In a move that seemed to come out of nowhere, Sony has brought another big AAA exclusive to its virtual reality headset. Borderlands 2 VR is the latest to join PSVR’s 2018 hot streak, boasting 87 bazillion (or is it gazillion?) guns while you raid, loot and pillage through Pandora. Relive your favourite moments as you clap some traps, bully some mongs and kick some handsome jack-ass while being immersed into the game’s exotic wastelands. Borderlands 2 was one of the biggest RPG shooters of last generation, making this just as high profile as Skyrim VR (which came out as a timed exclusive for Sony’s platform last year). In fact, Borderlands 2 VR shares a lot with the dragonborn simulator in more ways than one, including how well the full games transition into VR despite the fact that questionable compromises and choices were made to get there.
I have to say Gearbox did a pretty decent job of bringing all the content of Borderlands 2 into virtual reality. The whole vanilla version of the game is present complete with story, missions, weapons, classes, loot and upgrades. It’s no secret that PSVR’s library has a lack of AAA games which offer substantive playtime, particularly in the RPG arena. In fact, outside of Skyrim VR, there really aren’t any out there. So at a base level, having such a proven hit like Borderlands 2 that delivers all the above in spades is quite exciting.
However, while I like to celebrate the mere fact that Borderlands 2 is playable in its entirety on my PSVR, some key components that made the classic what it was are sorely missing in this version of the game. The biggest of those is the lack of the multiplayer. I personally play 90% of my games alone and while I can still enjoy playing through Borderlands 2 solo, it was definitely a title designed around co-operative play. I have played through the game on five different platforms with my friends online and locally, and I feel those specific memories are what made the game so special 6 years ago. And yes, one of those platforms was the PlayStation Vita, where I played with my brother. I understand that the game needs to run at 60fps constantly and transitioning the game into VR might’ve made it hard to add four-player co-op, but I feel like compromises should have been made elsewhere, even if it meant that only two players could play together.
The developers made sure that some of the multiplayer-based classes were altered to accommodate this version, but they never feel as impactful to the gameplay. Borderlands 2’s game design is most akin to games like Diablo and Destiny, which are games that are also better played with friends. If you’re still happy to play by yourself then more power to you. But there will be some out there that will find this extremely disappointing.
Another curious piece the game axes is all the post-launch content the original versions have. It’s a shame as Borderlands 2 has some of the best DLC around, some being even better than the vanilla game. The DLC characters were some of my favourite classes to play. It’s even stranger since Skyrim VR came packaged in with all of its post-launch DLC. Another bummer.
Oh, how I want to fight this guy in VR with my friends
Despite the fact that Borderlands 2 VR throws a lot of things out, it does add a couple new cool features. For example, BadAss Mega Fun Time is a new mechanic that slows down time while allowing your character to move at regular speeds allowing players to strategise when they’re severely outnumbered or surrounded. It helps retain that fast-paced action the series is known for and accounts for the fact that your player moves slower in the VR version. I think it works pretty well for the medium and is ultimately what helped DOOM VFR keep its pacing at radical speeds in 2017.
In the visuals department, the port actually surprises. I personally anticipated the graphics and models to look muddy and the draw distances to look horrible. While the game never looks as crisp as the PS4 version and some background object develop jagged edges with an overall softer presentation, it still retains the overall look of the original game. Draw distances are generally pretty clear and character models look good. I could easily assume this is all due to the simple but effective art design that gives the series its signature look, but the VR version rarely makes compromises in the visual department. Overall, this helps in creating immersion, truly pulling you into the world of Pandora. I do want to note that cutscenes are on a traditional flat screen but this is something all developers in the VR space are dealing with, and the cutscenes are few and far between.
This VR port successfully retains the signature look of the series
Another surprise enhancement is the audio design. While the voice acting, special effects and weapon sounds were stellar in the original game, I felt the mastering of the audio was never perfect. Character’s voices would sound too low and gunfire would drown out the soundtrack. Sometimes it was even hard to tell where I was being shot from. However, thanks to the implementation of 3D audio, everything sounds perfect. The volume of bullet shots is determined by direction and distance, while the voice acting of the characters sound more alive than ever. I almost actually wanted to pay attention to what Claptrap had to say this time around!
