Maya and Salvador combine their action skills Borderlands 2/2K Games

On the surface, “Borderlands 2” closely resembles the post-apocalyptic frag-fest of the first game. It’s another four-player cooperative, shoot-and-loot-style action game set in the gun-crazy world of Pandora.

But that’s where the similarity ends.

Red Bull USA got an exclusive hands-on session with an early build of the sequel and spent some quality time hunting down baddies with two of the game’s new characters. So, we’re here to tell you the five ways “Borderlands 2” will kick the ass of its predecessor when it is released by Gearbox Software in September for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.

1. The Gunzerker is Guntastic Fun

The Commando and Assassin classes did not appear in the demo we played, but we spent time with Maya, the new Siren, who has a new ability called Phaselock, which binds enemies with some kind of temporary energy warp.

The most exciting new class is the Gunzerker, whose name is Salvador.

The Gunzerker is exactly what he sounds like: a dual-wielding Berserker in many fantasy role-playing games -- but armed with two guns instead of swords.

nullBorderlands 2/2K Games

There are plenty of characters in video games that dual-wield pistols, but the Gunzerker can shoot any two guns at once when activating his special power, including assault rifles, shotguns and missile launchers. Yippe ki-yay, indeed.

The Gunzerker also has different skill trees that allow you to boost his berserk mode or snag additional abilities like one that grants extra damage to the last bullet in a clip.

All of which means the Gunzerker is likely to be a favorite.

2. Smarter, Tougher Enemies

Let’s face it, the masked mutants, blade-wielding psychos and rage-filled midgets of the first “Borderlands” were tough if they were a much higher level than the player, but only because they had tons of hit points and could hit you hard -- not because they employed brilliant strategies.

In “Borderlands 2,” there are areas where you will fight against robot enemies called Loaders that call for speedy airborne Surveyor bots to heal them and help them regrow arms. That means you have to pick a strategy on the fly and decide whether or not you should aim immediately for the more dangerous Loaders or opt to go for the annoying Surveyors first.

 

In the demo, there are also encounters with creatures that needed to be shot in specific weak spots, such as the knees, in order to be killed. It’s still not rocket science, but so far it looks like Gearbox has ensured that gamers will do more than shoot, reload, repeat in “Borderlands 2.”

3. Guns, Guns, and More Guns

Part of the attraction of the first “Borderlands” was the near-limitless types of weapons you could acquire -- like a video game version of gun porn. For the sequel, Gearbox is pulling out all the stops on making guns of all different types and giving each fictional brand a distinct feel.

We tried several guns of the Tediore brand; their gimmick is that instead of reloading them, your character will throw the gun at opponents and magically pull out another. The disposed gun blows up in the enemy’s face and does about the same damage as a minor grenade.

4. Not Just Stuck In a Desert

In the original game, the vast majority of Pandora was dry, arid desert, filled with rocks and boulders. The demo hints at a more diverse landscape. We played one mission set in a lush plains setting and another in what seemed to be a tropical island.

Gearbox says players will also fight across arctic tundra and other environments in addition to the familiar desert.

nullBorderlands 2/2K Games

The cell-shaded, semi-cartoony look of “Borderlands” also returns, but the game’s graphics look slightly sharper and seem to run smoother.

5. Better Cooperative Play

Many cooperative titles abandoned the idea of split-screen co-op in favor of online only, but one of the best features of “Borderlands” was the ability to play with a friend sitting on the couch beside you. Unfortunately, you couldn’t play split-screen and online at the same time.

“Borderlands 2” promises to remedy that. Gearbox has also tweaked the quest system so that when you’re playing cooperatively, you’re eligible for any quest that your friend has. They weren’t in the demo, but four-player vehicles are also expected to be available for players who want to make a road trip together.

For more from Ryan Smith, follow him on Twitter: @RyanSmithWriter

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