Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel — Issue 40

Bor­der­lands: The Pre-Sequel is a lot of retread

Stop me if you heard this one.
A group of four boun­ty hunters run amok on Pan­do­ra and open a trea­sure chest filled to the brim with loot after killing a bunch of things.
In fact, you should have stopped me, because you’ve heard that song and dance before. Twice to be pre­cise. It’s because I’ve waxed poet­i­cal­ly about two oth­er Bor­der­lands titles in pre­vi­ous issues over the past decade. It was all fine and well, that run­ning amok on Pan­do­ra. Until it wasn’t. You see, Bor­der­lands has charm and grace, know­ing when it’s hit­ting its lim­it at the bar. Bor­der­lands 2, well, you have to tell it when to stop because it thinks it can han­dle its liquor but real­ly can’t. Pre-Sequel? Brown liquor gives it courage to talk to folks a cer­tain way, and it winds up get­ting thrown out of the bar and Ubered home. It’s because Pre-Sequel thinks it’s some­thing we’ve nev­er seen before, when we all have and we’re not buying.
Bor­der­lands: The Pre-Sequel is set between the events of Bor­der­lands 1 and 2 sto­ry­line-wise but was released chrono­log­i­cal­ly after Bor­der­lands 2. Pre-Sequel tells the parts of the Bor­der­lands saga that we didn’t see hap­pen­ing simul­ta­ne­ous­ly in the first game and men­tioned in the sec­ond game: How Hand­some Jack dis­cov­ered the Vault; took over the Hype­r­i­on Cor­po­ra­tion and, by exten­sion, Pan­do­ra; and, cor­ralled an ear­li­er group to assist in his nefar­i­ous plans of dom­i­na­tion and galac­tic domin­ion. Along for the ride this time are char­ac­ters we already know from Bor­der­lands 2: Nisha Kadam, the future sher­iff of Lynch­wood and Jack’s future girl­friend; Wil­helm, pre-cyber­net­ic obses­sion and trans­for­ma­tion; Athena, wan­der­ing Pan­do­ra after the events of the Secret Armory of Gen­er­al Knoxx DLC in Bor­der­lands; and, Clap­trap, who’s assist­ed the Pan­do­ra Vault Hunters but doesn’t yet know he’s the sac­ri­fi­cial lamb of the sto­ry. These Vault Hunters are sum­moned through an EchoNet call from Jack to find the Vault on Pandora’s moon, Elpis. 
Know­ing what we know now about Jack and his motives, it’s safe to assume that there will be greed, mon­ey and shenani­gans involv­ing guns. Those are there, yes, but it’s just Bor­der­lands 2 with a slight­ly dif­fer­ent mask and a lack­ing sto­ry. Because make no mis­take: The sto­ry is not mov­ing for­ward here. It’s sole­ly meant to fill in some gaps, but it’s obvi­ous it’s not meant to be some sort of pitch-shifter that Bor­der­lands 2 or Bor­der­lands 3 were and are.
Know­ing this about the sto­ry, what you find when you get to Elpis is def­i­nite­ly a whole lot of typ­i­cal Bor­der­lands skull­dug­gery. From the begin­ning of the jour­ney once you touch down on the plan­et, the new mechan­ics of oxy­gen man­age­ment and low grav­i­ty are a pain to deal with and obnox­ious. Yes, you do need some­thing new to spice things up a bit, but it’s not imple­ment­ed with any type of pre­ci­sion or enjoy­ment. Con­stant­ly hav­ing to man­age how much oxy­gen is left while try­ing to avoid tak­ing dam­age means dis­trac­tion, and it ruins any sort of sand­box vibe the game might have been going for. Oxy­gen man­age­ment is also tak­ing prece­dence while work­ing through Bor­der­lands Begin­ning Syn­drome, or when you start a char­ac­ter in a Bor­der­lands playthrough with lit­tle to no help. The first few hours of any Bor­der­lands playthrough are slow and a slog with no help, and Pre-Sequel is no excep­tion. All oth­er mechan­ics are Bor­der­lands 2 based, so there’s noth­ing else new here of note.
Much like the non-new mechan­ics, the graph­ics are Bor­der­lands 2 based as well. So, you’re not going to see new tex­tures, though there are a few new ene­mies and NPCs to change things up a bit. The new ene­mies are slight­ly inter­est­ing, as are some of the boss­es. This has always been Bor­der­lands’ strength as fran­chise: Col­or­ful char­ac­ters that leave an impres­sion. Pre-Sequel man­ages to cre­ate some good­will with some new char­ac­ters, but they’re all in the style of Bor­der­lands 2. Bor­der­lands 2 was ser­vice­able in its graph­ics as a mar­gin­al­ly bet­ter upgrade to Bor­der­lands, so you’re get­ting that mar­gin­al upgrade here as well. The sound­track also is Bor­der­lands 2 based, so if you enjoyed that, you’re prob­a­bly going to enjoy this, too. There are a few tracks that stand out, but noth­ing spe­cial … much like every­thing else offered here.
Take Pre-Sequel for what it is: a stand­alone pack­age that real­ly should have been prepara­to­ry DLC for Bor­der­lands 2 or even fol­low-up DLC for that game. It real­ly shouldn’t have been held back after Bor­der­lands 2 because it works well as a stop­gap mea­sure between Bor­der­lands and Bor­der­lands 2. As a front-end sequel game, it’s just more of Bor­der­lands 2 — down to the reused assets and sound­track — and that doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly increase its endear­ing qual­i­ties, no mat­ter how much I love Bor­der­lands as a whole. At this point, it’s suf­fer­ing from sequel-itis.

