Version tested: Xbox 360
It's fair to say that Borderlands caught a lot of us off guard. From curiosity to cult hit, it was one of those rare games that comes out of nowhere and establishes an exciting new franchise without being pushed along by a freight train of industrial-strength hype. It succeeded on its merits, a wickedly funny blend of post-apocalyptic shooter and loot-drop RPG, and was all the better for it.
The warm feelings continued when it became one of the best-supported shooters for DLC. A steady stream of new content, each episode with its own flavour and style, kept fans busy on multiple play-throughs, always looking for that next random weapon combination that would kick those all-important stats up a few notches.
Borderlands has thrived because it has made a habit out of surprising us. Perhaps that's why Claptrap's New Robot Revolution feels like a let down. This is the first DLC chapter that has felt like it's treading water, going through the motions, making do.
The story finds the Hyperion Corporation growing tired of the treasure hunters running rampant on Pandora. They've served their purpose and are now hampering the company's commercial ambitions. To deal with the problem, they introduce the Interplanetary Ninja Assassin, a stealthy CL4P-TP robot designed to wipe out the bandits and rogues.
Unfortunately, this uber-Claptrap gets distracted by the rotten working conditions of its hapless robotic comrades, reduced to slapstick punchlines in a cruel comedy. Instead of doing Hyperion's bidding, the Ninja robot foments a revolution, inspires his fellow Claptraps to take up arms and even assimilates human and animal foes into its cybernetic scheme. Enter you, plus up to three friends, to put things right by following waypoints and blasting away at everything.
New Robot Revolution has some fun with its concept, at least to begin with. The robot guerilla leader bombards you with squeaky-voiced rhetoric over conveniently placed loudspeakers as you arrive at Tartarus Station to begin your mission, and it's hard not to smile at the fun being had at the expense of more portentous games like BioShock.
The humour continues with the newly radicalised Claptraps, shifted from amiable servants to furious killers. Some, wearing combat helmets, blast at you with shotguns. Others, sporting Mohawks and boxing gloves, speed up close and batter you with windmill punches. Kamikaze robots chase you, detonating if you let them get too close. When defeated they utter enjoyable quips about 404 errors and seeing three flashing red lights of death. All are easily dispatched but, like the zombies on Dr. Ned's island, it's the sheer force of numbers that provides what little real threat they pose.
That's sadly it as far as innovation goes, however. It soon becomes clear that the Claptrap revolution is more an excuse to reuse and remix existing assets than to provide anything fresh. You're facing the same enemies from the rest of the game, just with Claptrap parts welded and stitched on. This doesn't change their tactics or talents, and unless you plan on getting up close for some melee damage you won't really see the difference.
Mission structure is also starting to feel rather well-worn. Dr Tannis is one of many returning characters, offering up another on-going collection quest like the one from Dr. Ned's Zombie Island. This time, it's Claptrap parts you're after, and while the numbers required aren't as ridiculous as the zombie brains, it's still frustrating that you have to turn in each stage of the mission before it'll start counting the collectables again. If you need to collect 75 parts, and you've hit that target, nothing you pick up will count until you return to Tannis and reset the counter.
The nine story missions are standard fare, requiring you to travel to new areas and battle through to map waypoints. The game never does a terribly good job of putting these mundane tasks in an interesting context, leaving you to kick-start power stations and sabotage factories without a compelling narrative reason to do so. It's your mission objective, so you do it, but there's no sense of why it matters. The locations are technically new, but follow such familiar patterns – junk heaps, caves, shanty towns – that it can be hard to tell.
The DLC is generous with the boss battles, though fans who take the game seriously may bristle at the way previously defeated DLC enemies have been rehashed and regurgitated as cyborg remixes of their old selves.
On top of this, there are 12 side missions set in and around the Tartarus Station environment, but few stand out. Most simply involve local fetch-quests, and are good only for dragging your XP a little closer to the next level.
That's assuming you haven't already run up against the level cap. Increased for the General Knoxx DLC, a free title update is planned to take it even higher, up to 69. For anyone working with a high-level character, you'll find that the New Robot Revolution offers little challenge, with most missions pitched at level 35 players. I played it with a level 41 Soldier, and breezed through without breaking a sweat. It'll take a few hours, but a little too much of it feels like padding.
Fans of Achievements and Trophies may also want to approach with caution, since four of the ten new challenges require you to collect items left randomly from defeated Claptraps. Not only does this turn the game's enjoyable loot drop mechanism into a grind, but there are reports that the game's counter is glitched, and even if you do manage to find five 3D glasses or 3 pairs of pink panties, your just reward may not unlock.
But then, of course, the Borderlands gameplay is still as strong as ever. This may be more of the same, but when the same is this good, it's hard to feel too aggrieved, even if it never quite feels like the experience is worth another 800 Points (£6.29 on PS3 and PC). High-level players won't be missing anything remarkable if they decide to wait for the level cap increase before quelling the Robot Revolution.
6 / 10
Borderlands: Claptrap's New Robot Revolution is now available for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.