Game: Borderlands 2: Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: 2K Games
Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows PC
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Here we are, barely four months past Borderlands 2‘s release date, and we’ve already seen three substantial slices of DLC – not to mention the addition of a fifth Vault Hunter, Gaige the Mechromancer. But while the previous offerings, Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty, and Mister Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage were good and excellent respectively, can the same be said about slice number three, Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt?
At first glance Big Game Hunt shares similarities with Borderlands’ The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned DLC, in that it transports the Vault Hunter to another continent vastly different in appearance to the roads travelled in the main game. In both cases, this new continent seems to be comprised of ill-lit swampland with too much open space between points of interest. Also, both DLC packs feature a mad doctor conducting experiments on the inhabitants of this strange land. In The Zombie Island this was Dr. Ned himself, but in Big Game Hunt the culprit is Handsome Jack-obsessed coward Professor Nakayama. The biggest and most important difference, though, is that while The Zombie Island was interesting and exciting, Big Game Hunt falls a little short of the mark on both counts.
It’s set after the main game, and whether you play choose to play it then or not, Handsome Jack will be dead in the storyline. It can cause some confusion and a fair amount of disruption to the flow of the narrative if you should hop between the new continent of Aegrus and the Pandoran mainland that you’re used to, as one moment Jack is dead and a crazed doctor is attempting to bring him back by cloning him, and the next Jack himself is calling you a bitch via ECHO and generally ruining your day. It’s also worth noting that, this being a post-game area, it’s bastard-hard for anyone lower than level 32. I initially travelled there with an overconfident level 24 and was ritually sodomised by the first monster I came across – the disturbingly-spindly, spider-like Drifter.
The DLC begins with an invitation from gentleman hunter Sir Hammerlock, to travel to Aegrus with him for a lad’s holiday full of shooting the breeze and shooting the wildlife. Aegrus is analogous to the version of deepest, darkest Africa popularised by adventure fiction in the 1930s, and as such is full of bizarre creatures and grunting “natives” – but all viewed here through Borderlands 2’s rather skewed lens. There’s initially little time for sightseeing, as the holiday is cut short when Professor Nakayama starts interfering with your plans, and you’re dragged into thwarting his plot to clone the despicable Handsome Jack and effectively return him to life. The missions here are standard Borderlands fare, a mixture of kill, fetch, and activate quests, only compared to either the main game or the previous DLC they’re slightly stale. Either the joke is starting to wear thin (which we’re not sure is possible), or (and this is more likely) it’s simply that Big Game Hunt is sorely missing the personality of Mister Torgue or Captain Scarlett. Sir Hammerlock, likeable as he is, just can’t match up to Torgue’s endearingly obnoxious shouting or Scarlett’s wilful and worryingly honest underhandedness. He’s too much of a gentleman, and as such just can’t bring as much mirth to the table as his predecessors. In fact, considering that this is Borderlands 2 content, it’s noticeably laugh-free.
Nakayama himself is no real villain, either. He spends the entire DLC (the shortest yet at between 3 and 5 hours) giving you threats and gushing over Handsome Jack, and when you finally reach the climax it’s all decidedly dull. In fact, compared to (or because of) the Leviathan and Badassaurus finales, it just doesn’t pass muster. Instead, Big Game Hunt fills the excitement-gaps in its storyline with a handful of interesting side quests (mostly involving the murder of Aegrus’ unique fauna) and a new Raid boss – and loot, of course; lots and lots of loot, including a sizable offering of unique drops.
That all being said, this is still Borderlands 2, and even Borderlands 2 on a bad day is excellent. Aegrus is as vast and mysterious as anything we’ve seen so far, with the added bonus that it looks different to anywhere else in the main game and it’s the first truly new area we’ve visited in any of the DLC so far. The swamps are dark, dank and fetid, dotted with murderous critters rather than populated by them. You can walk for a good while between Drifters and flying spores and see nothing but murky water and gloom, but whenever you do see something that wants to kill you it brings with it a sense of actual dread – you know, before your Borderlands 2 reflex kicks in and you start laughing maniacally while plugging everything with acid rounds. Drifters (returning from the first Borderlands) are particularly creepy; resembling a cross between a spiderant and a daddy long legs, they bear down on you with surprising speed and are a pain to kill head-on.
The greatest barrier to having fun in Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt will be your character level. Entering Aegrus below level 32, or below level 50 in a second playthrough, is tantamount to suicide. The natives are a particular treat, not only because of their spawn cycles (which can seem endless during the lengthier fights), but because of their “boss” character, the Witch Doctor. These little buggers soak up bullets like chanting tanks, and not only have the ability to heal themselves and each other repeatedly, but can cause their underlings to level up, Goliath-style, going through several stages including “savage”, “animal” and “demon”. Unlike Goliaths, however, they don’t just get stronger, they change their behaviour, too. For example, “animal” tribesmen will run at you on all fours and do tremendous damage at incredible speed, while “demon” tribesmen can actually go invisible, making it a challenge to even hit them. They’re all bullet sponges, and can dole out huge amounts of damage in no time at all. Once you pin a few tactics down and learn to always kill the witch doctor first, they start to become easier, and by the time you’re an hour or so in the longer fights will simply seem like hard work, but they at least offer a worthy challenge to a fully tricked-out level 40 – 50.
The only other addition of note is the “fan-boat”, a swamp-faring vehicle that seems similar to the sand skiff as featured in Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty, only more sluggish and difficult to handle. It’s also hardly used, and lasts about five seconds when the natives show up in theirs.
VERDICT: There’s little point in beating around the swampy bush, here: This is the worst Borderlands 2 DLC yet, but perhaps only because the last two were so enjoyable. There’s no sense of grand adventure as in Pirate’s Booty (which is odd considering that Big Game Hunt has an adventure holiday at its heart), and none of the OTT air-punching of Mister Torgue. Sir Hammerlock just isn’t as three-dimensional as the other characters, and even the appearance of Claptrap fails to bring the comedy back. Add to that the fact that Professor Nakayama is an almost pointless villain and his questline feels more like an aside than the main event that it’s intended to be, and there’s very little reason to visit Aegrus unless you’re either looking for a challenge for your higher-level toons or you’re just obsessed with grinding for incredibly tight loot-drops.
But – and we hate to say it again as though it’s some kind of excuse for a comparatively shallow experience – it’s still Borderlands 2, and as such fans of Borderlands 2 will love it almost as much as they love everything that’s come before it. It’s still very tongue-in-cheek, still based around killing everything and hoarding loot, still populated by eccentric characters and strange wildlife, and there’s still an inherent joy to abusing the endless arsenal of imaginative weaponry. It’s simply that, when measured beside the previous DLC packs, Sir Hammerlock’s Big Game Hunt is found wanting.