It's the revenge fantasy of every developer wounded by a ruthless critic: a side-quest in which you send your player off to murder an unsympathetic game journalist. It escalates, of course, as all revenge fantasies do. At first your task is merely to take down the author of a mean-spirited 6/10 review for a game beloved of Mr Torgue, your quest-giver in the second add-on storyline for Gearbox's hick-chic shooter Borderlands 2. (“He said it sucked, but then gave it a mark that implies it's above average. KILL HIM.”)
When the deed is done, Mr Torgue hears the pleas of the other reviewers at ECHOnet (a wry dig at the seeming herd mentality of game review sites?) and bids you spare them. Until, that is, one makes a barbed remark about the stealth sections in another of Mr Torgue's favourite games while you're making your exit. Enraged with the unique force and immediacy of the angered internet commenter, Mr Torgue sends you back in to kill every last writer, finishing with the final, spindly target known only as Game Critic.
It's an optional, decorative mission bolted onto the side of Campaign of Carnage, but it serves two purposes. The first is to send up the hysteria that surrounds review scores and the tinderbox tensions that exist between snooty game critic and suspicious game fan - a satirical riff on a taboo theme familiar to both Gearbox and its audience. The satire works because of the exaggeration, the suggestion that a 6/10 review is motive enough for a killing spree. It's also there to fill out the character of Mr Torgue, the kind of man that would send a hitman to settle a review score - the personification of a particular type madness, one both remote and familiar.
If Mr Torgue is still human - and after what appears to be an epic poem's journey into steroid abuse, he may now be more pharmacy than man - then he is probably the worst human you could meet. His quiet voice is his loud voice. His loud voice a decibel rip through the air. He is a man with the All Caps left on. He berates others for using too many syllables in sentences, and silences them on subjects other than “loot, pecs or explosions”. He sends you into the midst of grave danger for the sake of a pun, and spoilers major plot points in the story the moment you first meet new characters (“Is it just me or does it seem like this guy is going to betray the f*** out of you?”). He lives in a crater he calls 'the badass crater of badassitude'.
And yet he's also one of the most likeable and humorous creations in both Borderlands 2 and games in general. He is a bad guy written by good guys, you see, a crucial difference to so many characters in games that reach for amusing repugnance but have no fundamental likeable qualities. Mr Torgue is a huddled-minded idiot, but he has his own particular moral backbone and, crucially, an acerbic wit to counterbalance his bro-tastic repulsiveness.
Mr Torgue has arranged a tournament in his crater, a fight-to-the-death extravaganza that forms the spine of Campaign of Carnage's story. Accessed via the Fast Travel map, the Badass Crater of Badasstitude is a giant hole in a giant stretch of desert. At its centre stands a cavernous stadium in which you fight Horde-like waves of enemies while trying to rise up the rankings to win the prize. Torgue has even entered his grandmother into the competition - the prize of which is entry to a new vault, filled with untold treasures. At the start of the story, she is placed higher than you because she “gummed some guy to death”.
Before you can begin, Mr Torgue bids you first find a sponsor ("FOR MUTHERF***ING LEGAL REASONS"), and this is where Gearbox is able to introduce yet more character, firstly with the treacherous Piston and later the bartender Moxxi and her trainer friend, Tiny Tina. While it would have been easy for Gearbox to limit the action to the ring, sending endless waves of enemies at you to bulk out the play time, in reality this forms just a small part of the sizeable campaign. Much more time is spent heading out into the surrounding desert area and racing cars, taking flaming, ravenous dogs for walks, tracking down serial killers for their autographs and other wild-eyed tasks. The Campaign of Carnage even has its own currency for you to collect: Torgue Tokens, dropped by fallen enemies and used to purchase a range of new guns from his own vending machines.
The combined force of Mr Torgue and the other, familiar characters heightens the intensity of the Campaign of Carnage DLC to sugar-high levels. Tiny Tina, wonderfully voiced by Ashley Burch, is again the stand-out character of the piece, managing to pitch a mentally broken 13-year-old murderer with understatement and likeability. The result is a distillation of the Borderlands 2 tone: a six-hour expansion to the fiction that compresses and compacts the gleeful, well-observed stupidity of the main game into a highlight reel of excitement and purpose.
As with all DLC of this type, Campaign of Carnage is more like a house extension than a new build, and as such it benefits from all of the rhythms and systems of its overarching game structure: experience points, weapons and cash earned here feeding into the broader Borderlands 2 economy. As such, Gearbox has been able to focus on the narrative elements, on the characterisation, on finding the most outrageous tasks for you to perform at the behest of Mr Torgue. Lean, crafted, memorable, enriching and funny, the Campaign of Carnage is yet more evidence that nobody does post-release game expansion better than the Borderlands team. Essential.
9 / 10