It's not coming out from the wall sphincters anymore.
This PlayStation Vita version of Borderlands 2 is not so much a design challenge as it is a technical one. Gearbox Software has already accomplished its feat on console in 2011 with a massively expansive world and a rewarding online four-player mode, which was so successful that the game, in my view, partially spurred Bungie to have confidence in its conception of Destiny. All that Iron Galaxy Studios needed to achieve is an exact port, or at least one as close as possible, to the Vita and the developer would have succeeded in providing the handheld one of the best titles to date. The PS3 and the Vita, however, of course differ enough in hardware power that sacrifices were inevitable, some of which you may not be able to stomach.
If you've read our warning snippet earlier in the week, you'll know that the bugs and freezes have plagued the game in its early access form. Luckily, the Day One patch released on May 13th has fixed many of the audio dropouts, freezes, framerate stops, and technical hiccups throughout the game. It doesn't patch everything wrong, but it's a much smoother game overall.
By default, just assume that Borderlands 2 on Vita is identical to its console counterpart (the fact that this review is starting at "identical" as opposed to "antithesis" is already a solid start). Apart from the slight coloring differences, one revision you'll notice after the first battle that alleviates the technical burden is that monsters don't leave bodies behind, instead exploding in a red cloud of blood and guts. Another is that the amount of enemies in a mob is slightly reduced.
Even so, the framerate has been cut to 30 fps and occasionally stutters below that during high-action sequences against multiple enemies and whenever the character menu swoops into view (less so with the patch). Art assets and textures will occasionally experience pop-in too, particularly when you're driving at high speeds in sprawling areas with plenty of detail. Sometimes there's also a slight delay between when bullets hit the enemy and the enemy registers damage.
The control scheme on the Vita will need time getting accustomed to, as the absence of two extra shoulder buttons and depressible analog sticks compared to a standard console controller will make you squeeze your hands around the device. At the same time, both the left and right halves of the front and back touchscreen are used so you need to be make sure none of your fingers touch either side unless you mean it. Though you have the ability to swap button functions and customize the controls to your choosing, without a supportive frame peripheral to widen your grip, handling the game on the Vita will still feel cramped. The back touchscreen can be too responsive and make the controls uncomfortable for anyone with large hands. That said, longtime Vita owners and FPS veterans will likely be able to cope with the tightness of the controls.
The more untenable omission is the amputation of the four-player multiplayer down to two players and restricted to Vita players to boot (so playing with a friend on PS3 is a no-go at the moment). Ad-hoc multiplayer isn't on the table either, a feature I hope becomes available soon. Given that the core of Borderlands 2 is shooting the shit, both literally and figuratively, with other friends, this is a significant cut to the existing gameplay. Particularly on the higher difficulty settings, some endgame bosses and raids require teamwork between four players (unless you're just that badass). The only saving grace, no pun intended, is that the game features a cross-save on PS3.
Luckily, this Vita version is a strong value for the price tag, including the DLCs for Mechromancer and Psycho characters, Captain Scarlett and Mr. Torgue's Campaign of Carnage DLC adventures, the Collector's Edition bonuses, and the Vault Hunter Upgrade pack all for $39.99. There are also plans to provide DLC for other campaigns as well, like Tiny Tina's, so be on the lookout for those.
While Borderlands 2 for Vita is a neutered version of the original console title, with the toughest costs coming to the multiplayer and technical execution, it's still one of the best games for the handheld system. The Day One patch has done much to improve the numerous, almost infamous bugs, to the point that the game is recommendable and actually impressive considering how massive the console title is with all the included DLC. That it comes close to the real thing is a feat in itself.
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