You'd think that I'd be tired of the Borderlands series after spending more than 100 combined hours wandering the harsh wastes of Pandora, shooting skags in the face, and looting their corpses for better weapons. Then along comes Borderlands: The Handsome Collection to completely annihilate my weekend; such is the draw of completing quests for annoying dubstep-spewing robots and finding laser guns that melt bandit faces. And barring some unfortunate technical issues, it's the most comprehensive Borderlands package to date.
If there's one thing to be said about The Handsome Collection, it's that it's certainly the most Borderlands. The package includes Borderlands 2, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (sorry, no original Borderlands), and all of the DLC released for both games as of the publication of this review. That includes all of the additional playable characters, level cap increases for both titles, and every single expansion up to and including the brand new Claptastic Voyage add-on. And all of that is in addition to the dozens of hours you'll spend in both of the games' main campaigns. It's a staggering amount of content, though players who have already helped Captain Hammerlock with his Bullymong problem for the umpteenth time will likely wish for something completely new.
That is, of course, assuming you're already on board with Borderlands' brand of shoot-n-loot gameplay. It's a satisfying mix of twitch shooter action and compulsive RPG-style stat management and skill building, with an emphasis on co-op play, inventive weaponry, and internet meme-based humor. If that sounds great to you, you'll find a lot to like here, but it's certainly not without issues. The emphasis on co-op can make soloing a slog, accompanied by numerous deaths and restarts. And sometimes the amount of loot thrown at you can be a bit too overwhelming, as you constantly stop and compare stats for every single gun lying on the ground. Still, the allure of finding a rifle which lets you chuck it like a grenade every time you reload is worth dealing with a few issues, and moving through the varied environments of Pandora and its moon Elpis while causing all of the local wildlife to go extinct is too good to pass up. Though, if you weren't sold the first time around, nothing here will change your mind.
The same can be said about Borderlands 2 and The Pre-Sequel's narrative. The world of Pandora is harsh and unforgiving, but the rumors of riches stored away in its many enigmatic vaults bring countless hunters to its surface. Handsome Jack has decided to exploit this fact to kill off would-be vault hunters as soon as they set foot on the planet. And so begins Borderlands 2, a game starring an evil, sarcastic villain who kills indiscriminately and brags about the diamond pony he owns. But he wasn't always this way, as evidenced by The Pre-Sequel, which shows a slightly less dickish Jack before his fall from grace. The stories for both games are funny and charming and they definitely have their laugh out loud moments, but they can grate in that way a child shouting in your ear while hopped up on caffeinated soda and Pop Rocks can.
The only feature coming exclusively to the Handsome Collection is a four-player local splitscreen mode, increased from the two-player limit of previous games. It works surprisingly well, locking the framerate at 30 fps and giving each player their own quadrant to work with. Thanks to the bump in resolution, it's still relatively easy to make out inventory screens and text while you play despite the smaller real estate. No, it's certainly not the ideal way to experience Borderlands, but if you and some chums want to deface Pandora while playing in the same room, it totally works.
But even with story being as manic as it is, there's no denying that Pandora and its moon are gorgeous places to explore (and blow up), and the Handsome Collection's 1080p/(mostly)60 frames-per-second upgrade certainly highlights its cel-shaded beauty. Few games look as striking as Borderlands' comic book-inspired visuals, and thanks to the enhanced resolution and bloom lighting, the environments pop more than ever.
Speaking of 'pop' (best segue ever), these next-gen updates still feature the Unreal Engine's signature 'no-textures-no-textures-suddenly-all-the-textures' pop-in, as well as a few additional issues that wiggled their way into the ports. Both games were handled by different studios (Iron Galaxy for Borderlands 2 and Armature for The Pre-Sequel), and both have their own unique wrinkles that mar an otherwise excellent port-job. I'm not entirely sure what causes it, but each time I loaded up Borderlands 2, there was a chance that the framerate would either run buttery smooth or become inexplicably choppy. When the framrerate dips, it's not unplayable, but it's definitely noticeable. On the other hand, The Pre-Sequel's framerate is solid, but it's accompanied by persistent screen tearing, like someone forgot to tick the V-Sync option before shipping the game. I've been playing both games on the Xbox One, so these issues might not exist on the PS4. Even so, there's no way a two-and-a-half-year-old game should be having these problems on a more powerful console.
Even with these quibbles, there's no denying that Borderlands: The Handsome Collection is a fantastic deal, combining two full, fun-as-hell games and every single piece of DLC in one package. If you haven't played the crap out of this FPS/RPG hybrid (or heck, even if you have), Borderlands is still one of the best, most entertaining shooters in the business. Shame about that framerate, though.
This game was reviewed on Xbox One.