Due to be released soon on Gearbox's store, there are designs for shirts and hoodies, as well as some tantalising ideas for masks, something the artist has done before with his personal collections. I'm not sure how many will actually be made commercially available, but it'll at least be some of them.
Man, I don't even like Borderlands 2 that much and I want some of these bad.
MAC56 X BL2 [machine56]
So even though I missed out on games that looked right up my alley—like Hotline Miami or Natural Selection 2 (which I've actually played a little bit of and loved)—I still found plenty to play that kept me more than happily occupied. These are my favorite games of 2012, in no particular order.
The game with psychotic personalities and more weapons than I could ever dream of. I loved the first Borderlands. It was the perfect cooperative game. Borderlands 2 took everything that first title made great—loot and silliness—and added even better writing, better characters, and more creative weapons. And on top of all that, Gearbox has been busting their butts to deliver us timely DLC that keeps on delivering. It's one of the few games that has come out this year that I keep going back to.
Virtual tourism at its best. Exploring the open world of Hong Kong was not only gorgeous, but it was also full of life that gave a real depth to the game. The story kept me compelled, driving (and perhaps more so, hijacking other cars to drive) felt wonderful, and the hand-to-hand combat is some of the best I've experienced.
I've talked this one to death, especially considering it's my personal nomination for Game of the Year. Suffice it to say that it was the most emotional game I played through this year, with some really powerful characters and, more importantly, relationships. This game can teach you something about yourself.
I only go half-stealthy in most stealth games. Mainly because most stealth games let you get away with doing so. But Mark of the Ninja's practically perfect design puts stealth at the forefront, making it not only manageable and comfortable to play stealthily throughout the entire game, but also incredibly fun to a degree that feels rewarding.
Journey is an adorable game. It makes you want to reach out to someone, help them and rely on them for help. Journey teaches you that you don't need words to communicate with people, and that encouraged people to work together to survive. And that ending? That ending was almost unbearably heartwarming. Even if it was somewhat somber for me, when I'd lost my companion just when we'd reached safety after everything we had been through together. In a way I almost preferred that ending, because it reinforced what Journey showed me: that cooperation is a beautiful thing.
I'm a puzzle person. Fez is an all at once a smart and terribly confusing puzzle game. So much so that the Internet had to come together to compare notes to solve some of the game's tougher puzzles. And beyond that, there were even more secrets to uncover. A challenging puzzle game would normally be enough for me. But the bright and pretty colors and an adorably pudgy Fez made this puzzle game an absolute joy to play through, too.
Being a dedicated fan of Bungie's Halo, I was a little nervous for Halo 4, the first title to be developed instead by 343. But the second I hopped in and started killing the Covies with my battle rifle, I felt at ease. And then 343 pulled a fast one on me and turned the singleplayer story into something of a romance, and a personal story of what it takes to be Master Chief. Even after the campaign is over—and after you've played it through on multiple difficulty levels, cause c'mon—there's plenty of fun times to be had in multiplayer. I must have played thousands of rounds of Flood and Oddball and straight Team Slayer.
It took me a while to finally find the time to get around to playing this one, but once I sunk a few hours in I was hooked. I love driving around the island, pulling over quickly because I spotted a tiger whose skin I really need before continuing on to my mission. I even love scaling those radio towers, including the more frustrating ones that took me a few day/night cycles to complete. But my favorite parts of Far Cry 3—something I wish the game had more of—were the trippy scenes Jason experienced after lots of drug and whatever liquid taking. Scenery morphed, he battled weird enemies, and he faced his fears. I wasn't too sold on the strength of the storyline otherwise. Some average tourist all of a sudden turning into a badass assassin and being welcomed into tribes of warriors who inexplicably can't do anything on their own? Well thank god Jason came along, eh? It felt a little too unbelievable. But I accepted the storyline. Because the game—or perhaps really my skills with using the tools and tatau given to me that helped me wipe out entire camps of soldiers—convinced me just fine otherwise.
