Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a lot of stupid bloody fun. A lot of fun. The combat is quick and frenetic, the air boost (a double jump mechanic) is a nice addition that adds another dimension to the battlefield, the enemies are varied enough to keep things interesting (though repetition is inevitable) and the loot is, as expected, plentiful. There are flaws, of course. Clearing the same areas over again to complete side quests can be a slog, as can be navigating ‘platforming sections’ around insta-death lava. The campaign feels a little short (something that will probably be ‘fixed’ with DLC). A few characters skip being fun and go straight to being annoying (for example I think the internet so far has come to the agreement that Pickle sucks, though I don’t have anything against the kid personally, but hey I loved Tiny Tina right from the beginning). The Borderlands series lives and dies on its sense of humour though (crude, full of pop-culture references and not everyone’s cup of tea) and The Pre-Sequel delivers not just in spades, but in Australian spades (which are generally poisonous, covered in sharp teeth and usually aquatic).
This isn’t surprising given that the game was developed by Canberra based company 2K Australia, and just about every review I’ve read makes mention of it. Locations like ‘The Grabba’ (which many a cricket fan will notice as joke on The Gabba), references to a ‘First Fleet’ arriving on the already occupied moon Elpis (also part of Australia’s colonial history), outlaw bosses called Red Belly (who wear armour based upon the bush ranger Ned Kelly), a quest that’s an ode to ‘Banjo’ Paterson given by an NPC named Peepot and the absolutely hilarious talking shotgun ‘Boganella’ (I think I’ve already explained what a bogan is) give the game a distinct cultural flavour.
Given my own self-superior Australian nationalism (that I’m sure has come through in previous posts) it’s not surprising that I’d enjoy seeing such a strong Australianess (that is now a word) in a mainstream game, but what I really love about The Pre-Sequel is that they got it so right. I think the fact that Australian writers were writing Australian stereotypes kept the referential humour on the right side of the line between funny and cringe-inducing. Part of this is because they don’t rely on the typical icons and symbols to create that Aussie image. There’s no glaring Harbour Bridge, Opera House or Bondi Beach equivalents, creating a Space Sydney for a few iconic money-shots (and it would be Sydney, since what the fuck does anyone remember about Melbourne’s skyline?). There’s not any space crocodiles, kangaroos and emus. Nor is there a Kraggon Hunter or Shuggarath Dundee. The real joy, however, comes from the fact that they actually talk like Australians do. I’m not talking about the slang either, especially since there’s more than a little would be considered ‘old-fashioned’ at best (can’t remember ever hearing someone use the word ‘bonzer,’ even ironically, but I hope it makes a comeback – it’s a lotta fun to say). What I’m talking about is that the Aussie NPCs have a consistent grammatically Aussie way of speaking.
I think I counter example first might help me explain what I mean a little better. A few years ago I was a reading some science fiction novel I picked up on the kindle store for 99 cents or some other small amount. I can’t remember which one exactly, and that isn’t important right now. What is important is that it was written by an Yank, with a couple of Yank protagonists that encountered a working class, salt-of-the-earth, old-fashioned slang spouting Australian. Anyway, the character used a word that stuck with me because it was inconsistent with the slang and background he’d been using up to that point. That word was ‘tussle’. Sounds a bit ridiculous, I know, but when this largely forgotten character said he’d been hurt in a fucking ‘tussle’ I… winced… maybe… I forget, but I definitely reacted. Because this hard-swearing, hard-drinking, outback-living stereotype would never use a word like ‘tussle’. He’d say he was in a ‘punch-up’. Or if he’s really fair dinkum (heh) he might’ve called it a ‘blue’. Hell, he might’ve just called it a fight. But no bloody way would he call it a goddamn ‘tussle.’ Same as there’s no bloody way we’d “throw another shrimp on the barbie,” since we say ‘prawn’ not ‘shrimp’ (and as much as we love seafood you’re far more likely to see a piece of lamb and a few snags on an Australian barbecue).
Y’see using correct sounding slang isn’t enough, you need to use the right words, grammar and cultural quirks. That’s what makes the NPCs in The Pre-Sequel so refreshing, especially Janey Springs (I’d assume named after Alice Springs) who is the most vocal of the Aussie vocals. Little things like that Janey uses ‘ruddy’ instead of ‘bloody’ and the matter of fact way she tells us “Yep, gonna hurt lots” when we act as a human spark plug, the speed with which Red and Belly speak with each other (we tend to speak very quickly), a Scav using the adjective ‘sick-arse’, the name ‘Scav’ itself (The Pre-Sequel’s version of Bandits from the previous games) which is just shortened from ‘Scavenger’ (shortened words being the bulk of Australia’s additions to the English language), an echo recording of a graphic designer (complaining about incorrect font used on the Oz kits) who appropriately sounds like a Bondi Hipster
I’m not foolish enough to imagine that the “foreign writers don’t know how we talk!” problem is unique to Australia. I imagine that Belgians grind their teeth at their portrayal on French television, and God knows Aussie writers aren’t always kind to New Zealanders (even in The Pre-Sequel there’s a distinct-sounding, ‘bruv’-spouting Gladstone Katoa). But that’s for other people to worry about. I also know that I’d be enjoying this game without the Australianess, if Janey was flirting with Athena in an American accent or in Chinese. As I said in the first paragraph, it’s a lot of fun. But right now, if you ask me what I love most about this game I’d tell you it’s driving through Burraburra with a familiar accent telling me how much Kraggons suck. And they really do suck.
I’m hoping though that any future DLC will include an enemy called a ‘drop bear’. That would be awesome.