Developer / Publisher – Gearbox Software / 2K Games
Price – US $49.99 / EU €49.99 / UK £39.99 / AU $75.95
Release date – December 14th, 2018
Control Method – 2 x Tracked Motion Controllers, DS4
Pro Patch – Yes
Digital only – Yes
Reviewed on – PSVR/PS4 Pro
So, it would appear that the last ‘big’ PlayStation VR game of 2018 has arrived in the VR port of Borderlands 2 which 1st appeared on our consoles around 6 years ago. For those that don’t know, like me, Borderlands 2 is an open world(ish) first-person shooter/looter that puts you in the roll of a vault hunter, out for revenge (and loot), after an attack on your life from the games main antagonist, Handsome Jack. You are on the distant planet of Pandora and while this game has a Fallout vibe with it’s run down and post-apocalyptic look, Borderlands 2 carries with it a very unique style and flare that should appeal to a broad audience.
Controls are up 1st and will probably be the most divisive portion of this review. DS4 and Moves are currently the 2-options available, with each having a very different feel. With the DS4, Borderlands controls like any traditional FPS with the exception that head tracking is used to line up your shots, like we got in Resident Evil 7. Thumb sticks let you to move around the map while all the buttons allow a variety of tasks like opening boxes, bringing up menus, tossing grenades and so on. With the Moves, things are a bit trickier on the movement side but does allow for some more immersive gaming and aiming thanks to the tracked controllers. The button layout took me awhile to adjust to but after around an hour or so I was running around like mad man shooting bad guys in the face quite naturally. No matter which method you choose there are a plethora of comfort options to tailor the experience to your needs from full locomotion to smaller modifiers to click-turning and blinders should you use them. I never use comfort options as I have an iron stomach when it comes to VR, but other developers should take note that the more options the better! Driving sections in the game allow you to cruise across the landscape at top speeds and is a highlight with either control method. Aim support really does feel missed if only because, while the DS4 and Moves are both playable, they also have their own individual shortcomings that could remedied by Aim Support, minus the driving section which I have no idea how that would work.
A rather lengthy tutorial/first level shows you the ropes and introduces you to the VR specific BAMF mode, which is a fancy acronym for slow motion mode, which allows you slow time down for a few seconds and is handy as heck when you are being overwhelmed. Every kill gives you experience which automatically levels you up with the game boasting about “87 billion” weapons available to dispatch your foes. In this regard, Borderlands plays like an MMO with you acquiring a new favorite weapon, only to advance to harder stages making that weapon less effective until you upgrade to a newer weapon. The main campaign should take around 30 hours with a plethora of side quests in the game to greatly extend that time should you love Pandora and all its offerings. Quests are typically given by someone you have met in your journeys, often offering a reward for finding or killing something somewhere though bounty boards can be found as well that give equally rewarding tasks. Pandora is open world-ish and what I mean by that is the world is broken up in to sections, some absolutely massive, while others are much smaller with you being able to free roam any one of them. Once a location is found, you can fast travel to it from specific travel stations around the world, minimizing exploration the further you progress.
So how does Borderland in VR look…it looks marvelous at times and a little underwhelming at others which, like other older 2D ports to VR, is to be expected. The cell-shaded look of the game lends itself well to the sprawling vistas and up close the character models look damn fine, carrying a ton of detail. Further away things get muddier, which is typical, though the way fidelity is lost in further away models still allows them to retain their identifiable shape so even enemies at a distance are easily spotted. Initially you are in a snow filled environment though as you progress, things get warmer and the landscape changes up giving the game a fair bit of variety though it does take a while too see that change in the color palette. You’ll visit small dilapidated villages, larger more technologically advanced cities and everything in between. In my personal opinion, the transition from flat screens to VR was handled wonderfully and skirted the limitations of the tech to give us a relatively gorgeous game with many visual highlights.
On the sound side, things are near perfect with their being so much pre-recorded content that it gives character to almost every being you encounter. While the game is definitely about cutting a swath of rampant, murderous destruction across the planet side, it’s all done in a very light-hearted manner. Enemies constantly drop humorous one-liners, especially when they die, with the entirety of the game’s quest giving characters having full dialogue with every actor delivering their own, over-the-top performance to really bring you into the world. Fitting, high-paced music is scattered throughout the game and it’s very obvious, that even though this a 6-year old title, it’s definitely a AAA title.
The transition to VR is not a perfect one unfortunately and while the base game remains intact, VR adds a few new wrinkles. For starters at odd times, mostly when stationary, there appears to be some jankiness when you look around. It’s minor and seems to happen no matter what else is going on, so I suspect it’s an optimization issue, not one based upon performance. Your HUD also contains a mini-map that is places a little to far out of sight, causing it to be difficult to focus on and needs to be moved, or toggled on or off. The menu system is a little clunky mostly due to it’s complexity, though it’s easy enough to navigate, but pop-up windows during the campaign displaying store merchandise or quest info are often stuck in the scenery or person talking to you, forcing you to leave that menu, back up a bit to clear anything out of the way, and open it up again. I learned soon enough how to deal with this, but it still happens way to often. You seemingly can only highlight one quest at time, which is a little unfortunate as you may be able to tackle 2 of them at a time, but not being able to highlight their objectives concurrently makes it very easy to miss another objective that may have been nearby. Also worth mentioning is the lack of co-op available in the flat version of the game which to me is a non-issue but could be a factor for those that enjoyed that so many years ago. My largest issue is the inability to aim down the sights as instead a crosshair indicates where you are aiming which does feel like a gross over sight to exclude from VR, even with the DS4, as bringing a gun up to your face and lining up that target always gives me tingles. To account for scoped weapons though, a zoomed in screen pops up which displays your scope and while that screen does seem to run at a lower frame rate, I did like it, I just wish it was implemented a little better.
Borderlands 2 VR is not a perfect port to VR, but the base game has seemingly survived, and I am loving my time on Pandora. All the issues I mentioned are infrequent and minor, especially considering that I AM IN THIS WORLD. VR’s strength is in its immersion and while I can’t pick up and play with every cup I see, I would still rather be IN this world then playing on a TV 10 ft away from me. Does that come at a cost to resolution…absolutely but to say Borderlands in VR looks bad tells me you are just looking for reasons to hate a great game made better by VR. I am having a blast in this world and as I write this I can’t wait to dive back in and save the planet as I’m only about half way through the main campaign and am only getting more engrossed in the story and gameplay the longer I play.
What would I pay? It’s got some minor issues, but I can’t deny how much fun I’m having with this game in VR and I couldn’t be happier to have missed such a great game/franchise 6 years ago and have Borderlands in VR be my first dip into this franchise is great! This is a AAA title in VR and well worth the full asking price of $50!
Thank you for the great review. Found it very comprehensive and it helped me decide to buy the game. Currently it can be had for less than $2 we have PlayStation Plus, so I’m in. Thank you again.