Here's my "wtf" entry. Jumping Finn Turbo is an iOS game. I rarely love mobile games. I enjoy some, but I'll toss them aside almost as easily as I pick them up. Super Hexagon is one that came close, but nothing kept my attention like Jumping Finn Turbo. Maybe it's the Adventure Time hook that got me. Or maybe it was the competition to beat high scores (try to beat mine!) and reach the actual "end" of the game. Ultimately? I think it was how simple and yet addictive the game was. Addictive because you knew if you pushed on just a little farther, you could unlock that next ability. Get to that next level that once felt so far away but is now in your reachable grasp. And yet, like most mobile games that come my way, I don't play this one anymore. But I played it longer than most others.
Remember: this game came out in 2012! I'm a blood and gore kind of girl. The more guts I get to spill the merrier, I say. The Darkness II fed into my taste perfectly, and supplied me with two extra arms to multiply the effect. I absolutely loved multitasking between ripping enemy spines out and shooting other people in the head. I've killed a lot of virtual bad guys in my time, but rarely have I done so with such eviscerating enthusiasm as The Darkness II allows.
I hate feeling like a cog in the machine—like my actions don't matter, like I'm wading through tedium before I can get to the 'meaningful' part. Tedium exasperates me, makes me start thinking about depressing things like not reaching my true potential. This is true in both real life as well as in games. So it should come as no surprise that I hate grinding in games, even though just about every title—from popular games like Call of Duty to the smallest, esoteric RPGs, force me to do it. There must be a reason for the constant inclusion of the grind—either people can enjoy it, or it provides something worthwhile for game designers.
A couple of months ago I was asked to write a pitch for a show on a broadcasting network about video games. Without delving into the specifics of that, I ended up consulting a friend about Pokemon: Black and White 2 and the new badge and achievement system. I bemoaned that much of the game followed the common paradigm of leveling up, putting enough time in, and grinding enough to attain success and then on top of that gamified it all to try to make it more desirable and 'fun.' Gross.
I remarked that it reminded me of how people put up with awful jobs in real life instead of following their dreams. And then he suggested something that makes complete sense, but that I still found surprising: one can find fulfillment in 'menial' jobs, as well as humble jobs that don't aspire to be a grand thing. That, perhaps, one can learn to live with where they are in life, regardless of whether or not it matches expectations. And naturally: that there's nothing wrong with not being hyper ambitious. It all comes down to choice and perception.
I'd seen a similar response to my piece earlier in the year about Skyrim and the sickeningly neat lives games have us uphold, but only recently did I start to actively think about the merits of the grind. It gets such a bad rap, right? I mean, the word itself has a negative connotation. But if people can enjoy or appreciate a lifetime of grind, then naturally it should follow we can enjoy grinding in games.
First off, thinking about what they abstract, it's all about payoff. You're working hard for something, and then when you get it—the level, the item, the win—you feel like you've earned it. My resentment stems from feeling as if it's always required that you put in an arbitrary amount of time into something before you're allowed to have something in real life. But that doesn't mean I don't feel accomplished after spending hours in Borderlands 2 and getting a new, exciting skill.
I just wish I didn't have to do it all the time, for everything, for no other reason than to stretch out how much time I'm spending with a game. Most online shooters, which force me to unlock everything from cosmetics to necessary equipment, are guilty of this and I abhor it.
Grinding can also be a calming thing. You can just tune out and play, right? That can be useful after a long day at work, or wanting to get your mind off stuff. While I've definitely picked up games to shut everything out, I know that I have a preference for games that don't let my mind go blank.
Grinding can also help with pacing. I'm a fan of games that cut out all the downtime and focus on the meat, like in The Walking Dead. With longer games, you have more stuff to juggle, more stuff to digest. The sheer amount of content in Persona 4 is staggering, and I'd probably feel like I was drowning if it let me talk to everyone, all the time, without inserting some quality dungeon crawling in there to help mull over my (digital) life.
It really depends on framing. Let's consider battle music, which has an intimate tie with grinding. Battle music is crucial to a successful grindy game, often helping us get into a state of flow, into the zone. That's a good feeling. Or: battle music can remind me of muzak—the music we hear while in spaces that want us to forget that we are there, waiting, languishing or sometimes consuming. Malls. Waiting on the phone. In the elevator. Working at the cash register. Ugh, no.
When I asked Jason Schreier what he thought about grinding, the framing thing became obvious.
