Borderlands 2 Vita Review
One of the nice things about reviewing a port of a game you've already reviewed is that there's already going to be a base verdict behind whatever you're going to write. In the case of Borderlands 2, which has just received a handheld treatment for the PlayStation Vita, that base opinion is glowing: Borderlands 2 is a damn fine game.
I'm not going to bother waxing lyrical about the game's satisfying combat, addictive loot-nabbing, or reasonable, just-right length for multiple play throughs. All of that can be found by simply hopping a link over to the review of the original game from back in September 2012 - and everything I said still stands. Even a good year and a half on, Borderlands 2 is still an enjoyable experience and one I'd recommend to just about any RPG fan.
In content-terms, the Vita version of the title matches up to its console brothers admirably, managing to squeeze all of the content from that core release down to Vita-card and download-friendly sizes.
The team at Iron Galaxy, the developers behind this version, even found space to fit in the two additional character classes and several major additions to the game's slate of missions on top of the original console & PC shipping version - and that's pretty impressive. It's an incredibly complete version of Borderlands 2, a game that has been added to liberally.
However, this release is still far from perfect. Content isn't the problem here - it's performance. To compress a game as big as Borderlands 2 onto the Vita, something has to give - and if you've spent any time with the console versions, leave alone the far superior PC version, you'll likely find your first moments with the Vita version a little shocking.
The most prominent loss in my eyes comes in the form of compressed textures, with colours and crispness partially crushed out of the image in order to fit the assets within the Vita's memory requirements. While the Vita is obviously a lot tinier than the big-screen TV I played Borderlands on previously, here the hardware's wonderful screen works against Borderlands, exposing the nasties and inconsistencies more fully.
Even with reduced textures, sometimes the game struggles to keep up a modest frame rate. When the frame rate sails smoothly in this game, it does so well - but too often there are massive dips and hitches in the experience that make some of the more hectic fire fights Borderlands can offer much less engaging and much more frustrating - it's a shame.
Other changes to make the game fit the Vita effect the experience less. Multiplayer has been dropped from four players to two, for instance, and sound has been compressed in a manner that'll be subtle through the Vita's speakers or most headphones, but will still be noticeable on higher-end gear.
The Vita makes good on having two sticks with this game, as controls are largely unaffected. The biggest loss comes in the loss of two shoulder buttons, with some functions re-mapped to the touch pad at the back of the Vita. Your mileage may vary, but I have always found the touch pad clunky and hit-and-miss, and Borderlands was no exception.
The controls are thankfully fully customizable, so I dumped lesser-used functions onto those inputs and continued playing without a problem. When the game is actually holding up its frame rate, the controls are snappy and responsive and an admirable attempt to emulate how the game feels on a console.
Some aspects of the release really are improved, too - online play works a dream, and is perfectly suited for the handheld format, and the addition of cross-save functionality with the PS3 version of Borderlands 2 is a very welcome addition indeed.
Borderlands is in concept a great game for a handheld - it's a game where you can save anywhere, and also one where you can quickly and easily take up, complete and turn in a short quest in the time a bus drive takes - it's just a shame that this particular iteration of the franchise has fared so poorly performance-wise on the Vita.
The shrinking process hasn't been kind to how Borderlands 2 runs at all, and that makes what is a very admirable and good-value package content-wise much less easy to recommend. There's still a lot here to love as the original review notes, and squeezing this game onto a portable machine is a feat in itself, but with performance the way it is, it feels something of a missed opportunity. I hope that a fully-fledged, ground-up portable Borderlands title gets its chance at some point in the future - the concept of this series on the go is definitely a sound one.