18 cert, TK Games, Xbox (Also PS3, PC) *****
In a surprising development, Borderlands 2 has eschewed the original’s vulgar, brutal and irreverent style for a more thoughtful and sensitive approach. Just kidding! Borderlands 2 is every bit the six-shootin’, laser-tootin’ sci-fi western the original was, only this time it’s even more brash and ambitious.
Following directly from part one, in which the planet Pandora was a lawless frontier choking with opportunists, bandits and more, you play as one of the “vault hunters” – Zero (the assassin), Salvador (gunzerker), Axton (commando) or Maya (siren) – each coming with different abilities and strengths.
The story has been beefed up: There’s the usual treasure-hunting with a dash of revolution, but there’s also an enjoyable deplorable new villain, Handsome Jack, a vain, cheerful and sadistic tyrant. In this open-world, first-person shooter, you can progress through the story and partake in a number of side quests. Everything you do, from a single kill to the most challenging missions, helps you “level up” your abilities to varying degrees.
Planet Pandora feels bigger now, with more varied architecture, locations, villains, heroes, flora, fauna, weapons and weather.
The game’s few faults are a direct result of its ambition. It’s nice that it’s more vast than Borderlands 1, and the running time is far greater. But, perhaps because of its size, its much more unforgiving: It takes longer to get going; commutes between missions are longer, making levelling up trickier (and the game more difficult overall).
Still, Borderlands 2 offers an unlikely and satisfying mix of role-playing detail (power- ups and menus are dizzying at first) and smooth, exciting combat. It excels at both. The game also has personality to spare, with handsome comic-style graphics, an abundance of colourful characters and plenty of laughs (cheap and otherwise).