It's easy to hate the idea of grinding. It's easy to step back and say "Jesus christ, why did I just spend four hours walking around in a circle and mashing the attack button to take down random monsters? What am I doing with my life?"
It's also easy to love the idea of grinding. It's easy to love a world where improvement is guaranteed, where life follows a set of rules that allow you to level up and get better at your job not because of talent or luck, but because you worked at it. Effort guarantees results.
I don't think level-grinding is good, nor do I think it's bad. It's a rhythm. A flow. Sometimes it feels right, when you're pumping up levels and feeling the euphoria of achievement. And sometimes it's just boring.
Despite the negative connotation of the word, as Jason says, grinding is not inherently negative or positive. Perhaps I have been unfair to grinding, after all. What I do know is that I have an easier time appreciating a game when it gives me a reason—a strong, compelling reason—to wade through repetitive or boring game segments. If, say, I'm trying to get strong enough to rescue my best friend beloved cousin from a shadow-monster, like in Persona 4? I'm in.
Make me care, and I'll grind through just about anything.
IGN today reported that Borderlands 2's level cap, currently at 50, will rise sometime in the first three months of next year.
It's not going to come with Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt, announced and previewed today. 2K Games told IGN that Gearbox Software still is considering whether to do it as part of a DLC extension or as a separate download.
The studio did both in the original Borderlands in 2010, raising the cap from 50 to 61 with The Secret Armory of General Knoxx and then raising it to 69 with a free update.
Additionally, 2K is said to be thrilled with Borderlands 2's sales performance, and is envisioning a second "season" of DLC after this one concludes. Big Game Hunt will be the third of four promised extensions.
[Editor's note: Below follows our impressions of Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt, which releases today. I played the add-on content roughly a month ago, finishing all the main quests and a handful of side quests. This article has also been updated with the new launch trailer.]
We're up to our third campaign add-on for September's wonderfully colorful and gun-filled Borderlands 2. Like the previous two DLCs that focused on one personality—Captain Scarlett followed by Mr. Torgue—Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt leads you into various dangers thanks to one well-articulated individual: Sir Hammerlock.
What was meant to be your weekend shootout expedition with Hammerlock gets sidetracked by Hyperion's Professor Nakayama. See, he was a huge Handsome Jack supporter, and not too keen on the vault hunter(s) who defeated him. So before you can go hunt this new continent's biggest game, you'll have to stop the latest psycho Borderlands has introduced you to.
I've played a good chunk of Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt, so I thought I'd share a few details before the newest content releases to the public. Here are some noteworthy highlights.
If you've already completed Borderlands 2's main game, the last two campaign DLCs might have felt like a breeze. They certainly did for me. But Gearbox took notice, and made Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt a hell of a lot tougher. It'll be an actual challenge to fight through mobs of enemies. In fact, you'll have to be at least level 30 just to tackle the thing.
The more appropriate difficulty scale is partly to do with new enemies, specifically one new enemy type. In Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt, you'll be exploring a new continent—called Aegrus—full of mountains and swamps. But Aegrus doesn't just bring a new aesthetic appeal; it's riddled with new enemies, too.
The swampy greens and mountainous browns are overrun by savages. Savages are basically like bandits. They look like headdressed, tattooed, spear-and-shield-equipped bandits. They even evolve like bandits do when you don't kill them fast enough. Midgets still jump up behind you while squealing in that adorably terrifying way. You know the one.
But these tribes of savages doesn't behave exactly like bandits do. Because they've got a chief. Chiefs can heal their friends, themselves, and send out powerful attacks (fire or slag, for instance) to slash at your health bar.
Giving one enemy type this much power means one important difference for you: you'll have to focus all of your gunfire on this target first, unless you want to unload your clip into a bandit-style savage only to see his health bar reset thanks to these pesky witchdoctor-types. They'll buff their friends while debuffing you, which results in nasty effects like slowing you down.
Then there are big, flying things called Spores. They hover above you, dropping mini, kamikaze versions of themselves onto your head. Scaylions are Varkid-like, bug creatures. Together these new enemies make up what feels like a fresh Borderlands experience.