For a VR game that offers locomotion, jumping and fast-paced movement of this scope, it’s important to have a number of comfort options that the player can choose from. Thankfully, Gearbox offers a number of options that can assist with movement, turning and high action sequences. For example, inhibiting vision with a tunnel effect allows players to walk without getting nauseous. Snap turning and teleporting options are also available. All of these are customisable depending on your tolerance levels.
I’ve been to 6 of Claptrap’s birthday parties and he hasn’t come to ONE of mine. Rude!
In terms of controls, I think Borderlands 2 VR is one of the first PSVR games where I prefer to play with the DualShock 4, which mostly mirrors the controls from the original games. This allowed me to move around fast and perform actions thanks to my muscle memory gathered from my history with the series and traditional shooters generally. The only real difference to the controls is the aiming, which uses the headset’s head-tracking. It’s not as satisfying as I thought but it’s pretty accurate and improves once you start unlocking better guns.
The PS Moves on the other hand are a little confusing. It’s weird because the controls are similar to Skyrim VR, which I actually preferred to play with. However, moving, selecting action prompts, cancelling actions, bringing up the menu and reloading are too cumbersome and unintuitive. This is mostly due to the horrible button format on the PS Move controllers, which I will never stop ragging on until Sony fixes it.
Do I press the top right-hand button on my left Move controller or the bottom left-hand button on my right Move controller? I’d just rather jump into the action, then go through that learning curve as there wasn’t anything about the DualShock 4 setup that made me want to change to begin with anyway. Borderlands 2 is a game that has a lot of control inputs, so while I prefer the Move controllers in games like SuperHot VR or Rez Infinite, they’re not as attractive to me in this game.
While the Dualshock 4 feels natural, the Move controllers feel finicky and cumbersome
The menu system is also complex, messy and clunky. They should have taken a bit more time reworking and cleaning up the interface so it’s better suited to the controls and VR. It’s strange because they did a relatively good job with the main gameplay UI sitting at the bottom of your peripheral vision for you to conveniently refer to.
I will say the only aspect that is improved by using the PS Move controllers is aiming your weapons with them, as dual-wielding feels more natural. However, given the fact that every other PSVR shooter offers that control scheme, I’m happy to give it up in Borderlands 2 VR seeing how much I despise the button placement on the Moves. Outside of that, the game allows you to control vehicles using head-tracking or motion controls. It’s fun, but I don’t think it’s enough to make me swap the DualShock 4 for the Move controllers.
I think one of the biggest missed opportunities in this PSVR edition is the lack of AIM support. I have been very vocal about how good it feels to play shooters with Sony’s proprietary gun controller. It is an absolute must for Farpoint and the excellent Firewall: Zero Hour, and I think it would’ve felt right at home with Borderlands 2. I would have happily sacrificed dual-wielding for the opportunity to have an intuitive button layout with analogue sticks to move and turn and the added sense of immersion holding the AIM controller feels, which is a lot more than the move controllers do. Most of the weapons in the original version of Borderlands 2 are two-handed anyway.
Borderlands 2 VR is a success in a number of ways but disappointing in many others. Gearbox successfully brought the whole game into VR without losing its personality or much of its visual fidelity. It adds a couple nice elements like BAMF Time and tweaked some abilities to take advantage of VR, while using the medium to enhance a couple other areas like immersion and the audio. Furthermore, when playing with the DualShock 4 it retains that high-velocity chaos the series is known for. However, cutting out the excellent DLC, the clunky and confusing implementation of Move controls and especially the lack of multiplayer are significant compromises that really make this version of Borderlands 2 VR feel inferior. To wrap it up though, I think given PSVR’s relatively empty catalogue with regards to large AAA RPGs, Borderlands 2 VR is worth giving a run-through, and at a fundamental level, it still is a blast to play.
Reviewed on PSVR using a PlayStation 4 Pro | Review code supplied by publisher