Thursday, October 18, 2012

Why Borderlands 2 is the best game available right now.

Borderlands 2 is my main contender for Game of the Year. I also don't see this changing any time soon. It is, in fact, so good that it may also be my Game of Next Year. To quote internet parlance; "GOTY, ALL YEARS."

Why would this be? What is so special about Borderlands 2, which is little more than a refinement of the first title? Aren't I the guy who keeps on banging on about "Let's have less of the same old stuff, and try new things", who has nearly given up on AAA altogether because they are just about "Bigger, faster, more"?

Yes, I am that guy. I do prefer it when games try and steer themselves away from what everyone else is doing.

The important thing with Borderlands 2, though, is that the word they have concentrated on is "MORE". And, the way they have concentrated on it is to make it more of a game.

There are more locations. There are more guns. There are more characters, more missions, and there will no doubt be more DLC. This is all entirely predictable, expected, and clearly does more than enough to satisfy the marketing men at 2K.

What is not so predictable is when you see some blocky scenery that looks like it came from MineCraft. And, when you hit it like you do in MineCraft, it breaks. What it reveals is an area that is populated by Creepers, THE signature enemy from MineCraft. The exploding bastards from a completely different type of game are in Borderlands 2, and there is no reason for it. It is a hidden Easter Egg, one which you need to go off the beaten path to find. No hints as to its existence are found anywhere in the game itself, it is just there to BE there, and be fun.

It's a magical moment. It would have been even more magical if I had not already known about it, but I at least managed to not find out how to get to it. It was during a play session with a friend who knew which zone we needed to be in that we got to it, and we both searched for it whilst playing through the game in a normal fashion. Not achievement-hunting (there is no achievement for it), not grinding for loot, just having a laugh shooting countless mobs and picking up even countlesser guns.

I still hate these guys even when I can shoot them

It almost felt like the days before the internet, where you might have come across one of these instances in a game, but were far more likely to have heard about it from someone else. It is so well hidden, in fact, that people playing without the aid of the internet could quite easily play the entire game through multiple times and never find it.

It is just one of many references to other games buried away in Borderlands 2. Actually, it is more than just the games that Gearbox refer to. What they actually do is take a look at the parts of games that reach outside the confines of the screen, and incorporate them into their own universe. Hence, there is a robot called Jimmy Jenkins, who charges into battle without adequate planning beforehand. Claptrap smashes the 4th wall by revealing that his stash exists "for twinking items between your characters". Frequently, it is confident enough to remind you that you are not just playing a game, but that you are playing one of MANY games.

And why shouldn't it? Many games have, through the years, stepped outside of the boundaries they were created in and crossed into popular culture. Some are household names. It is more strange to think that a game world where nobody know who Mario is would be more believable than one where Mario adorns a shop window. Movies, books, TV, and even pop music videos all pay homage to the greats, and I love that games are finally getting the balls to do it as well.

This is evidence that our hobby is evolving. It is standing on its own two feet, and is prepared to look to itself for support as it takes steps forwards. It may be finally about to cast off the shackles imposed by trying to copy other artforms, and is ready to emerge with its own identity. Its own frame of reference, and its own history. Because, until games stop trying to be interactive versions of everything else, they will only ever be looked upon as inferior to everything else.

Games can do things that other entertainments can't. A film or book would struggle to convey the same emotional panic that Heavy Rain managed to when trying to catch up to Jason. Or would be less impactful than climbing out of the helicopter, barely able to move, before succumbing to your fate as Modern Warfare was. Those famous twists at the end of The Sixth Sense and The Usual Suspects? As great as they were, they did not hit me with the same kind of sledgehammer blow that the ending of Braid managed.

So, game developers everywhere; Would you kindly do more of this sort of thing?

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