PAX East: How Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is the Greatest Captain America Game Ever
Inside the replica moonbase Gearbox and 2K Australia built on the floor at PAX East, I’m watching a live gameplay demo of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. At one point, the character we’re watching whips out a shield. “Oh, that’s kind of cool,” I say to myself. Then she throws the shield across the level at multiple targets, knocking them into space. As the late, great Eddie Money once said, “I think I’m in love.”
I’m a huge Captain America fan. I think he’s one of the coolest superheroes around, and the seminal Ed Brubaker/Steve Epting/Butch Guice run on the title remains near and dear to my heart. I also really enjoy the Borderlands series. Watching the two worlds merge together somewhat seamlessly in the demo for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel was delightful. But I’m getting ahead of myself. You probably want to know more about how this new entry in the Borderlands series fits in with the existing narrative, and how the new weapons look. Well and cool, respectively. Now, let’s talk more about Captain America.
Okay, we can talk about Borderlands instead.
If the rampant downloadable content for Borderlands 2 has taught Gearbox anything, it’s that the developer can’t make content fast enough for the fans. Fortunately for all of you vault hunters out there, you won’t have to wait long for completely new adventures. Due out later this year on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel takes place between the first two games, and tells the origin stories of not one, not two, but five different characters. As such, Athena, Willhelm, Nisha, Claptrap and Handsome Jack will all be center stage in this moon-based shooter. If that seems like a lot of lore to cover in just one game, Gearbox’s VP of Marketing Steve Gibson isn’t too worried about trying to wedge new stories inbetween existing narratives.
“If you look at the way story is told in Borderlands, if you think about anything we’ve ever added, has that ever felt constrained?” Gibson said. “How much of this is canon versus how much of this is a tall tale? That line is always so blurry in the world or Borderlands. That’s the beauty of telling a story in this world–it hardly ever feels like there are constraints.”
That’s all well and good, but we’ve seen other franchises <cough> Metal Gear <cough> try to insert new perspective into the universe as prequel tales before, too. Still, Gibson assured that Gearbox and 2K Australia aren’t worried about convoluted storylines getting crossed. “It’s like apples and Plutos,” Gibson said. “[Metal Gear Solid] is much more of a serious game. We can just do random things in Borderlands, and that’s fine.”
Some of those random things just so happen to include setting a game on the moon, which has now been populated with a wealth of Aussies. It’s no coincidence The Pre-Sequel was developed by 2K Australia and that many of the non-player characters have thick, almost indecipherable Australian accents. What began as a clever shorthand during development became a staple of the game. Of course, local flavor isn’t the only thing 2K Australia brought to the table. The team who helped contribute to the BioShock series also managed to solve one of the weapon problems Gearbox just couldn’t get a hold on.
We are given a look at the cryo-based weaponry in our brief demo, and it serves as quite the ice-breaker (I’m so sorry for that one), literally. At first, firing the new guns at enemies will slow them down, but repeatedly hitting the same foe will eventually encase him in ice. You are then free to either melee him, shoot him until he explodes, or in the case of Athena, flick your shield for added punctuation. The icy blasts are a cool (sorry) new addition to the existing range of modified weapons, which begs to question why it took a whole new development team to get these guns in the game.
“When we were looking at it for the first Borderlands, we said, ‘Well, that’s just too hard,’” Gibson stated. “For Borderlands 2, we couldn’t decide on the design, and the things we liked were too taxing on the game. We kept coming at it from a design angle. We’d say, ‘Hey, can we do this?’ and the programmers would say no. It wouldn’t work.
“What 2K Australia did, they actually had a programmer do it. He came to the design team and said, ‘Hey, I can do this.’ That’s super weird. Programmers are generally not game designers. They showed up with it, and were like, we solved it. We provided them with a bunch of documentation why it wouldn’t work. There’s a little bit of, ‘Why didn’t we think of that?’ That’s the advantage of fresh eyes.”
Back to Athena and that shield of hers. Her skill tree opens a wealth of possibilities, but for the sake of the show, we were given a glimpse at her when she’s leveled up quite a bit. On its own, the shield can take some damage, and deflect attacks from you or your friends. Upgraded, you earn the ability to start chucking that bad boy back at the moonmen. You can’t throw it until it’s absorbed a certain amount of damage, but when upgraded to Phalanx, the shield can bounce off multiple targets. Watching it in action has my fanboy heartbeat racing at the idea that Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel could be the greatest Captain America game we ever get.
There were a lot of other interesting aspects to The Pre-Sequel shown off, too, like how blowing an enemy’s helmet off will leave him grasping for air, taking damage and choking out all the while. It’s demented. It’s torturous. It’s Borderlands at its finest. Managing air supply is also important for the player, as it’s not only how you breathe when not in a controlled environment, but it also helps propel your jetpack. There are some major gaps to cross on the moon, and the double-jumping/floating capabilities are cool. Until the person running the demo misses his jump. Then you have to watch the whole thing over again. Nice for us, but not so much for the people waiting in line outside. Sucks to have been them.
The new features are just icing on the already excellent cake. That we get a lengthy new story is great, too. This time however, there’s one more bit of experimentation Gearbox is tinkering with. Player characters will actually have way more dialogue. “In previous games, when you played as a character, generally he or she didn’t speak a lot,” Gibson said. “Because these are origin stories, they’re going to be speaking much more than you’ve seen in a Borderlands game. How does that change the way people perceive the world? How connected they’ll be to these characters in the world? It’s going to be a very different feeling.”
At its core, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is more Borderlands. That’s exactly what the people want, and that’s exactly what Gearbox and 2K Australia appear to be delivering. Well, that and the greatest Captain America game ever. Have I mentioned that yet?
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel will be available on PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 this fall.