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Borderlands: The Handsome Collection
Graphics: 8.2
Gameplay: 8.6
Sound: 8.4
Control: 8.8
Replay Value: 9
Rating: 8.5
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Gearbox Software
Number Of Players: 1-4

Hypothetically, let’s say you’ve never played Borderlands 2 or Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. Or, perhaps you played one but not the other. Either way, if you missed out on previous franchise fun, Borderlands: The Handsome Collection is for you. Packed with extra content, upgraded technical elements, and colossal bang for your buck, this new package is perfect for those late to the party. If you’ve already played the games in question, it’s unlikely you’ll want to spring for this compilation. Aside from the DLC and updated visuals, these are – for the most part – the games you remember with affection.

Featuring splendiferous 1080p resolution, improved textures, and better lighting effects, both titles benefit from Gearbox’s polishing. Both shooter adventures run as smoothly as ever, too, and you’ll likely appreciate the meticulous attention to detail. This particular graphical presentation emphasizes the singular attraction of the cel-shaded approach, as the colorful, engaging environments are quite immersive. I still think some of the areas are a little too empty and bland, but certainly not to the level of the original Borderlands title. All in all, the graphics are exactly what you’d expect: Just a bit better than you’ve seen before.

The sound doesn’t seem to have improved too much but that’s okay, it was great to begin with. The comical voice performances, all of which are bound to make you grin a hundred times during the course of your play-through(s), are executed with gusto and verve. This matches the lively nature of the score, which complements the action at every turn. There’s very little to complain about, although I will say the soundtrack recedes into the background too often during intense firefights. There are some bosses that cause the music to kick up a notch or two, which I like, but I always find myself asking for even more soundtrack goodness.

First off, let’s make one thing plain: This package will deliver many hours of enjoyment. Like, hundreds of hours, if you get involved in the addictive multiplayer, which has never been better. The two games offer a dozen playable characters, each of which is highly distinctive and interesting in his or her own way. Taking to the battlefield with different characters offers wildly varying experiences, despite the fact that this remains a straightforward FPS. Gearbox has always done a great job presenting players with super cool and unique classes, which inspire multiple play-throughs and plenty of experimentation. Actually, if you stuck with only one class previously, this is a good excuse to sample other options.

And of course, the drive for better and better loot pushes you through both games. It’s like Diablo in first-person shooter form; it’s a smorgasbord of goodies, which fall from defeated enemies and can be found littered throughout Pandora’s sprawling landscape. The developers have always made a big deal about the sheer number of weapons that could feasibly be located, and they have every right to boast. While it’s certainly true that minor differences in a weapon don’t really mean much, overall firearm design is almost unparalleled in the world of shooters. They’re fun without being silly and wonderfully rewarding.

Those unfamiliar with these games should also understand that Borderlands has always used role-playing elements. In fact, one could argue that these games are hybrid FPS/RPG productions, as you do spend quite a bit of time customizing and outfitting your class. There are skill trees (a feature often reserved for RPGs) and when you combine this with a hugely robust weapon creation and customization system, you’ve got a very deep structure. In other words, if you wish to survive tough encounters, you need to do some micromanagement before venturing forward. This is one of the reasons I’ve always liked Borderlands, especially the last few installments.

As for what this particular collection offers, it comes with all downloadable content for both games, and this includes fresh campaigns, level cap increases, new skins, and more playable characters. If you’re really ambitious, the Claptrap-in-a-Box Edition comes with a remote-controlled Claptrap. Of course, given the steep price ($400), it’s really only reserved for die-hard fans of the series. And don’t forget that from a narrative standpoint, it’s great to have these two entries, as The Pre-Sequel is set just before the events of Borderlands 2. This means newcomers can actually play the story in its proper chronological order, if they’re so inclined. However, while the characters were always awesome, the plots weren’t especially impressive in either game.

If you’re a returning player, here’s the very best feature: If you’ve got an existing save for either title, you can transfer it over to this compilation. Just remember that saves only transfer within the same console family; i.e., PS3 to PS4, Xbox 360 to Xbox One. You also have to remember to download a patch that enables this cross-save functionality, which is no big deal. Not everything will carry over, though; you’ll lose your Golden Key balance and any items in Claptrap’s Secret Stash. The good news is that in lieu of any lost treasure, you’ll be compensated with 75 Golden Keys, extra Badass Rank, and bonus character customizations. See? Gearbox has you so covered, no matter what.

There are a few annoying downsides; for instance, you can’t jump from one game to another without completely closing the application. One could also argue that there isn’t anything special here, as all we really get are spruced-up graphics, all the DLC, and a few extra sweet features. That’s just par for the course in a generation that has seen a ton of Remasters and various Collections. Lastly, split-screen fun will fall well shy of that 60fps benchmark, which is a shame. I know I shouldn’t expect max frames-per-second when it comes to such entertainment but really, the chugging going on is sort of unforgivable. I mean, if you’re going to offer four-player local co-op, you at least have to provide us with decent performance. These are supposed to be definitive versions of each game, yes?

Borderlands: The Handsome Collection is pretty darn handsome. It looks great, plays great, and has a boatload of content. It offers more bang for your buck than just about any other collection currently available, the improved lighting and textures are a big plus, and Gearbox typically makes excellent DLC. You get it all here and despite the disappointing frame rate in split-screen multiplayer, and the lack of any special “wow” factors, I’d say this is a must for any confirmed Borderlands fan. And as I said in the intro, if you’ve never had the pleasure of either game, it’s a no-brainer. Just add this to your library and when you’ve got time, dive in. You won’t regret having this on the back burner for a rainy day.

The Good: Better technical aspects and the improved textures are great. Cross-save feature is a huge bonus. Still one of the best co-op franchises in existence. Gameplay remains super smooth and super addictive. With all that DLC and extra content, it’s a beast of a package.

The Bad: Split-screen multiplayer can chug pretty badly. None of the extras are unexpected. Previous shortcomings, like the lack of compelling narratives, remain.

The Ugly: “Two great games just got a little better…not much to complain about.”

3/24/2015   Ben Dutka