I can’t stop writing about “Borderlands 2.” It’s an addiction for which I may need help in 2014. The fact is that I feel like attention must be drawn over and over agin to what is one of the most remarkable games of the PS3 generation, even though I covered the game itself in a full rave and then included it on my top ten list (at the top) over a year ago. Why? Because “Borderlands 2” is the future of gaming -- it never stops.
The DLC releases like "Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate's Booty," “Tiny Tina’s Assault on Dragon’s Keep” and “Mr. Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage” were more impressive than most full-disc releases in 2013 when one considered the gaming bang for the buck with their low-cost prices. And then, despite the poignant ending of “Tina,” the gang behind “Borderlands 2” kept the party going with a series of holiday-themed “Headhunter” packs for “Halloween,” “Thanksgiving,” and the newest bite-sized vault hunter adventure in “How Marcus Saved Mercenary Day,” under the “Headhunter” series of mini-adventures: DLC add-ons that only cost three bucks, give you about an hour of gameplay, and add to your loot pile with a new head. It’s a great way to avoid your family on Christmas.
“How Marcus Saved Mercenary Day” features only one location and a handful of new enemies. It’s bite-sized DLC, the kind that I expect to see for more games like “Borderlands 2” in the future. You’ll pay 3 bucks to rent a movie or TV show On Demand, why not drop the same for a gaming experience that offers the same amount of entertainment time? The market is going to shift more in the PS4 generation to gaming experiences that aren’t on-disc. As we download more and more titles to house on our PlayStation 4 hard drive, it will be easier for big name developers to tweak the way games are delivered. There may very well come a day when all games are pay for play in installments – the first few levels for ten bucks, and you pay more if you like it. We’re not there yet but 2K Games seems to understand how to keep a game as robust as “Borderlands 2” going well over a year after it hit stores. At this rate, I expect new adventure featuring my favorite vault hunters until the inevitable (and world-shattering) “Borderlands 3.”
In “Mercenary Day,” you travel to Marcus’ gun shop, where he’ll ask you to search the lost town of Gingerton for a shipment that’s gone missing. Just as “Bloody Harvest” was a Halloween haunted house brought to life, Gingerton is a snowy village of the damned. You will fight familiar enemies like bandits alongside demonic snowmen who burst when you shoot them and throw deadly snowballs. You’ll find gifts in the environment that can be opened like treasure chests to reveal their loot and you’ll eventually come face to face with the legendary Abominable Mister Tinder Snowflake, a giant snowman who will do his best to kill you.
Like “Bloody Harvest,” there are only two missions in “Mercenary Day,” and some gamers will complain that the experience comes up a bit short. I’ll admit that I sometimes wished this gorgeous-rendered world was used for something a bit more creative when I was battling bandits but this shouldn’t be seen as something to compare to the story-based DLC or the complete game. It’s bite-sized DLC and it’s a tasty treat when judged on that scale.
As for those environments, “Mercenary Day” boasts some of the best visuals in the gorgeous history of 2K Games juggernaut. Gingerton is a wonderful feat of design, from the Christmas tree at its center to the perfectly designed train holding that missing gun shipment. The characters look great, the killer snowmen produce laughs every time, and, as with everything related to “Borderlands 2,” the voice work rocks. These games, especially the totally silly DLCs, play like comic book worlds brought to deadly life. If anything, I wished for more gameplay in the world of “Mercenary Day,” and was disappointed when I had to leave it and head back to incomplete missions in the Arid Badlands. I missed the snow.
There’s no denying that “How Marcus Saved Mercenary Day” is for hardcore fans only. You don’t need to have played the previous two Headhunter packs to enjoy it but you should have ventured deep into the on-disc game and enjoyed every single one of the four DLC packs (also now available in the “Borderlands 2: Game of the Year Edition”). This is just the cherry on the gaming sundae. And it tastes like a candy cane.