodies:
- Mr. Torque’s Campaign of Carnage Add-On Campaign
- Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty Add-On Campaign
- Psycho Character Class (Krieg)
- Mechromancer Character Class (Gaige)
- Ultimate Vault Hunter Upgrade Pack 1
- Collector Edition’s Pack
Looks a bit more tempting now, doesn’t it? Well, let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
First off, any title that is translated from a handheld to a console- or vice versa- isn’t going to be perfect. Even the lovable minions of Claptrap aren’t excluded from this unspoken rule. Gameplay-wise, the Vita version of Borderlands 2 runs fine, but players will notice the difference in graphics. The game runs best when you save and quit, and turn off the system as you’re supposed to do. It can be tempting to just pause it and put it in stand-by until you turn it on again, but that invites a whole host of errors.
I’m a bit of a bad gamer in that I’ll leave my handhelds in hibernation mode for long periods of time. As a result, I would run into problems with the Vita version, glitches I didn’t run into on the console. This was due to the fact that you can pause the game and leave it on stand-by for days, something you can’t do with most other systems. We’re talking environmental tears, Marcus somehow getting all of my equipped gear without me actually selling it, missing audio dialogue during story events, and a couple of times where the program just gave up and flat-out crashed on me. Still, this was due to not saving, quitting, and powering off the handheld, and from me purposefully pushing the game as hard as I could to induce any technical problems.
On the bright side, however, I was expecting the graphic translation to be much worse than it turned out to be. The Vita version really isn’t as pretty as the consoles, but on that tiny screen, it does have its own beauty. Naturally in the blown up screenshots, it looks… interesting, to say the least, but remember that my screenshots were based on a five inch screen for a game that was never intended to be on a handheld device. The cel-shaded art style makes it easier to forgive the differences on a smaller monitor.
The game doesn’t require an internet connection to play, which means you do have the option of traveling with it. (In my case, to work, to the park, to an old lady’s house…) It is literally Borderlands on the go, which to me – in the wise words of Gaige – is really AWESOME!
Borderlands 2 is huge, which naturally means that the loading times are going to cause some grievances. The characters try to alleviate this by making the occasional joke or shouting nonsense to entertain you, but you’ll still be suffering an annoying wait. (Fair warning, Krieg really likes to shout at you while you’re sitting on the transition screens.)
The loading can get a bit annoying, but looking at it from a technical perspective, I can’t get too annoyed with it. The game was made for bigger, better engines than the Vita, and you’ll notice the differences there. The idea to use exploding bodies to keep framerate in check was a surprising solution to what could have been a major issue, and is a satisfying feeling for a good headshot. Seriously, I can’t stress how much fun it is to make every single moving thing explode in the game. It was an odd idea, but it worked out very nicely.
The story is there in its entirety, and in some ways, it’s easier to focus on the story in the handheld version. In the case of someone who has hearing problems like myself, the dialogue seems clearer from the Vita speakers, and the music/SF sounds not so overwhelming. That’s not to say that the tiny speakers are better than your home entertainment system, but it felt easier to focus on the dialogue over the ambient sounds.
One thing I really like about the Vita version of Borderlands 2 is the motion sensing. When you’re zoomed in with a weapon, the scope will actually respond to how you move the handheld. Tilt it up, your character will aim up. Tilt it down, Krieg’s looking at his feet. It’s not as sensitive as I would like, but it does make it conveniently easier to aim headshots, or the weak spots on the mechanized units.
The overall control scheme will take some getting used to. I’m not sure if it’s the smaller size of the Vita 2.0 or just the setup altogether, but it can be really easy to trigger accidental grenades or your special ability. Touching the front screen in the lower left corner activates your abilities, while the lower right corner throws a grenade. After the first few mistakes, I figured out I had to be extremely careful about how I was resting my hands on the handheld, as that front screen is insanely sensitive. One tiny little brush, and you just wasted a grenade, or activated Krieg’s glorified rampage of buzz-saw death while running around in Sanctuary.
The back screen controls your sprint (left side) and your melee attack (right). That was easier to prevent accidents with, though I had a few hilarious moments where I’d set the Vita down for a second on my leg or on my cat, and Krieg would sit there smacking at the air until I picked it back up.
The only other control complaint I have is the boost for the vehicles. You control the direction with the left thumbstick, the camera with the right thumbstick, and you boost with X. It makes it just a bit tricky to drive if you wanted to slam that boost and leave Bandits in the dust. You do have the option of customizing the scheme for whatever suits you, however.
I wish I could give a good account of what the multiplayer is like and how it handles on the Vita, but sadly, I’m the only person that I know that has a Vita. While the Vita doesn’t support online multiplayer like the consoles, it does support local two-player co-op. A bit of a disappointment, considering that not everyone is going to have a friend nearby with a Vita, but handhelds do suffer more limitations than home systems.
Also, I’m a horrible driver.
Overall, there’s more problems than I like, but to me, the good outweighs the bad. Most of the technical problems can be solved by actually shutting off the game instead of leaving it on stand-by like yours truly, and it really is the full experience in a compact size. The price point isn’t that bad either, not once you do the math. Over all, it’s an estimated value of $67.93 wrapped up in a neat price point of $39.99. Of course, the GOTY editions on the other consoles runs for about the same price, so it just comes down to a toss-up. A shiny advantage that I didn’t mention earlier is the Cross Saves. To those lucky players that have it on both PS3 and Vita, you can now pick up right where you left off on either system.
Final verdict? If you’re a fan of the Borderlands universe and the Vita is your only option, your time to shine has come. But otherwise, there’s nothing ground-breaking with this new version. It’s the full adventure without missing one of Claptrap’s bass drops, but it will need some patches for a smoother experience.
Still, if you’re looking for first-person shooter on the Vita, Borderlands 2 is going to be what will fill that void in your gaming library. You’re going to spend hours on the game, and really, for a console-to-handheld port, I’m actually impressed, considering how those usually end up.
Recommended for fans of: The Borderlands universe, Killzone: Mercenary, crazy shooters, humorous story, satirical games.
Kayla Swenson is an aspiring author and former DJ from Seattle, WA that procrastinates far too much with video games to get a book out. When she’s not gaming until carpal tunnel sets in, she’s working on dreams of being a voice actor as well as a published writer. Follow her on Twitter @beltravi or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Go, go, TEAM XBRO!