Game: Borderlands: The Handsome Collection
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Reviewed on: (Review copy provided)
The Handsome Collection is absolutely jam-packed with content. It might not all be pure gold, but Gearbox have crammed in two full RPG-flavoured shooters (which in themselves have a huge amount to play through), all of their DLC content, and twelve playable characters of different classes to choose from. Not only that, but on top of the hundreds of hours of gameplay provided therein, the developers also found a way to shoe-horn 3-4 player split-screen co-operative play into the package as well.
If you haven’t played a Borderlands game before, the Handsome Collection is the perfect place to start. Eschewing the first game in the series, Borderlands 2 and the Pre-Sequel certainly interplay with one another far better – both chronicling the rise and fall of the titular Handsome Jack. Even though it is set as a prequel, it is advisable to play Borderlands 2 first for your full enjoyment. Set on the planet of Pandora and her moon, adventurous Vault Hunters go looking for said Vault – home to a fabled treasure of unimaginable value. Whilst this is the main thrust of the story, there is a vast array of side missions and challenges to lose yourself in, and one will often find themselves straying far from the main path for hours on end.
This is often because the world is filled with such a fascinating cast of psychos, weirdos and wild creatures that you can’t help but be distracted by them. Whether that be aiding a gun-toting pre-teen in planning a dangerous tea party, or competing in a Thunderdome style deathmatch on the orders of a Macho Man Randay Savage lookalike, the genuinely funny humour and tremendous variety of missions on offer will keep you exploring the Mad Max-esque wastelands. And these games really are packed with humorous dialogue, pop culture references and flat-out insanity, which are bound to raise a smile from even the most stony-faced among you.
It is not only the characters and events missions that enrapture players however, the loot system and million guns on offer keeps pushing players to find the next special weapon, with slightly better stats than their previous one. This is strangely addictive and remains one of the best progression-reward systems of any action-RPG. Whilst it’s shooting may not be as tight as some of the top first-person titles on the market, it still provides satisfying gunplay.
The Pre-sequel even introduces a few new ideas, such as zero gravity – complete with floaty jumps for slow motion, mid-air attacks – and an oxygen meter that must be replenished – both of which actually create quite a unique feel between the two games in the Collection. When these factors are combined with the different skill trees and character customisation paths available to you – allowing for several truly unique play styles – you realise that whilst the Borderlands series may not be the absolute best at everything it attempts, it does a lot of things well.
Both entries are designed from the ground up for playing with others, so it is certainly refreshing that random matchmaking is a quick and easy process for those who aren’t playing locally. Working together as different classes of Vault Hunter can be very satisfying and the humour is generally funnier when experienced with others – but you might find the jumping around between side quests and story missions in online play a bit confusing. Of course playing solo would make it far easier to follow the story and playing it all in the order that you wish, but Borderlands definitely works best and is more rewarding when helping one another to achieve your goals.
Aside from the upgrade to multiplayer – which allows four friends to play on one couch, as opposed to the previous limit of two – the main changes for the Handsome Collection are fittingly all concerned with how good the titles look and perform. The cel-shaded art style makes this process somewhat easier – appearing ageless and hiding a multitude of sins even before the games have had the full 1080p treatment. Disappointingly pop-in still frequently raises its ugly head when loading locations, often taking quite some time to load up the full-resolution textures.
Both titles also now boast 60 frames per second during gameplay – and although it doesn’t hit that actual level all of the time – it stays pretty close to that in single and two-player, feeling smoother than ever before. The frame rate is understandably limited to 30fps for three and four players, however you can make allowances for that when you take into account the achievement of delivering four-player split screen. Having only a quarter of the screen to play in presents its own challenges, as menu screens and maps are too large and cumbersome to navigate, but this isn’t a game-breaker.
Borderlands: The Handsome Collection is a great entry point into a series that has now even spawned a Telltale Games episodic spin-off. The games included now look and play better than they ever have, and even a few performance do little to detract from that. A handful of nice touches such as the ability to transfer saved games and Badass ranks from your previous-generation playthroughs will encourage longtime fans to make the upgrade too, without losing all of their progress. True, it may not provide much new content for veteran Vault Hunters, but having this wealth of content in one place, on a shiny new console could probably tempt even the most accomplished among them.