It feels like yesterday that Borderlands helped birth the looter shooter genre that has grown substantially over the last decade. Filled with the promise of a billion guns and slapstick comedy, Borderlands quickly became one of my favourite games of the last generation, and is still one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences I’ve ever had. So, following the announcement, I jumped at the chance to play the Borderlands: Game of the Year remaster and return to Pandora again, and I can happily report that, despite a few technical gremlins, the game has aged better than me! It’s also now even better a decade later thanks to some modern gameplay additions and a lovely lick of 4K HDR paint.
If you’ve played the original or any of the sequels, you’ll feel accustomed to the story structure. Take control of one of four vault hunters, each with their own unique skill, and set out on an epic adventure across the arid landscapes of Pandora to seek out the treasures hidden within a mythical Vault. While the core concept is light, the original’s story still holds up today, thanks to some amazing writing, hilarious mission objectives, and humorous cast members. Nevertheless, the mission structure here is starting to show its age, as most are nothing more than simple fetch or kill quest, which leads to some repetition during the latter stages, especially if you’re completing all of the hundreds of side quests.
Enemy design and AI has also seen better days. Most of the enemies encountered in the early stages are also found in the latter, with very few new adversaries added throughout. Enemies also spawn in the same locations and return after a short while, which can make the early stages frustrating, especially as crushing difficulty spikes await should you venture too far off the main trail. Boss fights however are just as fun as they were in the original, with the exception of the Destroyer, who was a bullet sponge in the original, and despite Gearbox’s efforts to make him more of a challenge, only takes a few seconds to kill here!
What has aged well is Borderlands’ charming cell-shaded art style, which has been given a 4K HDR makeover, however, going back after the sequels only showcases how bland some of the art design in the original was. Given their nature, cell-shaded titles always age better than their ultra-realistic counterparts – The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker is still one of the best-looking games ever made – and the original Borderlands still looks good today, so the upgraded visuals only really add a level of sophistication, but it’s a welcome one. Lighting has been improved, as has the draw-distance, but sadly the same can’t be said for some of the technical elements. Framerate drops are still a common occurrence all these years later, despite more powerful hardware, while the occasional glitch can still be found; some of which left me unable to complete missions without a hard restart, while others simply left me stuck between a rock and a hard place!
One of the biggest improvements for the oddly-named Game of the Year remaster is the inclusion of Borderlands 2’s hud mini-map, which shows where enemies are and where you need to go. This made traversing the lands of Pandora a far easier and more streamlined experience. The game also adds the ability to mark weapons and items as junk – making selling a doddle – a few character appearance customisation options, and four-player split-screen co-op play.
Borderlands was designed to be played in co-op, so the inclusion of four player split-screen is a nice addition, and is well implemented, mostly. As was the case in the original, the more players, the more the game challenges you, but you’re compensated for the increased difficulty with more valuable loot, and there’s billions of it. I’ve played through the game three times over the years, and never used the same gun twice! The only drawback of playing in co-op is that your loot menu never really scales with the screen when you want to change your load-out, resulting in a cumbersome experience. At the time of writing, I also found joining online games a near-impossible challenge, with most requests timing out, but Gearbox is expected to look into these errors over the coming weeks. Nevertheless, being able to tackle the trials of Pandora with a couple of friends in the same room is the best way to experience the remaster and makes it worth picking up again.
I’ve said before that this generation will be remembered as much for its spectacular range of original titles as it will for the sheer number of remasters dropping on a weekly basis. Some of these remasters work, other don’t, and Borderlands: Game of the Year falls firmly between the two. The original still looks and plays great today, which makes the 4K upgrade on offer here a nice little luxury, rather than a necessity.
If you’ve never played any games in the series, this Game of the Year edition is the perfect entry point as it’s packed with all the original’s downloadable content, in addition to the technical improvements found in the sequels. However, if you’re just taking a trip down memory lane, it’s hard to justify the outlay again, especially as Borderlands: The Handsome Collection offers a more rounded and modern experience. Nevertheless, this remaster is still an amazing looter shooter, and when played with a group of friends, is easily one of the most enjoyable titles of this generation.
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