To drum up support for the recent release of Borderlands 2, 2K Games has released $7 Borderlands Legends for the iPad, a game that falls laughably short of doing justice to the humorous western, sci-fi RPG shooter franchise.
In Borderlands Legends, you control the four Vault Hunters from the first Borderlands game as they seek bounty, fortune, and fame on the alien planet Pandora. Each Hunter has its own powers and abilities, with a tank, sniper, stealth assassin, and weapons expert/medic.
While the menu and character screens resemble the source material, the gameplay itself is a mess of dark colors, health bars, and power-up icons. Part of this stems from 2K Games’ decision to make Borderlands Legends a top-down strategy game instead of a first-person shooter. The game’s graphics are actually quite strong (and feature art similar to the original), but when your Vault Hunters are fighting bizarre creatures that are supposed to resemble Skags and enemy soldiers, it’s difficult to tell just what the heck is going on.
The game also suffers from spotty controls. If you’re going to make an iOS spinoff of your hit first person shooter franchise, changing the genre of the game is a risk that only works if the resulting product is more intuitive or fun to play. Instead, Borderlands Legends suffers from laggy controls, bugs, frame skips, and major path finding issues. Trying to command your soldiers to fight, heal each other, or move is a complete mess, as the controls will sometimes respond (but sometimes they won’t), and sometimes do the exact opposite of what you wanted. I wanted Roland to heal Brick, instead Roland runs next to Brick and both of them get riddled with bullets.
What’s frustrating is that the game actually does a good job of approximating Borderland’s role-playing aspects to the iOS platform. Between missions, you can power-up your team’s abilities as well as buy or sell weapons and shields. The weapons and abilities are far less nuanced and vast as the source material, but you still can spend hours earning cash to unlocking the arsenal of your desire. There are some hiccups, of course—establishing what you already own and what you can sell takes a couple of finger taps, and the payoff on the battlefield often feels minimal—but these are minor quibbles compared to the game’s more pronounced flaws.
Aside from the occasional boss battle, each mission essentially resembles the rest: you hit the same indistinguishable maps with the same enemies and largely can utilize the same tactics. One should also note that despite the game’s emphasis on cover, several maps don’t really afford you cover, so you’ll end up just sending all of your Hunters into the open to be mowed down. In which case, you’ll restart, level grind, and try the whole tragedy over again.
Borderlands Legends is a condemnable game—not because it’s a disappointing tie-in to a beloved franchise, but because there’s just enough good decisions and demonstrable effort to make the game’s flaws more pronounced. Rather, Borderlands Legends isn’t another inexpensive, lazy tie-in to a major console franchise; 2K Games put considerable effort in this and it’s technical and artistic failure make the game all the more damning.