Last night, as I sat there playing the excellent PC version of Borderlands 2 on my big ol' TV, I couldn't shake the feeling that the next generation of gaming is already upon us.
The PC version of Borderlands 2 is fantastic. (The game itself ain't half bad, either.) I've only played the Xbox 360 version at various conventions, but I'll say without hesitation that the PC version is the definitive version. Gearbox has clearly learned a thing or two from the lackluster PC port of the first Borderlands—the sequel's PC version is a shining example of PC porting done right. It starts with the impressive array of PC settings—everything a PC diehard would want is in there, from tweakable FOV to an adjustable HUD size.
Everything in the game works flawlessly—menus are slick, controller integration is seamless, but if you want, you can switch immediately to the mouse and keyboard and back again. For example, you could do the first-person parts with a keyboard and mouse while driving with a controller.
Functionality is only part of the success—Gearbox has also gone to great pains to make the PC version look better than its console counterparts. Not only does the game's colorful cell-shaded art style really pop in full 1080p resolution, but the explosions and water effects look unlike anything I've seen on either of my consoles. The draw-distance is a big notch above consoles, as well, which is great, since unlike the first game, Borderlands 2 features some breathtaking vistas.
Combine that with Steam's wonderful new big picture mode, and my PC really does feel like a next-gen console.
The video here is humorously short (and might not always stream in HD), but I wanted to post it just so you could get a sense of what I'm talking about. The crispness of the graphics, the sharp sky against the rocks, the way the mountain is reflected and skewed by my sniper-scope—it's all so colorful and rich. Though man, I'm frustrated with this video—it just doesn't convey how good the game looks in high-res on a big screen. I kinda of wish I could somehow have you all over to my apartment to show you what it looks like in real life. (Well, no, I guess I don't wish that. All the same, it'll never quite come across in a streaming online video.)
In Kate's post yesterday about Borderlands 2's PC settings, commenter TheApina remarked:
How can you tell that the industry is going to shits? When a famous gamer and a YouTuber has to make a video and an online gaming blog has to write an article about how the PC port of a sequel to a successful and famous first-person shooter doesn't suck. I mean, it's a bit a surreal, don't you guys think? Imagine if Kotaku had written an article about Half-Life 2 back in the day and about how its PC port doesn't suck, because the opposite is generally expected.
That's true—things really have flipped over the last ten or so years. Used to be, console ports of PC games were the terrible ones, and the PC version was king. But the ubiquity and relative power of consoles changed things, and suddenly, it became just as likely that a PC port would feel rushed and wouldn't take advantage of any of the PC's hardware advantages.
How nice, then, to see the tide turning again. Just as we saw a little while ago with the fabulous PC version of Sleeping Dogs, developers and publishers seem to have cottoned to the notion that a good PC version of a game can mean better sales on that platform. (What a conclusion!) What's more, and I'm only guessing here, it's also likely that developers have gotten so good at using sexy tech that current-gen Directx 9 consoles can't handle that it's relatively easy for them to make their PC versions truly superior, as opposed to up-res'd ports.
Of course, Borderlands 2 is still current-gen. It's a really nice looking, smooth playing current-gen game, but the PC version isn't substantively different than the console version. It doesn't have the amazing AI, vast number of interlocking systems, and other advanced features we're all hoping to see in the future, when consoles all have a lot more memory and processing capability. All the same, playing it with Big Picture on my TV tastes future-y to me. Who knew that the future would taste like candy-colored guns?
Bravo to Gearbox for dedicating the time and resources to make their PC version as good as their game deserves. Now, if only I could convince all my friends to get it on Steam, we could all play together…