Watch Dogs — Issue 40

Watch who watch­es soci­ety in sur­veil­lance thriller

I am sort of a tech geek. While I do not have the lat­est gad­gets in gam­ing or mod­ern liv­ing, I love to have knowl­edge about the lat­est in dig­i­tal secu­ri­ty. Dur­ing the height of the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic, I spent time off binge-watch­ing the USA net­work show “Mr. Robot.” The pro­tag­o­nist, Elliot Ander­son, was not a social but­ter­fly, but if he want­ed to know some­thing about some­one, all he needs is their dig­i­tal details and he would either help or hin­der them. Before Mr. Robot took form, Ubisoft in 2014 devel­oped a game that applied action-adven­ture ele­ments and mixed them with cyber­se­cu­ri­ty and per­son­al pri­va­cy issues involv­ing big tech­nol­o­gy com­pa­nies. Watch Dogs was born of that curios­i­ty.
In Watch Dogs, you take on the role of hack­er Aiden Pierce, who in 2012 was col­lab­o­rat­ing with his mentor/partner Damien Brenks on an elec­tron­ic finan­cial heist in a fic­tion­al Chica­go hotel. Unknown to the hack­ing duo, they tripped off an alarm set by anoth­er hack­er, which forces Aiden to take his fam­i­ly out of the city.
While on the run, they are pur­sued by hit­man Mau­rice Vega in a car chase that kills Aiden’s niece. Enraged, Aiden, along with partner/fixer Jor­di Chin, sets off to find Vega and his employ­er while uncov­er­ing a hideous con­spir­a­cy behind the pop­u­lar CtOS (Cen­tral Oper­at­ing Sys­tem) that has Chica­go heav­i­ly depen­dent on it.
Watch Dogs is sim­ple to play yet requires some prac­tice to be famil­iar with. Using the ana­log sticks to con­trol Aiden’s move­ments and the in-game cam­era was dif­fi­cult at first; how­ev­er, with enough prac­tice, you will have him almost invin­ci­ble. The menu for Aiden’s col­lect­ed items as well as dri­ving sce­nar­ios are like Grand Theft Auto, which I found frus­trat­ing but not unplayable. Aiden’s main weapons are a col­lapsi­ble baton and a portable device known as the Pro­fil­er. The Pro­fil­er picks up NPC info that could be used to loot or embar­rass them, depend­ing on the sit­u­a­tion. Also, you scan scale ver­ti­cal walls and crouch behind walls to hide from ene­mies. I espe­cial­ly like the abil­i­ty to hide because it’s well done in its appli­ca­tion. Dur­ing the first mis­sion of the game, I found Vega and roughed him up, hacked the base­ball stadium’s pow­er grid to cause a black­out and snuck away from the police. With the well-prac­ticed con­trols, it was easy to make this sequence work and get on with the rest of the game. That’s how smooth it should be.
The graph­ics in Watch Dogs are sharp and do well in tak­ing advan­tage of Ubisoft’s Dis­rupt engine, which pre­sent­ed the city of Chica­go and its land­marks with great care and detail. Anoth­er detail I liked was the abil­i­ty to set the time for Aiden to rest. The rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the day and night cycle was per­fect. Watch Dog’s music is a nice mix of adren­a­line and house music and con­tributed well to the over­all atmos­phere.
Watch Dogs is great to play if you want to act out your vig­i­lante hero fan­tasies, legal­ly, of course. Watch Dogs will not dis­ap­point, although I would rec­om­mend using a strat­e­gy guide to help make your first playthrough more enjoy­able.
For those who are inter­est­ed in cyber­se­cu­ri­ty like I am or want to expe­ri­ence con­trol of a city by tech­nol­o­gy, get to hacking.