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Borderlands 2 PS Vita Review: Lost in Translation

Save that precious Vita memory space for something else.

Preview by Kat Bailey, .

Much like Street Fighter II on the Game Boy, Borderlands II for the Vita is a game that probably shouldn't exist.

I mean, I know why it exists. Sony would dearly love for the Vita to be a handheld with AAA-quality games, even if it's long since become something else entirely. But at this point, I just don't think the thing has enough buttons to succeed in that niche.

Borderlands 2 uses every single button the Vita has to offer, and then some. It uses both touchscreens, even going so far as to split the one in front into different sectors. Somehow, it manages to be playable under this configuration, but only just. It's easily the worst Borderlands 2 experience on any platform, and being portable doesn't really make up for that.

I say this with all affection for the game itself, which is a decent shooter with memorable cel-shaded graphics; a dose of low-brow—but enjoyable—humor; and lots of guns. It's a distinctly old-school experience, generally eschewing the pop-up shooting galleries of Call of Duty and its ilk for a more run-and-gun approach, with moderate RPG elements such as stats, light skill tree, and passive buffs serving to spice things up still further. What ultimately sets it apart though is its four-player co-op, which is perfect for a Saturday night spent drinking and laughing with friends while plowing through Borderlands' ludicrous amount of expansion content.

Oddly enough, it doesn't look nearly this good on the Vita's sharp screen

Unfortunately, due to what I can only imagine are technical limitations, Borderlands 2 on the Vita does away with four-player co-op almost entirely. A second player can still be recruited over PSN; but without multiple humans to play with, Borderlands 2 loses a lot of its value. It still finds a niche as a portable title by enabling cross-saves between the Vita and the PlayStation 3; however, unlike Final Fantasy X HD and Dragon's Crown, Borderlands 2 just isn't all that fun to play on the Vita.

It's not a lot of fun to sit here and harp on technical issues all day; but unfortunately, with Borderlands 2, it's pretty much unavoidable. I've already mentioned the controls; but even with two analog sicks, it bears repeating that they really aren't optimal for playing Borderlands 2. This is was especially apparent during boss battles and particularly tough enemy encounters, which actually caused my hands to cramp up on more than one occasion. Some of this is hardware-related—it's not Borderlands 2's fault that the Vita has no shoulder buttons—but it can't help impacting the overall experience.

Also apparent: The Vita's processor isn't powerful enough for a game like Borderlands 2. Or at least, Borderlands 2 hasn't been properly optimized for the Vita's hardware. Whichever it is, the result is the same. Borderlands 2 consistently runs at sub-30 FPS, occasionally becoming an outright slideshow. Putting aside the aesthetic considerations--it isn't what you'd call very attractive--it makes it a lot harder to aim in a game where accuracy can be a bit of a dice roll to begin with.

Borderlands 2 is hampered by long loading times, slow menus, and some awfully small text

On top of that, Borderlands 2 takes a major hit in terms of visuals compared to console and PC brethren. The cel-shaded graphics are oddly muddy—even when compared with other Vita shooters like Killzone: Mercenary—and sacrifice many of the physics and particle effects. There's rarely any appreciable feedback when shooting an enemy, save the declining health bar, and explosions are similarly unsatisfying. Dialogue text is tiny and headache-inducing, and the menus are frequently slow. Even accounting for the trade-offs that are naturally going to be made with a handheld shooter, it's just not a very attractive game.

With that, I think it's fair to say that Borderlands 2 loses almost everything in the translation from console and PC to the Vita. Maybe it's a bridge too far to expect a perfect port; but in straining to get every bit of content into Borderlands 2, it seems that Iron Galaxy forgot that it's also important to optimize the experience as much as possible for the Vita. And I don't just mean the controls, either. Borderlands 2 falls into the common trap of trying to create a "faithful" port without seeming to understand that the Vita is just a completely different beast than the PS3. There was much that could have been done to make it more attractive on the Vita—better menus would have been a start—but Borderlands 2 is mostly just a pile of compromises. Even if you're a hardcore shooter fan desperate for a portable experience, you're better off saving that precious memory card space for something more worthwhile.

The Breakdown:

  • Graphics: Borderlands 2 is a substantial step down from the console and PC versions, and even struggles to match other Vita shooters. Surprising for a game that was never really predicated on raw graphical fidelity in the first place.
  • Audio:The action is peppered with a wide variety of snarky one-liners, which helps add to the atmosphere. Claptrap has most of the best lines, but the New-U Stations are a close second ("The Hyperion corporation: You don't die, until we say so.")
  • Interface: Borderlands 2 just has too many buttons to be successful on the Vita. The UI is slow and unwieldy, and the menu text is on the whole far too small for the Vita's screen.
  • Lasting Appeal: The Vita port is remarkably content complete, featuring both the campaign expansions and the additional Vault Hunter. Cross-save functionality makes it a decent companion for the PS3 version.

