Review: Borderlands 2 VR
Gearbox Software finally makes its VR debut, and it’s a blastingly good time.
Gearbox Software’s Borderlands franchise was hailed as one of the best new IPs on the previous generation of consoles, offering three bloodline outings on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The most popular of these has received something of a revamp for 2018, with Borderlands 2 now hitting PlayStation 4 as a PlayStation VR exclusive title under the guise of Borderlands 2 VR.
As you might be expecting from the title, Borderlands 2 VR isn’t an overhaul of the original title as much as it is a remodel designed specifically for virtual reality (VR). The storyline, locations, characters, enemies and near-everything else is exactly the same as the original title. However, much like last year’s hugely popular The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim VR, the new medium breathes life into a well worn, previously re-released shell. Borderlands 2 VR, like Bethesda’s reworks before it, is a brand new way to experience a hugely popular videogame, and for that Gearbox Software can’t be faulted.
For the uninitiated, Borderlands 2 VR is a first-person shooter experience that is less about reaching the endgame than it is the journey. Players can simply run through the mission objectives and complete the core plot should they wish, but to do so would be to miss the finer points of the loot hunting extravaganza that Gearbox Software has created. Finding new weapons and items is common, and trying different combinations of armaments and ammo types always makes for fresh and interest assaults. Choosing the place and time to make such an aggression is also part of the openness that Borderlands 2 VR offers; willing players will regularly find themselves distracted for hours at a time by roaming enemies of interesting dwelling finds before remembering precisely what their actual objective is. And alongside all of this comes a deep character progression system (with four very different character classes available) which allows players to either patch over the cracks in their playstyle or amp-up their inherent advantages as a walking dealer of death.
While the core of Borderlands 2 VR takes place in a large-scale central hub world, players will frequently travel to different locations and experience a wide range of environments along their journey. In order to navigate such a huge and varied series of environments while in VR Gearbox Software has created a series of control schemes adaptable to your personal taste (and for the protection from possible simulation sickness, which Claptrap himself makes light of at the very start of the videogame). Borderlands 2 VR is playable with either a DualShock 4 controller or two PlayStation Move controllers, and works very well on either. The brief tutorial at the very start of the videogame introduces teleportation first, though free locomotion is also available from the start without the need to toggle any menu options: the development team has obviously paid attention to the debate that has been waging for over a year now, and has presented the two most widely accepted control methods as standard with further customisation available in the menu system. Given the attention paid to this movement with blinkered views and snap turns as default, Borderlands 2 VR couldn’t be better positioned to please every VR gamer’s movement and control preferences.
One new addition to the action worthy of note is the B.A.M.F. Time (Bad Ass Mega Fun Time), which allows the player to slowdown time for a few seconds. This feature is available soon after beginning the videogame regardless of which class you choose, and while it has a cooldown period (like the skills which are restricted by character class) it’s very handy for not only getting you out of sticky situations, but also amping up the aggression when needed. Furthermore, it’s useful when navigating if caught unawares; while the ever-present mini-map does show enemy locations, during those intense moments when gunfire reigns down upon you and you’re unable to locate the enemy B.A.M.F. Time will allow the player to negotiate between the snap turn control system and the viewpoint to find the critter causing them damage.
The visual quality of Borderlands 2 VR isn’t necessarily what would be expected of a modern PlayStation 4 title, but given the necessity to run at a locked 90fps while rendering the image twice for stereoscopic 3D, there’s certainly nothing to complain about. In-game furniture such as health and the aforementioned mini-map are displayed on-screen at all times, though the menus do suffer the same clipping issues with environmental objects that existed in the original release. Outside of this, Borderlands 2 VR looks just as good as its PlayStation 3 predecessor and performs well with detail effect and multiple on-screen enemies without any of the dreaded simulation sickness-inducing framerate drops. Borderlands 2 VR is in fact one of the best looking titles currently available for PlayStation VR, which becomes most evident after some progression through the videogame’s varied landscapes.
Gearbox Software’s desire to create VR content has been known for some time, and while it was expected that one of their franchises would eventually make its way to head-mounted displays (HMDs) it’s somewhat of a surprise that Borderlands was the first AAA the studio decided to go with. A pleasant surprise, that is, as Borderlands 2 VR is most certainly a highlight of this year’s VR releases and one of the best titles yet to hit PlayStation VR. Its still Borderlands 2, sure, but you’ve never played Borderlands 2 like this before.