I really wish I could tell you the new vehicle is the two-seater motorbike we saw in Mr. Torgue's Campaign of Carnage. And I really wish I didn't have to tell you that the actual new vehicle is a fanboat. The fanboat is all too similar to the sand skiff we saw in Captain Scarlett and Pirate's Booty. Sure, it maneuvers seamlessly between all possible directions within the 360 degree span quite a bit smoother than the sand skiff. And sure, its got a flamethrower and a corrosive acid launcher. But it still controls quite a bit like the sand skiff.
Oh, and there are lots of customization skins for the fanboat that enemies will drop.
Voracidous is the name of the seraph guardian raid boss that will be the cause of your furrowed eyebrows when you get your hands on Big Game Hunt next month. He's a Stalker, but, fitting with the theme, you'll have to fend off against the Chief that controls him, too. Which, as you can imagine, means there will be other groups of enemies you'll have to deal with.
Then there's Dexidous who will be the cause of one very long, sleepless night fighting through wave after wave of enemies. This "rare" creature will only be summoned after you supply various totems across Aegrus with a hefty ton of precious Eridium. Kill this Drifter and you can pick up Hammerlock-themed (aka hunting-themed) weapons.
Hammerlock/hunting-themed weaponry aside, I found a ton of new weapons to replace my previous favorites. I get attached to my guns, even in a game like Borderlands that encourages you to constantly swap them out for new, shiny ones. But it's hard to argue with the insanely powerful pistols and assault rifles this new DLC throws at you. Did I mention these insanely powerful weapons are also insanely plentiful? By the end of Big Game Hunt, you'll have opened many, many loot chests. More than your feeble little backpack can handle.
Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt releases on January 15. It's covered in the Season Pass, or will be available individually for $9.99.
Borderlands 2 is funny, smart, and gorgeous. The controls are tight, hooking up with other players is a dream, and the PC port is one of the best I've ever seen. The Torgue campaign is hilarious and memorable, just like previous campaigns. It seems like the game's hitting all the right buttons.
My cursor hovers over the Borderlands 2 launcher, the word "Play" enticing me, but, for some reason, I glance at my desktop computer, wishing the hard drive hadn't started death-clicking on me. My Xbox 360, sitting on the shelf above, stares at me forlornly, begging me to return to Assassin's Creed's Constantinople.
I've got to play this, right? Most of my games are sitting on a hard drive I can't afford to replace, and I'm always in the mood for a shooter, so what's stopping me? Why do I feel like I'm obligated to play Gearbox's latest endeavor when I should be looking forward to the experience?
I've been struggling with Borderlands 2 for weeks.
At first, I thought that I might be in some sort of gaming funk. The past few weeks have been extraordinarily stressful for numerous reasons, and I haven't been able to take a break to deal with outstanding health concerns, which is generally the recipe for this kind of malaise. However, if that were true, and this was a funk, I wouldn't have spent two hours the other day playing Assassin's Creed Revelations, nor a few hours earlier in the week playing FTL. I'm enjoying games just fine—it's Borderlands 2 that seems to be the issue.
Humor isn't doing it for me today, and it hasn't been for a few weeks now, though the jokes themselves are often hilarious. Even a month ago, when I was nearing the end of Borderlands 2's Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate's Booty DLC, the humor wasn't doing it for me. I'd sigh at yet another hilarious quest prompt, roll my eyes at the latest joke, no matter how funny, and dutifully head off to shoot more pirates.
Actually, I think that might be where the problem lies.
Ask anyone what a Borderlands game is about, and they'll tell you "guns." They'd be wrong. A Borderlands game is no more about the weapons it uses than any other game in its genre. See, while the two main games in the series are played in a first-person perspective, they borrow as much, if not more, from games like Diablo and Torchlight.
Borderlands isn't about guns, it's about loot. And that's a big problem. As I expressed earlier, in Stephen Totilo's wonderful piece on why we like to shoot, the first person perspective can be an incredible one if the game uses it to its strengths. If a shooter treats the game space like as if it's real, players are in for a diverse, intelligent experience.
Borderlands doesn't really do that.
