Review: Borderlands 2 one of the best games on the Mac
By Peter Cohen
At a glance
Borderlands made its mark on the gaming world for mixing the venerable first-person shooter genre we all know and love with elements of role-playing gameplay, like tons of quests and side missions, randomized loot drops and character-building through the use of skill points. So it’s great to see Aspyr’s Borderlands 2 not stray too far from the formula, but improve incrementally on its predecessor.
Borderlands 2 returns you to the planet Pandora, a vile wasteland of a place populated by hostile monsters and insane criminals. A corrupt corporate villain named Handsome Jack has taken over Pandora, and uses the vast resources of his employer, the Hyperion Corporation, to do his bidding. The game starts out with an attempt on your life by Handsome Jack, and it just goes downhill from there.
If you’re familiar with the original Borderlands, many of the core story elements that made that game so fun are here: Claptrap, the chatty and often incoherent robot, is here to guide you along, and the playable characters from the original game make appearances as non-player characters (NPC) with whom you’ll interact.
The mix of playable characters in Borderlands 2 is similar to its predecessor. You can choose from a Gunzerker, a tank character who can dual-wield guns; a Siren who can suspend enemies in midair; a commando who can deploy an automated turret to mow down his enemies; and an assassin who has the ability to camouflage himself and make himself invisible. Each character has a skill tree that can be upgraded with new abilities and enhancements as he or she acquires experience. Experience is garnered by completing missions and defeating foes.
Along the way, you collect weapons, shields, and upgrades of all varieties and assortments. Like its predecessor, Borderlands 2 offers a staggering number of weapons choices—literally millions, procedurally generated by the computer, with various attributes like rate of fire, reload capacity, damage and more. And practically every scene in the game features lockers, boxes and cabinets filled with loot to plunder.
If you’re not familiar with the Borderlands series, note that the writing is absolutely hilarious and the voice acting is top notch. The punchy dialogue helps to keep the story moving and keep you engaged in what’s happening in a way that surprisingly few games do, partly because it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Borderlands 2 knows it’s here to entertain you. It’s entertaining to look at, too—if you’re not familiar with the original game, Borderlands 2 uses an art style evocative of cel shading, like that used in animation.
Boss battles abound in Borderlands 2, and they’re very, very hard. You need to go in well-equipped and well-shielded, and figure out on your feet your strategy to defeat them. If you die, you’ll be regenerated at a nearby respawn point (what’s called a New-U Station, where you pay a small fee to be regenerated with full health and shields), but it’s frustrating, because you’ll find the boss is fully recharged as well.
If you save the game and quit between levels, you’ll keep inventory, skills and experience, but you’ll need to replay the entire level again, a really frustrating gameplay quirk that I suppose is because of its roots as an “action-RPG” rather than a straight up action game. It’s worth it, then, to go on as many side missions as possible before you hit the boss, because you’ll be better equipped (and presumably will have leveled up) when you finally square off against the Big Bad at the end of each sequence.
Online gameplay is a key feature in Borderlands 2, and if you don’t participate you’re really missing out on some great fun. Unlike some games which offer nothing but endless arena battles, online play in Borderlands 2 is mostly cooperative; you’re working together towards a common goal (you can engage in one-on-one duels with other players too, but that’s not crucial to gameplay). Borderlands 2’s game matching service will find you games that are best suited based on your level and progress in the single-player game, so you don’t find yourself punching way above your weight class.
Your online gameplay will differ if you buy the game from the Mac App Store or through Steam. The Mac App Store enables Borderlands 2 to work with Game Center, and therefore, other Mac App Store purchasers. Steam lets you play with other Steam players. As I write this, Borderlands 2 online play is limited to Mac-to-Mac only (Aspyr tells me they’re working on an update to expand online play to PC users). I got the game through Steam and there are a significant number of Mac players there already, so you’ll be able to have fun online.
Game performance is very good on the two different Macs tested with it: a 2009-era Mac Pro and a 2012-era Mac mini. There were occasional stability issues with online play; I’d occasionally get a dropped connection or the game would quit all together. But data wasn’t lost and the game could resume play with no issue afterwards. Some older, slower and less capable graphics chipsets aren’t supported, so make sure to compare your system profile with the game’s requirements before buying it. Aspyr has made it easy to do so using their GameAgent.com website—when you create a profile, you can activate their Mac Match service to compare your system to their requirements.
Borderlands 2 is not for kids or players who are easily put off by bad language or gratuitous violence. The game is rated M for Mature by the ESRB, rated thus for gore, violence, language, sexual themes and use of alcohol. So don’t buy this for your ten year old, even if they ask.
Borderlands 2 is easily one of the best current games for the Mac, period. It takes everything that’s fun and enjoyable about the original and amps it up even more. Once Aspyr gets the Mac version in sync with its PC counterpart for online play, it’ll be just about perfect.
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