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Comments 11

  • Avatar for bromus398 #1 bromus398 3 years ago
    I'm about 15 hours into the Vita version, and I'm going to have to respectfully disagree with 90% of this review.

    I will note that they were spot on about having all of the content though. That is a nice touch.

    There is a bit of slow down, the enemy count is lowered in situations where 5+ enemies might swarm, you generally get 3-4 with more spawning after the fact, and there are pop-ins (which happens on both my pc and ps3 versions of the game, so it's pretty much a non-issue). The player count is reduced to 2, but I suppose I rarely played with more than one or two other players on a regular basis, and had more playthroughs of the game solo.

    EDIT: I will also concede that a reworking of some of the text sizes and menus would have been a huge boost for this port. As it is now, I do run into the occasional annoyance regarding text size.

    If you loved the original, and you want a handheld shooter for your Vita, this is certainly a solid - albeit flawed - port of an amazing game. And it's pretty awesome to have on the go. 3.5/5Edited May 2014 by bromus398
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  • Avatar for Happy-Mask-Salesman #2 Happy-Mask-Salesman 3 years ago
    I don't know if the "fantastic" reaction option is for the article or game so I'll just say fantastic review of the not fantastic port. Brings back sad memories of Mortal Kombat on gameboy
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  • Avatar for Stealth20k #3 Stealth20k 3 years ago
  • Avatar for Maitti-Dukku #4 Maitti-Dukku 3 years ago
    You say at least twice that the Vita doesn't have enough buttons. How many more buttons does the PS3 controller have?
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  • Avatar for aros #5 aros 3 years ago
    It's strange that reviews for bl2 could have been predicted before the fact. Funny that players with the game are loving it too. Every review just compares to consoles, can't the media get over it or have someone who has not played the game before review ports? It just makes you look ridiculous because no one expected a perfect conversion.
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  • Avatar for ShadowTheSecond #6 ShadowTheSecond 3 years ago
    Maitti Dukku
    The Vita just has two shoulder buttons (which are rather cumbersome, in my experience) compared to four shoulder buttons (including triggers) on the PS4 controller.

    Edit: one on each side for Vita, two on each side for PS4. Probably pretty clear, but just to not create confusionEdited May 2014 by ShadowTheSecond
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  • Avatar for Funny_Colour_Blue #7 Funny_Colour_Blue 3 years ago
    @Maitti Dukku

    Everything except L2 and R2.

    It's kind of awkward with games like Metal Gear Solid HD where equipping and unequipping items quickly use to be very brisk from just holding down and releasing the shoulder buttons

    To using one hand - in order to let go of the vita - to touch the screen - to select an item from a tiny list - in order to equip your gun - I dunno, am I doing this wrong? Because it always feels so weird!Edited 3 times. Last edited May 2014 by Funny_Colour_Blue
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  • Avatar for Suzusiiro #8 Suzusiiro 3 years ago
    I haven't touched it yet myself, but it seems like this is one of those ports where you'll like it if it's your first exposure to it but hate it with the fiery passion of a thousand suns if you have any experience with an earlier version.

    See also: most ports of 16-bit games.
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  • Avatar for Dogislander #9 Dogislander 3 years ago
    "...it's not Borderlands 2's fault that the Vita has no shoulder buttons..."

    But it is YOUR fault to claim that the Vita has no shoulder buttons.

    Some slowdown is acceptable on a handheld port. Same thing happened in about 3 sequences in Ninja Gaiden 2's port, but reviews harped on that way too much as well. Will probably pick this up at some point, but this seems overly critical.
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  • Avatar for scarritt #10 scarritt 3 years ago
    I'll agree that the port has it's issues, but I'm actually quite enjoying the game on Vita. I love being able to play it portably.
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  • Avatar for rustyhughes #11 rustyhughes 3 years ago
    With all respect to the reviewer, I couldn't disagree more with the review.

    The buttons have been mapped well and become second nature after an hour or so. The playability is very much intact and only suffers occasional hiccups, which I have not found to detract from the game experience. The menu text size is fine - its a portable, the screen will only be a foot or two from your face.

    Making graphics comparisons with console versions is an exercise in futility. The game looks superb for a Vita title. That is reason enough to buy, along with the potentially hundreds of hours of content and the excellence of the core game.

    So many reviewers are basing the game on whether it is as good as the PS3 version. Did anybody really expect that? As a standalone game in its own right, ignoring the console versions, its at least an 8/10.
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