The first time I really enjoyed online co-op on a console was when I picked up the original Borderlands at launch. The Mad Max-inspired FPS/RPG hybrid was something of a surprise hit despite being shallow in the detail department, selling well enough to allow creator Gearbox a shot at a bigger, better sequel in 2012 and ultimately cemented Borderlands as one of the big success stories of that console generation. Now Borderlands makes the jump to PS4 for the first time (Tales from the Borderlands is a spin-off after all) with this frankly humongous collection of both Borderlands 2 and last year’s The Pre-Sequel! with all the DLC expansions that have been released for each. Hundreds of hours of content in theory, but is there enough reason for fans to dip in again? Or is this collection solely for newcomers?
Borderlands 2 stands out as one of my personal favourite games of the last generation (it fared pretty well when reviewed on PSU before as well). It did everything that was so interesting in the original and managed to improve upon it in every conceivable way. An antagonist you could truly despise and admire in Handsome Jack, whose overarching story binds the two games. Pop-culture references bleeding out of every orifice (everything from Breaking Bad to Minecraft were given sly nods and digs) and weapons, environments, enemies and NPCs that spiced up the goofball flavour of the first game. Borderlands 2 was highly enjoyable from start to finish, not to mention often hilarious. Shooting any of the many gun variations is ridiculously satisfying, as is watching the HP numbers pop off of enemies life bars. Most importantly, co-op is some of the most gleefully chaotic tomfoolery to be experienced on a console.
Now? Well, old hands who blitzed through every shred of Borderlands 2 are certainly less likely to get much extra juice out of it this time out. The updated visuals are cleaner and sharper at 60fps and 1080p, but not exactly eye-popping. There are some pop-ins as sections load and occasionally if you get too far ahead of where the game believes you should be, but for the majority of your time on Pandora it’s a smooth ride. You are still playing the same great title from 2012, just without the glee and excitement of discovering it all for the first time. Newcomers will no doubt find the same joy as those who first dove into Pandora’s majesty (albeit with a sense that some of the nods to various trends have gotten a tad dated), the only difference being they’ll get to enjoy it in a far more expansive state from the off as the sheer amount of DLC additions to the game in the past two and a bit years is breathtakingly huge, racking up more than fifteen sizable chunks of additional content and sprinkled with heaps of smaller ones on top.
There are whole new areas and experiences added thanks to the DLC; most notably in Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty, but also in the standout expansion Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon Keep that has fresh challenges to encounter in an even more fantastical environment. Also level caps have been raised, there’s new playable characters (Krieg the Psycho is pretty much the best playable character in any Borderlands to date) , buckets of player skins and a whole host of holiday themed bonuses and tidbits. If anything could put someone off investing time into The Handsome Collection then it’ll likely be down to being intimidated by the gargantuan mountain of content stood before them. And this is only just over half of the package!
The other side is of course the newer one. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel got a fairly muted release towards the end of 2013 as it was hampered by being PS3 only and not being developed by Gearbox (some would say that’s a positive). Many (including myself) correctly assumed there would be a PS4 re-release down the line and passed on the previous-gen version so we could play the Destinys, Dragon Ages, Mordors and Far Crys that were draping themselves seductively over the sleek, angular body of our PS4s. The Pre-Sequel then, is probably the part of this package with the most new things to offer, including DLC that is still fresh out the box.
The setting creates the biggest changes from BL2. Placing you on Pandora’s moon Elpis enables you to jump higher and slower thanks to the whole gravity issue, while the oxygen meter creates tension in what would otherwise be standard firefights for any BL veteran and the butt-stomp move is a thing of childish glee. Beyond this, The Pre-Sequel feels very much like an (admittedly hearty and inventive) expansion to Borderlands 2. 2K Australia does at least put its own stamp on the series, taking it deeper into the insanity that seeped through the core of BL2 and further from those Mad-Max-inspired beginnings. The switch between regular indoor areas with oxygen and gravity and the newer, floatier, air-light moon surface means more variety than Borderlands 2 in gameplay. The other neat little improvement is with the enemies. Many have a certain charm to them thanks to the oddball Aussie accents, making for a refreshing change from the usual psycho quotes of the previous series entries. The protagonists are possibly the best starting four yet. The delightfully delusional ClapTrap, the shield-flinging Athena, the cyborg Wilhelm and the badass western-influenced Nisha all bring something unique to the table and have far more personality than nearly any previous player-controlled character managed. Oh, and you can now also finally play as diamond-encrusted unicorn-owning Handsome Jack too, well, sort of anyway.
Back to that newest piece of DLC. Claptastic Voyage acts as a bridging point between the two games in this collection and delves far deeper into the sad little mind of the goofy ClapTrap. It’s genuinely surprising how efficient this adventure is at fleshing out the one-wheeled service robot as a character and it contains some genuinely hilarious moments.
The current-gen improvements to The Pre-Sequel are sadly not up to quite the same standard as Borderlands 2. while the game does look noticeably sharper, frame-rate drops alarmingly in places and menu screens take longer to load up than they did originally. This should apparently be patched post-release, but it does create a feeling that TPS didn’t get as much attention lavished on it.
I’ve played (and reviewed) my fair share of remasters this generation and while there are quite a few that are wholly unnecessary, The Handsome Collection is definitely not one of them. Remaster or not, you’re getting two games -one brilliant, one rather good- and a monstrous amount of expansions and additions that will easily take your playtime past the hundred hour mark for the price of a regular title. Granted, if you’ve consumed every morsel of these games before then it’s a harder sell, but it won’t change the fact that this is a remarkably good deal.