Republished on Wednesday 29th May 2019: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of June's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
It's becoming a familiar tale of late: a much loved game from the previous generation shows up on your new and shiny gaming apparatus, dressed up, and strutting its stuff in an attempt to lure you away from newer releases. The latest title to enter this 'mutton dressed as lamb' category is Borderlands: The Handsome Collection, a title which, while clearly jumping on the PlayStation 4 re-mastering bandwagon, is actually offering up a significant serving of Borderlands, in the hope that it'll turn the heads of both series newcomers and vault hunting veterans alike.
So, what does this compilation contain? Well, not only does it sport Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, but it also has every piece of downloadable content released for both games to date. If you're a returning Borderlands player, it's likely that you'll have played Borderlands 2 before, therefore it's the Pre-Sequel – which only came out on the PlayStation 3 recently – that'll be of the most interest.
In this precursor to Borderlands 2, you'll find yourself in the role of a vault hunter under the employ of Handsome Jack – before he became the series' central villain – and tells the tale of how he ended up with a deep seated hatred of all vault hunters. In the Pre-Sequel, the action's transplanted to Pandora's moon of Elpis, which results in a couple of minor gameplay additions, such as the ability to leap high into the air and perform ground slam attacks. A much less welcome addition is the need to replenish your oxygen constantly – due to the lack of atmosphere – and while you'll rarely get caught short, when it does happen, it tends to be at the most inopportune moments.
As well as the two main games, there's also a wealth of add-on content, the latest of which – Claptastic Voyage – is so brand spanking new that it wasn't finished in time to make it onto the disc. Therefore, if your main reason for picking up this compilation is to play this Pre-Sequel add-on, you'll have to sit through a fairly hefty eight gigabyte update before you can jump in.
As the title suggests, this quest line is a homage to the film Fantastic Voyage, as your vault hunter gets shrunk down and projected into the inner workings of robotic comic relief Claptrap to retrieve some important data. With a real TRON vibe as you travel through the circuitry and memory of the useless robot, you'll relive events from his past, venture through twisted representations of his psyche, and encounter various embodiments of his personality traits – all of which are perfect fodder for the usual brand of quirky Borderlands humour.
This makes for a quite enjoyable trip through environments you won't have seen elsewhere in Borderlands, and it has some genuinely funny moments as you see firsthand how Claptrap manages to make himself a pariah time and time again. When stacked up against the rest of the content in The Handsome Collection it rates quite highly, which is good news, as the quality of the other add-ons can vary between absolute rubbish and excellent.
The sheer volume of content to play through is staggering, even if you discount some of the relatively small additions, such as new playable characters or challenge arenas. As a result, you'll get the most out of The Handsome Collection by focusing your time on the best content, which are generally the main story campaigns or the more heavyweight add-ons, such as Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep – a Dungeons & Dragons-inspired quest line – and the previously mentioned Claptastic Voyage.
One problem that you may experience is that most of the more substantial story packs require you to have a character of a decent level before you take them on, as going in under-levelled or with a weak arsenal will lead to you getting killed over and over again. Fortunately, you can import characters from the last generation versions of the each of the games – if you played them – so you can avoid having to play through missions that you've seen before just to experience the quests lines that you've missed.
While this is a very welcome inclusion, it does require that you still own a copy of Borderlands 2 or the Pre-Sequel, as only having your save files handy won't be enough to take advantage of this option. This is because you'll need to upload your character to the 'cloud' from the older versions of the games, before it can be downloaded into The Handsome Collection for you to continue your adventures. On top of this, you can also only transfer from the same console family, so if you jumped the fence from Xbox to PlayStation for the new generation, you're going to have to play through everything that you've seen before.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, as the two games have been spruced up so they run at 1080p and 60 frames-per-second. When you jump in for the first time, you can't help but be surprised by how much better the Borderlands art style looks with these relatively minor optimisations, with each line and texture looking amazingly crisp and clean. While these upgrades hold up for the most part, however, there are disappointingly the occasional instances where the framerate stutters, and also times when it can take a couple of seconds for textures to switch from their blurry low resolution versions when loading into a new zone.
Another major part of Borderlands, the co-op, has also been given a decent upgrade, with the game now able to handle split screen for up to four people, though this understandably comes at the expense of the framerate, which drops from 60 to 30 frames-per-second. As ever, co-op is still the best way to play Borderlands, and whether you and four friends play together online or in the same room, running quests and taking down the more trickier raid bosses together is always way more fun than doing it solo.
Apart from the visual upgrades and the expanded co-operative elements, everything else is pretty much as it was in the previous generation versions: there are still a bazillion guns, plenty of quests to work through, and the same gameplay. So, unless you've never played Borderlands before or still can't get enough of its particular mash-up of first person shooting and loot, there's nothing here that's going to change your mind. This really is the definitive Borderlands collection, for Borderlands people.
It's odd, then, that the first Borderlands game didn't make it into this title at all. While it obviously would have been the most dated part of the package – and disc space was no doubt at premium due to how much actually made it onto the Blu-Ray – it still would have been nice to offer the original with its add-on content as an additional download, as this would have made The Handsome Collection the one-stop-shop for everything Borderlands.
That said, there's so much in the collection that it's unlikely that you'll feel short-changed, and if you haven't burnt out on Claptrap and vault hunting already, by the time that you've blasted your way through half of the content in The Handsome Collection, you'll probably be thinking about calling it a day, with the hope that there's going to be a serious overhaul by the time another entry in the series rolls around.
In the current gaming landscape where the re-master, at least for now, appears to be here to stay, nothing released to date offers the sheer breadth of content found in Borderlands: The Handsome Collection. While those with no love for the franchise will, unsurprisingly, find nothing for them here, it does – as a result of the visual upgrades – provide a handsome jumping on point for newcomers, as well as a great way for the Borderlands faithful to catch up on anything that they might have missed.