Australian representation in video games is alarmingly small. While we have a vibrant and creative development scene, this has never really translated into Australian characters in games. Sure, there’s famous examples like Zappa from the Guilty Gear series or Team Fortress 2’s sniper, but outside of that, even in settings that would lend themselves to it, there aren’t many.
Fortunately 2K Australia is here to make amends with the latest entry in the Borderlands series. The story goes that the studio put in temporary audio tracks as placeholders, but when Gearbox heard this, they loved it so much that the game was changed to be an Australian setting. Given the Mad Max vibe that Borderlands has always had, this isn’t that much of a stretch. The result is a refreshing change from the normal American-accented military bros that populate shooters, and while Borderlands was never that kind of game in the first place, it still falls into some of those traps on occasion.
It’s more than just he accents too. There’s an entire layer of humour here that would be difficult for those outside Australia to get. Subtle references to Australian places or jibes about our culture. One quest is a glorious reimagining of Waltzing Matilda, for example, or the “bogan gun”, which shouts out the kind of phrases usually only heard on the Frankston line. There’s even subtle verbal tics, such as Janey Springs’ rising inflection and her inability to accept something negative has happened.
This familiarity helped bring me into Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel more than I expected. On the whole, the game is really just more Borderlands, and I’m okay with that because I’ve always really enjoyed the series. There’s more crazy guns, more of that great area design, and, most importantly, more of the series’ very satisfying combat. If you’re looking for something new to be added to the standard Borderlands formula, then, I’m afraid to say, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
That’s not to say there’s nothing new, it’s just that the new stuff isn’t really evolving the series in any significant way. The marquee feature is the low-gravity environment (the game takes place on a moon, after all) that allows for higher, longer jumps and a double-jump mechanic. There’s also the need to watch oxygen levels outside of certain areas, although in practice this is almost completely ignorable. A new class of gun, the energy weapon, is also available. These are weapons that fire purely elemental-based damage using a new ammo type. they range from railgun-style lasers, to beam weapons that fire as long as the button is held down. They don’t dramatically change combat, but it’s a nice new addition, even if it does mean even more ammo types to keep track of.
The lack of evolution kind of hinders the game in some respects. The continued insistence on WoW-style talent trees for each of the four new classes feels outmoded and even clumsier than it was back in the first game. I’d love to see a much more flexible character customisation system in place, one that feels like it’s benefitting me with every level-up. The classes themselves all have a different feel, and are, once again, single characters.
The four characters are Wilhelm (the Enforcer class), Athena (Gladiator), Nisha (Lawbringer) and, uh, Claptrap (yes, really). Each class is defined primarily by their special ability. Wilhelm gets combat drones, while Athena has a shield that can absorb bullets and then be thrown back at enemies, Nisha can automatically target enemies for a few seconds and Claptrap has several different abilities of varying usefulness, one of which will be randomly triggered each time his special is activated.
The combination of the talent trees, as dated as they are, and the special abilities do help each class feel unique and different, and offers a wide variety of ways to approach each situation in the game. It’s interesting to contrast this with Destiny, where each class has unique abilities, but the vast majority of customisation comes from items and gear, and there’s little real difference in the overall feel of each class.
I think that, as fun as Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is, it’s perhaps the farthest that the series can be stretched in this particular direction. There are, of course, certain inalienable elements to the series, but I feel that simply evolving game features and mechanics is probably at its limit now. In fact, were it not for the brilliant use of Australians in the game, I have to wonder if I would have enjoyed this as much as I have.
On a technical side, the game looks pretty much like Borderlands, with the pencil-line textures and edge effects to create a cartoon look without relying on cel-shading. It runs at a good clip on my PC and I didn’t have any problems with framerates outside of a particular particle effect involving the new cryo weapons. Controls are tight and the new jumping mechanics work great.
If you love Borderlands, then you don’t need me to tell you to pick up the latest game in the series. This is more Borderlands, and the Australian-ness is just a really cool bonus. On the other hand, if you’ve never been a fan of the series’ particular brand of first-person shooting and roleplaying, then I’m not sure that this will be the game to sway you. As good as the series has been, Gearbox needs to take a long look at where they want to take it before embarking on future titles.
Refreshingly Australian feel to the game
The bogan gun
Some particle effects cause framerate issues