Gears of War sucks. Not as a game, those games are great, but as a cultural force. Cover has ruined video game shooting. Who wants to hide behind a corner and trade shots with someone crouched behind rubble like they’re in reality or something? Video game shooting used to be about playing the angles. In Quake and Unreal, it was about circling opponents in erratic orbits, lining up perfect aim. Even further back, with your Contra and your Smash TV, it was even more rigid, locking your shots into eight directions only. Modern shooters could learn a lot from ye olde school.
Good on Gearbox then! In hyping up September’s Borderlands 2, Gearbox has taken a page out of the Dark Void playbook and made a “lost” 1989 prequel, The Border Lands. Axton, Maya, Zero, and Salvador aren’t new characters at all! They’re just the stars of the old game, brought back for 2012.
The Border Lands isn’t as taut a game of angles as Smash TV, but the principal is the same. Each stage is a contained square with obstacles dotted about. Enemies slowly pour in dropping new gear as you fell them, and you gain levels upping your health. Sounds familiar, yes? The secret to success is placing the obstacles between you and the enemies to slow their approach.
Wait a minute.
Damnation! Even as Borderlands is brought back to the 16-bit era of game design, cover-based shooting rears its ugly, conveniently placed blocks in our path!
Joking aside, it’s an interesting exercise to see Borderlands rules boiled down to their most basic and find that they are, for the most part, just as fun on the small scale as the are writ large. The Border Lands is illuminating—Shooting bad guys and receiving a rare reward is as interesting as having a massive inventory of superpowers and guns. Being in a cramped little box instead of a living, diverse planet like Pandora doesn’t diminish the good time.
So what do all the modern amenities in proper Borderlands 2 really give the player? Is the environment its own reward? Does the OCD-inducing loot collection make the shooting and strategy richer?
Not really. Borderlands 2 does have co-op though. There’s the kicker.