If anything, the game's quite simplistic. The enemy will see you, enter a combat state, and shoot or melee the user. Sometimes, they will take cover, but that's about as far as their intelligence goes. With Borderlands, you don't do much more than point at guys and make the red bars get smaller, which means, to paraphrase the classic GamePro advice, shooting them until they die. Most good shooters go beyond that. In FEAR, they call in reinforcements, flip over tables to create cover, distract you to allow their friends to flank, and it all feels right. In Halo, an Elite will make use of his grunts, turning them into meat shields when his shields pop. In Far Cry 2, putting a sniper round through a mercenary's kneecap will inevitably result in his allies coming to check on him.
These games treat their world as real and their inhabitants more so. They make use of the first-person perspective, of that idea of immersing the player within a world, and they take it as far as they can. Borderlands 2, on the other hand, treats its enemies in distinctly different terms. Its enemies are mobs to be aggroed while you blast them with AOE attacks and whatnot. They're not treated like people inhabiting a space; they're treated like concepts with legs, bipedal ideas given malicious form.
Shoot shoot, bang bang, visual effects. On to the next guy.
A good shooter should feel like a stew of sensory data, feedback, use of space, and artificial intelligence. Everything should fit together in a way that feels right—in a way that somewhat emulates actually being in a space, because that's really what first-person games are all about. It's not just a camera perspective, it's a way of creating a mindset. When a game's too gamified to matter, players feel a disconnect between purpose and place.
Of course, Gearbox could improve the AI, feedback, and level design, but that might not fix everything. The guns, for instance, are random. With any melee game, particularly an isometric title, like Diablo III, varying stats don't really matter all that much. They tend to determine how many numbers pop up when you click on a guy, and little more. With shooters, things are a bit more complex.
The best shooters not only treat space like it's real, but encourage players to explore that game space, thinking about where cover is, where enemies are, where gunfire is going, where their gunfire is going, how to game enemies into different space, and so on and so forth. Any first-person game is at its best when its focusing on movement just as much, if not more so, than combat. That games like Halo, Dishonored, and Mirror's Edge have an appeal is ample evidence of the importance of motion.
In a shooter, one of the best ways to facilitate and vary player movement is to arm the player in different ways. A combination of Halo's Needler and Shotgun will facilitate a distinctly different kind of movement through the game space than a loadout with the DMR and plasma rifle. With a Needler, players can utilize the age-old tactic of "spray and pray," focusing more on movement rather than accuracy, allowing the player to dodge enemy fire and get up close, finishing off stragglers with the shotgun. A player carrying a DMR and plasma rifle might use the latter to pop an Elite's shields, then swap to the DMR and finish it off with a headshot. Other factors, like AI, use of grenades, and line of sight will affect motion as well, but the guns, above everything else, affects the way the player navigates the game's space.
Borderlands doesn't really pay much attention to its guns, because of its devotion to a Diablo-esque combat system. It's too busy thinking about crits and elemental damage to focus on gunplay, so generally, there's very little intelligence required of the player. Just pick the right "build" of weapons (use acid weapons on just about everything), get into cover when your health bar is low, and just point at guys and click on them.
Nothing to it.
And that, I think, is the problem.
I want more out of a shooter, whether it's to toy with the AI and maps, as in Dishonored or Crysis, or to focus on the right weapon combinations and moment-to-moment movements, like Halo or FEAR. I want to have fun playing a shooter, and honestly, I think Borderlands is missing all the core details that make shooters good. The game's at its best when I'm playing with my friends, and given how hectic my schedule has been the past few weeks, that's been next to impossible.
So, here I am, sitting at my computer, finger ready, yet somehow restrained. Borderlands 2, as gorgeous, outrageously funny, and beautifully made as it is, just isn't doing it for me. I sigh, again, ready to click... when I realize I don't have to play it if I don't really want to. I'm not entirely out of love with Borderlands 2. It's pretty much the perfect online co-op game, after all. But for now, I think I'm done riding solo. So, instead, I grin, clicking FTL: Faster Than Light, and prepare to get killed by space pirates.
Rick Burford's childhood discovery that he could modify Microsoft Flight Simulator to allow behaviors the programmers hadn't intended spawned a life-long fascination with video games and their development. Now, he writes about video games and occasionally dabbles with making his own. His Twitter handle is @ForgetAmnesia.