Fought the moonlight
The women do glow and the men do plunder. And vice versa
The Pre-Sequel! is almost certainly the most Australian game ever made. Enemies scream “strewth!” as they die, encampments bear scrawled warnings telling you to “rack off”, there’s a sidequest in which every element corresponds to a line from Waltzing Matilda, and you can find a shotgun called Boganella, who spews verbal filth at both you and your targets whenever she’s fired, reloaded or even put away in favour of something else.
It’s a neat change in style – the game’s largely set on Elpis, the moon of Pandora, and it’s easy to see its realworld analogue. Its inhabitants, who share a distinctly Oceanian accent, have been stranded on an airless rock filled with dangerous flora and fauna, borne the brunt of man’s destructive quest for profit and gone mad. Best of all, the game was made by Australians, so any calls of this observation being in some way offensive can be directed at them. Hurrah!
2K Australia’s clearly come into this project looking to be more than a mere standalone expansion seatwarmer, and that distinctly Southern Hemispherian take on things is the biggest clue. Of course, it’s working within a set template, and the game shares much with Borderlands 2 – its multi-hub world, loot-frenzy focus, triple-branched RPG skill trees and fast-aging visual style (egregious texture pop-in and all). Even The PreSequel!’ s new characters feel more like an extension of the original’s ideas than fully fledged offshoots – not least because they all started life as NPCs.
Athena uses a Captain Americaindebted shield as both offence and defence, Wilhelm puffs out robotic drones and gradually adds bionic pieces to his body as you progress, and the sadistic Nisha can go full Clint Eastwood, spinning on a dime to eliminate whole rooms of enemies in seconds. The only truly new idea comes out of the eternal – finally playable – Claptrap, whose VaultHunter.EXE ability makes assessments of the combat environment, spawning any number of different positive or negative effects as a result. Oh, and returning villain, Handsome Jack – whose genesis this game’s story covers – becomes a whole heap more irritable with the shrill-voiced bin under your control.
Have a gas
Where 2K Australia’s really branched out, however, is in establishing a new feel to the game. Being set on a moon, the most obvious change is in the physics of combat. Borderlands’ jump has always been on the Halo end of floaty, but step into the oxygen-starved outdoors and you can now bound tens
“Jack’s descent into evil is rife with moments of pragmatic horror”
of metres at a time, even using the Oz Kit item type to ground-pound enemies – although this comes at the cost of some precious air.
On the one hand, this turns huge swathes of the game into what could be an homage to low-rent ’90s platformer water levels, forcing you to run for O -rich environments regularly.
2 The pay-off, however, is in how it totally changes the feel of combat, forcing you to watch the skies and move for your own high ground, adding a measure of tactics to the face-on pew-pewery we’re used to. Best of all, it eases the series’ total reliance on combat as a means of progression – hidden chests are now easier to find, but often require you to scour rooftops and crannies for generators to turn off electric fences, and certain quests are almost all about exploration, making for a far more enjoyable solo game.
Other new elements are less successful. The new cryo status effect is essentially the existing corrosion damage, but with the added, dull consequence of making bad guys stand still, and the appearance of a laser weapon class is dampened somewhat when you realise they’re a tad indistinct compared to the huge variation in other classes.
The story – pseudo-Australian setting aside – is a little less whipsmart than the one it precedes, too. A member of Gearbox once told OXM that if you removed the humour from Borderlands, it would be the grimmest story ever told, and to an extent, that’s the case here. It’s certainly darker in tone, and Jack’s descent into evil is rife with moments of ever-decreasingly pragmatic horror. Yet the reasoning behind that corruption – basically, he discovers that he just really enjoys murdering innocents – doesn’t quite hold the power it should or could.
So, it’s not quite the revelation it could have been, but the fact remains that 2K Australia’s managed something few do – come to someone else’s series with new ideas and made some of them work. PreSequel!’ s an appropriate title, then. This feels like the beginning of a new take on Borderlands – a more reactive, immediate, Australian game, better built for lone players but still accommodating for the co-op crowd – although by no means distinct enough to be called a follow-up. It’s unlikely to change minds, but it will indulge those already on board – and, frankly, if you don’t like it, we’ll borrow a phrase from Boganella: [CENSORED]. OXM
Nail a headshot outdoors and you disable the enemies’ oxygen supply too. Sadly, there is no head-bulge effect. 2K games 2K Australia Xbox 360 Out Now
The term ‘rogue’s gallery’ doesn’t really cover it – this lot become mass-murderers Stalin would cower from.
We don’t know, and we don’t want to know.
The eternal question: electric sticks on arms, or electric sticks for arms?