Some games I just know I’m gonna buy. Either I’ve been so invested in the franchise already or the preview events and write-ups have me so impossibly curious for the final product that the only way to find satiety is to actually buy and play the finished game. Uncharted 3, for instance, was a game I just knew I was going to end up owning on day one (and would be slightly and very relatively disappointed by day two). Dishonored was such a joy to play at E3 and even merited extended over-the-shoulder watching sessions that it would be damn near irresponsible of me to not buy it when it comes out.
Both apply to Borderlands 2, or BLT as Gearbox’s “chief creative champion” Mikey Neumann likes to say. I must have played through the first Borderlands at least 10 times, if not more. This includes a few solo runs and then the many times my friends would cascade their severely delayed purchases of the game and pawing at me for online co-op play. For all its faults (and there were many), Borderlands was my favorite games of 2009, and that’s saying something given how unbelievably stacked that year was.
So you can probably guess that standing in the 2K press area, I was a little more than giddy. I had just walked out of the XCOM: Enemy Unknown theatre demo (which was as cool as a theatre demo can get for an ostensibly complex strategy game) and stood around, waiting to be directed to the BLT room. I eventually wander over myself to the nookiest of crannies, trying to look for a PR rep to help me find the fun, and wham, there it was: a room full of press playing BLT demos.
I pair up with another guy and, with little instruction from the handler nearby, we set off on our adventure. I play as the new Gunzerker Salvador and he picks Maya, the siren. Our goal is to destroy several statues littered around the area. They’re all built in the image of the game’s primary antagonist Handsome Jack. But before that, I knew what I had to do, and that was jump into the upgrade menu.
We’re boosted up for preview purposes to level 25, so we both had 25 skill points to spend. I got the route of improving my Gunzerker ability and my reload perks. This includes a chance to get a full clip for a free, instant reload and increasing my firing rate while in Gunzerker mode. I figured it was prudent to see how deep I could go in a couple narrow paths given that I would never see this particular build again.
As we finish dumping points, though, the handler comes by and tells us that if we manage to finish the demo, we can choose any piece of loot that we find while playing and get to keep it when the retail version hits shelves. Thus, we had incentive.
And we set out on our adventure. Handsome Jack begins to talk to us, but even with the headphones turned all the way up, I couldn’t make heads or tails of anything he was saying. I could tell, though, that upon firing upon the statues of him, he became less of a Southern gentleman and more of an angry warmonger.
Too bad we couldn’t actually destroy the statues. For one, they were defended by some rather tough enemies (including a PWR Loader, an enemy that looks pretty much like the Power Loader from the Aliens franchise, an unsurprising addition given that Gearbox is also developing Aliens: Colonial Marines). This means we have to defend a hacked enemy overseer while it lasers these statues down.
And so we begin to mow down enemy after enemy. Between robots, mechs, and humanoid security guards, we kill every last one of them. I’m stocked out with an acidic rocket launcher (fun but useless in the grand scheme of things), a shotgun with horrible range, an automatic pistol with a scope, and a three-round burst assault rifle. Overall, a pretty evenly spread inventory, but I tended to stick with the pistol and rifle because getting up close, even with the Gunzerker’s durability, proved to be difficult with these shielded, angry mechs.
The gun play feels pretty much the same as the first Borderlands, which is totally a good thing. I feel like the default aiming speed was a bit faster, but other than that, it seems like it’s the same. However, this is given a small subset of the billions of possible guns available in the game, so who knows. It’s still unbelievably satisfying to dump round after round into an enemy and watching those damage counters shoot off of him like an open skillet bag of Jiffy Pop.
It gets even better when I activate the Gunzerking mode where I pull out a second gun and just go straight manic. It is actually unsettling how much Salvador seems to be enjoying himself, but then I realize I’m having a pretty good time, too.
The loot menus seem much improved, though. If you recall from the first game, hovering over dropped weapons and items was a pain because it required you to position yourself just so so you could get all the important information. In BLT, however, it seems like the little info boxes are a bit more self-aware and will move and scale to fit within your current viewport. It definitely makes it easier to know if you should pick up this shiny new rifle or save the inventory space for something better later.
Something that seems unchanged, though, is the Second Wind mechanic. If you don’t know, it’s a mode you go into when you get downed in Borderlands where you take a knee, things go a bit Dutch-angled, and you have a limited amount of time to kill an enemy or be revived to immediately get back into the game. Otherwise, you time out or choose to revive at the last checkpoint, and let me tell you, we saw a lot of checkpoints. I’m not sure if it was because we weren’t communicating or the game was just harder, but we died. A lot.
In fact, we didn’t manage to finish the demo (so no holdover loot for us, just some codes for…something?). We gave up about halfway through the mission and decided it would be much better for us if we just went about dicking around the factory/fort/whatever we were in, and guess what: exploration in BLT is still pretty fun. We ran into more enemies (still of the robot and armored guard variety), some treasure chests, and places we were fairly sure we shouldn’t have access to but decided to go for it anyways.
And we made it. But that’s beside the point, which is that exploring that game is still just as fun.
What I came away with from that demo was reassurance that my faith in Gearbox had not bit misplaced. While yes, Duke Nukem Forever was a straight up hot piece of trash, that was pretty much inevitable. I had a faith and passion in belief that Borderlands 2 would turn out good, and from what I can tell from my 15 minutes with the game, I think I was right.
Look for Borderlands 2 on September 18, 2012, for 360, PS3, and PC.