Just the mere thought of having the full Borderlands 2 experience in the palm of your hands and available on the go is enough to make even the most jaded gamer excited. We’re talking about one of the most robust gaming experiences that the industry has ever seen, both in its base content and the ridiculous amount of additional content added after launch, packed down into a sleek and convenient package for you to enjoy pretty much any time and anywhere. Iron Galaxy has done what many probably thought was impossible—and that is port nearly the entire Borderlands 2 experience over to Sony’s Vita with very little concession.
Let’s be honest, the sheer fact that they have managed to fit all of the content that is the Borderlands 2 experience into this tiny package is impressive. It is pretty much all here: the entire base game, the extra, downloadable character classes, and even a couple of the DLC chapters of the adventure. Not all of the DLC has been included, unfortunately; just the most popular additions, including the Psycho and Mechromancer character classes, Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty, Mr. Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage, and the Ultimate Vault Hunter Upgrade Pack 1. There is a lot to see and do here, but experiencing it all becomes more of a hassle than it is worth.
Although the full package has been ported to the Vita, it hasn’t necessarily been optimized for Sony’s powerful little handheld. While it all works on the smaller 5.5-inch screen, it was not designed for it and that creates some problems on its own. First off, any and all text in the game, from the menu systems to the character dialog, is very difficult to read. It was a small font on the console and it was basically just scaled with the game down to the small screen; couldn’t it have been bumped up a couple of sizes for the sake of saving our eyes?
The same problem is found in the various menus, of which there are quite a few. Things such as your character skill tree and your inventory are very difficult to understand as it all seems to blur together. It becomes a chore to figure them out if you aren’t familiar with them from the console versions. Luckily, I had some experience and knew what I was looking at going in; I can’t imagine what it would have been like had I never seen or used these menu screens before.
The Vita’s lack of interface buttons creates an issue as well. Borderlands controls system takes full advantage of every single button on the console controller, which is many more than the Vita’s four face buttons and two shoulder buttons. You don’t have the bumpers, nor the clickable thumb sticks. The functions that are normally reserved for these buttons have been assigned to both the front and rear touch panels of the Vita with mixed results.
Throwing a grenade or triggering your special abilities on the front panel work pretty well, although the area of the screen that triggers their effects is quite small. You pretty much have to touch directly on the icons related to each in order to trigger the action, which is a little hard to do on the fly. Why couldn’t it just have been one half of the touch screen or the other? The rear touch panel uses this exact system, with it being a wider area of activation, but it doesn’t always seem to trigger when pressed. There is a sense of unreliability with the rear touch panel which can cause headaches when you are trying to melee an enemy that is right on top of you, or scampering to run for cover when your shield or health bars have been nearly depleted.
Once again, as I have done with other games, I can’t help but complain about the sensitivity issues with the aiming reticule and the Vita’s small, analog nubs. The small sticks just don’t seem long enough to get any sort of accuracy out of them, especially in the heat of battle. This stems from the fact that the game was built for the bigger console controllers Other games, especially those built specifically for the Vita (Killzone: Mercenary and Resistance: Burning Skies), have done just fine with the tinier control nubs.
Just like the text and menu issue, the game doesn’t scale down to the smaller screen, or controller, very well. There have been some efforts made to alleviate the stress of aiming, such as the inclusion of fine-tuning your aim by actually moving your system. This is something that can be turned off in theoptions screen and it only triggers when you aim down the sights of your guns. I found it incredibly useful and more in line with the level of default sensitivity that I expected.
A lot of people will complain that the cooperative multiplayer has been scaled back to two players. I wasn’t personally bothered by this as I play a lot by myself as it is. Just being able to have one person join me online (which runs pretty well) was just fine for my gaming needs. That isn’t the only thing that has been scaled back though. The world seems a bit barren as the amount of enemies appears to have been reduced. Even though there aren’t as many enemies as you may be accustomed to on the consoles or PC, the game still manages to struggle when you get multiple enemies on the screen.
The visuals, obviously, have taken a little bit of a hit as well. The game looks fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but the graphics just aren’t as clean and crisp as fans might be used to in their previous Borderlands experiences. The characters and the environments just don’t have that visual pop they usually have; they sort of blend together a little more on the Vita. I would still call this one of the best-looking games on the Vita to date.
Even the audio portion of the game seems to have problems at times. You get all of the hilarious conversations and dialog that have made the series popular, but they seemed to frequently fall out of sync with what was going on. There were numerous times when the game just seemed to be going haywire on me as a conversation was triggered late and seemed completely out of context, ruining what would have been a funny or notable moment.
While I think that Iron Galaxy should be commended for their work on bringing Borderlands 2 to the small screen, the game has become its own worst enemy because of how good the original game proved to be. On its own, this is a fun game and definitely one of the best experiences found on Sony’s handheld system. However, having experienced the bigger and much, much better version of the game on the home consoles, I can’t help but feel underwhelmed at what has resulted here. Thankfully, the game will support Sony’s cross save functionality which means that this version could be looked at as an extention of the home experience, simply offering you a means of taking your game on the go for short spurts. Unfortunately, as of this writing, that feature is still pending and will be added in with an upcoming patch for the game. Don’t pick this one up expecting it to live up to the hype and acclaim that Gearbox’s original creation garnered; if you do you will be thoroughly disappointed. However, if you look at it on its own you might find yourself pleasantly surprised at what has been pulled off with this conversion.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
If you have been here before, you know the basics: lifelong gamer, father, and of course, certified news monkey. I have been blogging on the industry for close to a decade now, in some form or another. It wasn't until I landed here at Gaming Nexus that I really dove in head first. Now, writing about games has become what I do for fun (and sometimes work) and something I intend on doing until the day I die.
I'm a huge fan of just about everything you can interact with using a controller, no matter how old or new. If you put it in front of me, I will play it... end of story.