Borderlands 2 – PS Vita Review

Title   Borderlands 2
Developer  Iron Galaxy
Publisher  Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform  PlayStation Vita
Genre  First Person Shooter / Action RPG
Release Date  May 30, 2014

I was pretty worried when I picked up Borderlands 2 for the PS Vita. I was worried that my word-crafting skills wouldn’t be able to do justice to a series that is much loved here at GLHQ – our chief has famously played both games to death in its various formats over the years, while I merely own them on the PC. So when the chief said to me “Ste, you incredibly sexy bastard, please review Borderlands 2 on the Vita for me, as I’m off to E3”, I did a little wee in my pants.

My second (and greatest) worry is that it’s a port. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve played ports before – usually PC games which have been ported to a console, or vice versa – and, with the odd exception, they’re normally pretty decent. However, I’ve never played a game that has been ported to a handheld device before, and that’s the part that worries me most. Despite the Vita’s relatively impressive specifications, I wasn’t sure how Iron Galaxy, the studio at the helm of the conversion, would manage to fit all that game on to one of those tiny little Vita cards.

Cutting to the chase, I’ve been thoroughly impressed with what Iron Galaxy have managed to do. It makes my job slightly easier as this can become more of a comparison exercise between the full console/PC versions and their little brother on the Vita. For that reason, I’m going to assume you’ve played Borderlands 2 before on another format. If that’s not the case, have a read of our main Borderlands 2 review, then come back and check out how it compares to the original.

The most obvious comparisons are with visuals and sound. At first glance, Borderlands 2 on the Vita is the game we know and love, but shrunk down for the smaller screen. I was half expecting cut-down versions of areas such as Sanctuary and Liars Berg but was pleasantly surprised to find that they are, from what I can tell, the same as the full versions in terms of layout and size. It was only when I started to look more closely that I started to pick out the differences. For example, the character models have been scaled back quite a bit, buildings have a slightly rough edge to them, and the lighting and textures are nowhere near as impressive as the original. The first time you see water is quite jarring, however, as it’s just a solid blue colour with bits of slightly lighter blue mixed through and looks quite ugly.

When you first spawn into an area it will take a few seconds for everything to load completely. I would often be running around with a blurry gun before it would finish rendering it and suddenly pop into its finished state, and this is a lot more noticeable in areas such as Sanctuary where there is a lot going on. When in combat it also seems to me that the number of enemy spawns has been significantly reduced. It may just be my perception, but when playing the full version on the PC I tend to die a lot, however on the Vita it’s very rare that I get overwhelmed by enemy numbers.

This is to be expected and, in fairness, it would probably choke the Vita version to an unplayable slideshow to have the same number of on-screen enemies. Another compromise that I noticed is that all enemies, regardless of what they are or how you kill them, will instantly gib and disappear when they die rather than have a death animation and leave a corpse. Again I thought this was a pretty reasonable trade-off in order to keep the frame rate up and the game playable.

In other visuals, the title menu seems to be slightly scaled back. At the character-select screen you’ll get a zoomed-in view of your character’s face and torso which rotates showing some landscape rather than the full body rotating view you get in the full versions. Other than this relatively minor alteration it all seems pretty much as is, save for all the extra graphical options that you’d get on the PC version. In terms of audio, the music and sound effects, from what I can tell, are all as per the full versions. Claptrap is as annoying as ever, the midgets yell out the same unintelligible screams, the guns sound like… erm… guns, and you still get your character of choice hurling abuse at enemies and celebrating headshots. I would recommend using headphones if possible, though, as the tiny speakers on the Vita don’t really do it justice.

As far as gameplay and other features are concerned, you’ll be hard pressed to be disappointed. The story appears to be as is, complete with all cutscenes and optional side quests.  The vast array of guns also appears to be there, although I’ve obviously not attempted to count them. The levelling up and character customisation works the same, with badass ranks and vehicle/character skins all intact. Additionally, if you own the PS3 version you can make use of the cross-save feature to play your PS3 characters from where you left off in the campaign, and any progress you make on the Vita is then synced back with the cross-save server for you to play again on the PS3. Same goes for characters created on the Vita when played on the PS3. This is a very nice feature that will certainly come in handy for some people, and I’m also led to believe that True Vault Hunter Mode is included, although I’m not quite there with my playthrough so can’t confirm this.

