Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel: The Non-Review

This isn’t a review of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. Although I have been playing it a bit recently, and it’s made me think about my relationships with modern first person shooters.
Part of the reason why it isn’t a review is that, while I have been playing Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel a bit recently, I’ve played nowhere near enough to even come close to writing a proper review.
One dirty little not-so-secret of games reviewing is that there is never enough time, especially with games that can span more hours than there are in an average day. You might be weeping into your beer at that statement, figuring that it’s the utterance of somebody who doesn’t know when they’re well off because you get paid to pay games all day. A few more home truths: The pay on an hourly basis is lousy if you’re lucky, non-existent if you’re not, and you’re not always playing because you want to play, which changes your perspective, whether you like it or not. And this time of year, there’s always more games to play and review. I’m quite open that games are only a minor part of what I do professionally, although I do identify myself as a gamer.
No, not a “gamergate” gamer. I’ve said my piece there, I think.

But I’m getting off point. Borderlands and its sequels have been my go-to-quick-blast games for the past few years, whether as a solo gamer or in co-operative mode, usually with a chap I call Chunks The Clown.
No, that’s not his name, but… it’s a long story. I’m getting off point again. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel could well continue that tradition, although with Chunks currently dealing with six-month old Chunks Jr, I’m unsure as to whether he’s made that particular leap.

The weird thing there is that in a lot of ways, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is an absolute by-the-numbers sequel that focuses strongly on the first person shooter basics. There are guns, there are enemies, and you shoot them. Reload, renew your shields, repeat until they’re all dead. FPS has been that way ever since Wolfenstein. Arguably — and I’m an arrogant enough kind of guy to take the arrogant stance — it’s been that way since Space Invaders.

There’s less between this and Halo than you might think.

The thing with FPS, however, is that outside of competitive deathmatch style games — where I’m honestly an average player but one who can appreciate that the settings change but the game styles don’t — I’ve largely grown out of love with the modern FPS. That should mean that such a gun-centric game as Borderlands should sit on my “why bother?” pile as well… but somehow it doesn’t.
Take Call Of Duty, for example. I adored the first two games, because they combined some genuinely adrenaline soaked action with the proper reverence for the source material. Every time you died, you were reminded of the futility of war. Rushing the enemy was a truly unsettling experience, and the somber tone made it clear that while this was a game, it was one that showed the actual horrors of war alongside the combat.
It had depth and purpose, even if a modern 2014 look at those games would probably decry the visuals or simpler AI. There’s one level about halfway through where you defend a bridge in the first game that sticks in my brain as being a particularly harrowing half-hour of single player combat, tinged with the fact that (as my memory serves) it’s pretty much the final chapter of the multi-character approach the early games took.
Compare that to the modern Call Of Duty experience, which is decidedly more on the macho action movie side of things. This is part of what I wrote about Call Of Duty: Ghosts last year.
“I can still recall the first time I got shellshocked in the original COD; it was disorienting; it messed with the rules, but it also made me keenly aware that the game was not-so-subtly pointing out that I was in real danger, and that this was a thing that had happened to real people.
The modern games, while they’re technically years ahead of the historical COD titles, don’t really do that. Instead you’re stuck in a macho fantasy paradise of what a pre-teen might think conflict would be like.
In every way possible, that’s less gripping at a narrative level, no matter how many flashy particle effects you might throw out there.”

I haven’t had time (or access to a copy) to check out this year’s iteration, Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare, but everything I’ve read strongly indicates that this is the plan for the series for the foreseeable future. I have nothing against action films, but pretending they have plots worth thinking about is more than a bit silly.
That uber-macho-aren’t-guns-fun streak runs through a whole swathe of the FPS genre, and it’s obviously something that’s always going to be present in FPS, because they’re first person shooters, but I’ve found myself less enthralled with them as the years have gone by. Maybe I’ve just played too many of them.
Even the other beloved FPS franchise, Halo, which saw its Xbox One debut recently, leaves me mostly cold. Again, yes, they’re fine in multiplayer, but then the differences between FPS games tends to blur unless you’re at the highest level of competition, and I’m most definitely not there.

I think this is precisely where Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (and the previous titles) suits me just fine, precisely because it doesn’t take itself seriously in any way at all. It’s got the sci-fi stylings that are likely to tickle my particular funny bone, this time on a moon that’s inexplicably populated by Australians.
OK, it’s not that surprising. The game was developed by 2K Australia. That’s why.
In a lot of ways, the Borderlands franchise reminds me of West End Games’ classic RPG, Paranoia. You’ve probably never played Paranoia, a comedy RPG set in a dystopian future ruled over by a certifiably insane flawless computer. Very little in Paranoia is serious — not even the rules, which players are forbidden to read on pain of death, at which point their next clone will be along soon — and that’s exactly the way Borderlands plays it as well. While FPS isn’t precisely the way I’d take an official Paranoia video game, Borderlands is probably as close as we’ll ever see.
I'm not the only one thinking of this theme tune, am I?
I’m not the only one thinking of this theme tune, am I?

As such, I can pick up Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, have a quick blast (as though it is indeed Space Invaders) or go more in-depth, remembering that the aim of the game isn’t just to blow people into tiny electrified chunks, as fun as that undoubtedly is, but also to laugh along with the litany of in-jokes, terrible puns and talking guns that are Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel’s stock in trade. Undoubtedly, if you didn’t or don’t appreciate the humour, then you wouldn’t find it quite as engaging. I’m still working my way through it — when I can find a spare second or two, that is.
So, as I said, not quite a review. A non-review, if you will.
You’re still here, and you DEMAND a review of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel?
Oh, very well. Let me crank up the Hyperion Review-O-Matic 2000. Claptrap tells me he’s cleaned all the blancmange out of it…
Borderlands The Pre-Sequel is a lot like the previous Borderlands games, BUT ON THE FREAKING MOON. There are guns, Claptraps, comedy, much the same visuals and audio work as previous games and… if you liked the previous games, you’ll like this one. I guess. I don’t know. Is that enough?

(If you want a real review, may I recommend Alex Walker’s ABC Tech+Games review. All the best people are called Alex, I find.)
For those keen on the ethical side of things, this non-review is based off retail code for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel for Xbox 360, which I laid down my own cold, hard, limited cash for. So there.

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