Borderlands 2 Xbox 360 / PS3 / PC

Borderlands 2 Xbox 360 / PS3 / PC
Sequels have a bad rap and, as far as Hollywood goes, with good reason. A film like, say, The Matrix comes along, blows mind and then the accountants-that-be demand more, more, more! However, aside from the occasional Empire Strikes Back masterstroke, what we receive tends to be a plot rehash with fancier FX. Game sequels certainly get prettied up, too, but they are far more likely than film to transcend their predecessor. An original game's development time is spent in large part constructing the world, sussing out the game design and balancing the gameplay, so when it comes time for a sequel, the technological and theoretical heavy lifting are done and the game makers can devote their energies to filling in the details. This is certainly the case with Borderlands 2, the wildly successful follow-up to their 2009 cult co-op first-person RPG shooter, which was pretty good but also relatively unambitious. It didn't miss greatness; Gearbox never even took aim at it. Their sequel, on the other hand, takes the groundwork laid by the original and builds a towering, er, tower upon it. The basics remain the same — it's a Firefly-style space western populated by Mad Max rejects inhabiting the unfortunately, if fittingly, named frontier planet, Pandora. Fitting because it's a planet housing a box, or rather, a Vault, rumoured to contain priceless alien tech. Once again, you play a vault-hunter in search of another find while fighting off bandits, monsters and private security forces. Though tighter (and funnier) this time around, largely thanks to Handsome Jack (the hilarious corporate Big Bad), the narrative is still mostly there to move you around the map. But what a map! The brightly coloured, animation-style graphics are gorgeous and the planet has been fleshed out, finally feeling lived-in, like a Bethesda game world. Meanwhile, the loot-collecting, skill-tree growing and shooting aspects have been refreshingly refined. Speaking of Bethesda, as a third-person perspective fan, I honestly don't get why every studio doesn't provide gamers with their trademark ability to switch between first- and third-person. As well, I prefer to play solo, and the game is designed for up to four-player co-op. But those are personal preferences, and don't take away from the sequel's achievement. In fact, consider it less a sequel and more an iteration — Borderlands 2.0, if you will — which delivers the swaggering experience we were hoping for the first time around. Oh, and the game doesn't end at the end, as downloadable campaign expansions have subsequently been released, including sand pirate story Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate's Booty, the wrestling-riffing Mr. Torgue's Campaign of Carnage and the January 2013 release of Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt, for which you should have reached level 30 before even attempting. (2K/Gearbox)