2K Games and Gearbox Software are preparing to release its compilation of Handsome Jack's journey with this month's Borderlands: The Handsome Collection. In addition to hitting next-gen consoles for the first time and compiling the games' DLC packages, it's also set to include one other new feature: local split-screen co-op. As part of a packed week at this year's Game Developers Conference, Shacknews first went hands-on with the split-screen aspect of Borderlands: The Handsome Collection.
Split-screen has been a widely-requested feature, partly because it means being able to yell to your partner for help in person or being able to panic about overwhelming Bandit numbers all in the same room. This feature is a first for the Borderlands franchise, though it is best described as a mixed bag and somewhat of a work in progress.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, in particular, has some rough patches that are concerning. The user interface comes across as slightly messy, as it's zoomed in by default. Players will need to manually zoom out by using the D-pad before navigating the pause menu, the map, or the skill tree. The process comes off unnecessarily cumbersome and can be confusing to the end user.
The more concerning issue with the Pre-Sequel is the frame rate. While Gearbox is actively targeting 30 frames per second with split-screen co-op, there were several points during my hands-on with the PlayStation 4 version that the action started to lag. With several elements of the game unfolding at one time (spawning enemies, double jumps, butt stomps, bullets and mayhem all covering the screen), the frame rate lowered noticeably. It wasn't enough to completely disrupt the overall experience, but it was enough that anyone used to the Borderlands games' quick pace will see a difference. There's a good chance that this could be optimized in the coming weeks. It may also flow better with two players. But as someone that looked forward to all-out four-player mayhem, it felt like a disappointment.
On the other end of the spectrum, there's the split screen for Borderlands 2. Aside from a totally clean UI, four of us were able to run through the "Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon's Keep" DLC with no evident slowdown or frame rate issues. The game ran smoothly, even as action intensified with the sudden surge of skeletons, knights, and pixies. One of the most intense portions of the hands-on came when a pixie was accidentally attacked, but the game was able to handle multiple pixies suddenly turning hostile and continued running at its target frame rate.
When it runs smoothly, the Borderlands experience is made for couch co-op. Friends can coordinate in person and discuss what skills to equip or yell at one another when something goes awry. ("Why'd you shoot the pixie? Why?") Borderlands 2 appears to get this right, delivering a smooth co-op experience during my time with it. Unfortunately, I can't say the same for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel at this time, though given all of the extra mechanics that it brings to the series, I'm hopeful that it will be optimized upon release. After all, moon jumps are best experienced with friends.
Borderlands: The Handsome Collection is set to release on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on March 24.