Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel hands-on - it's good to be Claptrap
I'm surprised it took them this long to give Claptrap a gun. Borderland's chatty mascot is playable in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, and the results are as unpredictable as you'd expect, given that they've weaponised a deranged wheelie bin. His VaultHunter.exe skill sums him up perfectly. Once activated, it picks a random effect that changes Claptrap's weapon load-out and applies manic buffs, some useful, some amusingly terrible.
If you're unlucky, you'll get one that replaces your gun with a metal stick and orders you to go on a punching spree. It's rubbish, but your friends get to watch your suicidal charge. Another effect replaces your gun with a huge bomb that plays a tinny gift-card rendition of Pop Goes The Weasel, and then blows up, dealing considerable fire damage to nearby enemies. Vaulthunter.exe also borrows abilities from Vault Hunters Claptrap's met before, like Roland, which explains the routine that summons a turret (a shrieking mini-Claptrap) that shoots volleys of rockets from four body-mounted tube launchers.
Claptrap's scattershot abilities are designed to create a testy relationship with his team mates. His high-five move gives his team a chance to actively shun him. If you hit him during his arm-up pose, he'll gain a set of friendship buffs. Ignore him, and he'll get a different set of loneliness buffs, which he'll utilise while grumbling to himself for minutes afterwards.
He can also save the day, occasionally. His most powerful Vaulthunter.exe program doubles up your equipped weapon, gives you infinite ammo and lets you vomit flack into the screen while hearts and rainbows fly around. I got lucky during a boss fight and squashed the entire encounter in a couple of minutes, to my co-op partner's surprise.
Claptrap is a collection of cheat codes bundled into a single character, designed to annoy and entertain team mates in equal measure. It's an effective and fan-pleasing realisation of his divisive personality, but if you struggled to deal with him in short bursts in prior Borderlands games, be warned: this is maximum exposure. Claptrap is programmed to quip, and quip he does, relentlessly.
I don't mind that, and it sets the robot aside from the rogues gallery that form the Pre-Sequel's four-person squad. If you've played a lot of Borderlands, you'll recognise them. Wilhelm the Enforcer is a Borderlands 2 boss. His deployables make him a commando class similar to Axton, but you can upgrade his cybernetic augmentations to add more metal parts to his form. Athena can tank damage for the squad with a shield that swallows bullets. The more ordnance she absorbs, the more powerful the shield is when thrown. Nisha serves as the primary damage-dealer. She can queue up killshots with pistols and rampage with her whip. In our Gamescom presentation Anthony Burch described her as an unofficial Clint Eastwood class, and she has the hat to match.
The Pre-Sequel is set on Pandora's moon, where the gravity is lax and the air unbreathable. This proves to be a far bigger problem for your opponents than you. You can ground-pound with the crouch button while floating, and there are handy jump pads scattered around outside. Mario a frozen enemy and they'll shatter into dozens of floating pieces. A killing blow can reduce a minion on the verge of death to a red paste, or send them flying upwards into space. A critical hit can shatter an enemy's facemask, causing them to take a torrent of asphyxiation damage and then cartwheel gently into the sky when dead.
The level I played moved seamlessly between the pressurised corridors of a moonbase and low-G exteriors. The atmospheric transitions vary pacing slightly, but this is a very familiar Borderlands experience: shoot weak points for a satisfying red "CRITICAL HIT" message, open cases full procedurally generated guns and grenade mods, and don't forget to plug the elemental barrels when enemies clump up.
The Pre-Sequel is being developed by 2K Australia in collaboration with Gearbox, but the series' snappy, gag-a-minute writing remains. (I jettisoned the engines of a parked spaceship to annoy its Bosun—"switching to crappy backup power" the ship computer droned, sadly). It's familiar, but fun. The Pre-Sequel seems quite happy to consolidate the series' sci-fi slapstick niche without moving it into true sequel territory. For fans that have already hoovered Borderlands 2's extensive collection of DLC, that'll probably be enough.