I did initially struggle slightly with the default control set up. I’m primarily a PC gamer so aiming with analogue sticks was cumbersome for me to begin with. It also took some getting used to using the back halves of the touch pad for sprint and melee, and I had trouble activating my class power; the game requires you to press the small green icon on the left of the main screen HUD to activate it. In the full game this would just indicate how long you had left for it to cool down and be usable again. Having to reach over and press it can be clumsy in the heat of battle. The same control method is used for grenades on the other side of the HUD, and with the square button being so close to the screen I often accidentally touched the screen with my right thumb whilst pressing square to open a crate and would fire off an unwanted grenade from time to time. These are pretty minor gripes in the grand scheme of things and are mostly down to the design of the Vita itself and lack of additional buttons rather than anything that Iron Galaxy has done.

The only concession that I can see Iron Galaxy have made in terms of gameplay is the co-op mode. While it is still there, you can only team up with one other person; it seems that four-player co-op is too much an ask for the Vita to cope with. Matchmaking, however, is simple enough – you can either invite online friends to join you, search for a game to join yourself, or set your game to allow friends or random people to drop in and out of your game at any point. If you are the lonesome type you also have the option to switch matchmaking off entirely and play on your own.

I’m assuming the matchmaking only works with other Vita players. This would make sense if the enemy spawns have really been scaled back and it’s not just my perception. I’ve not been able to confirm this fact with the random folk I’ve been playing with as I’m not entirely sure the voice comms work properly since nobody will talk to me, despite the microphone icon on screen indicating that someone is talking. There is no option in the menus for turning voice comms on or off, and there is no button which controls the mic so I’m assuming it’s always on but I’ve not had one person talk to me yet despite repeatedly saying “hello” to my Vita.

Minor gripes aside, I think Iron Galaxy have done a fine job of shrinking down Borderlands 2 and making it work on the Vita without compromising too much the integrity of the Borderlands shootin’ and lootin’ experience that fans have come to expect. Also, as if to sweeten the deal somewhat, the game comes bundled with six pieces of DLC including both the Psycho and Mechromancer character classes in the form of a download.

  • Core Borderlands experience is left intact
  • All modes and customisations still there
  • There is still bazillions of guns
  • Six pieces of Free DLC!
  • Cross-Save compatible
  • Feels like Borderlands
  • Slightly awkward controls – accidental grenade spams
  • Only two-player co-op mode
  • Dodgy voice comms
  • Scaled back visuals and enemy count, which is to be expected

Borderlands 2 on the Vita is great; while you are not quite getting the full experience it does more than enough to entertain without too many compromises. The story is exactly the same as on the full versions, and it will keep you going just as long. If you already own it in another format it’s still worth a buy if you want your Borderlands fix whilst on the go or if you don’t want to hog the big TV or sit upstairs on your own at the PC. Those expecting console levels of graphics will be disappointed, however, and the online co-op is restricted to only two players. PS Vita owners have been screaming out for some decent games for a while now, and Iron Galaxy have managed to deliver one. It may be just a port of an existing game but it’s a step in the right direction. Well worth the £20 or so you'll pay for it.

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  1. BenRC says:

    Couldn’t agree more, seems a lot of sites are comparing this game to the PC version and marking it down because its not as good. this is borderlands 2, the FULL game on a handheld. its an amazing achievement.

  2. Ste Ste says:

    Thanks for the comment, yes it is amazing that they’ve managed it and ok they’ve had to make compromises to achieve it but how else were they supposed to do it? Everything has it’s limits and Vita is never going to compare to a power gaming PC, it’s simple maths; these people should know better.

  3. Richie Richie says:

    Saw some comments about this game before that were slagging it.
    Then again, people are cocks who know nothing.
    Even if this is a little compromised, it still seems like a big achievement to put it all in the Vita.

    Yeah, I’ll probably get onto it at some point (PS+ maybe?). I maxed BL1&2 and all the DLC so there’s no hurry.
    Only two player co-op? Who the fuck ever goes online with a Vita anyway?
    Unsurprised that the graphics suffered a bit in translation but it’s all just cel-shaded shit anyway.

    Controls don’t seem like to much of an issue either. As long as it doesn’t cram all the stupid Vita features in for no reason.
    Unnecessary shaking around and rear pad controls would piss me off quite a bit.
    Nice review though, Ste. Really good read.
    Ta ta for now!

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