Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Digital Savant: ‘Borderlands 2’ proves quirky and fun, and other tech tidbits

Omar L. Gallaga
ogallaga@statesman.com
A scene from “Borderlands 2,” an action video game with a “Mad Max” feel from 2K Games.

For some Digital Savant columns, there’s a lot to say about one thing. This week, there’s a little bit to say about a lot of different tech topics, so bear with me if we jump around a bit.

Let’s start with video games. After a year with a lot of high-profile disappointments and only a few shining surprises, the fall gaming season has finally started yielding some real gems.

Part of the problem is that the major video-game consoles are nearing the end of their life-cycles. The Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii are all past their prime. We’ll see if next month’s arrival of Nintendo’s Wii U gives the industry a shot in the arm, but based on the mush of what’s being released month-to-month, there’s a real stagnation in traditional video games. Mobile, indie and online social games, meanwhile, are thriving in that vacuum.

Thank goodness for games like Borderlands 2 ($60-$100 in Standard and Deluxe Editions, for Xbox 360, PS3 and Windows PCs), an off-the-wall shooter with an attitude that succeeds where so many humdrum, derivative action games fail. “Borderlands 2” builds on its quirky predecessor, which used an art style more reminiscent of graphic novels than the photo-realism of most shooters. Like the first “Borderlands,” an under-the-radar game that built a cult following, it’s also got crazy characters, a mind-boggling variety of weaponry and gadgets, and a “Mad Max”-meets-Adult Swim sense of style and humor.

Most shooters are about finishing off levels, beating bosses and staying alive, but “Borderlands 2” has more in common with role-playing games like “Diablo III,” in which picking up rare loot and upgrading your character are paramount.

“Borderlands 2” is loot-focused almost to a fault, but you can choose to forgo a lot of that effort if you like, especially if you find others to engage in four-player cooperative play online.

Two other games this month that I haven’t had time to invest in yet, Dishonored ($60, for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC) and XCOM: Enemy Unknown ($50-$60 for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC), are garnering lots of positive reviews. “Dishonored,” developed in Austin by Arkane Studios, is a lush action game that gives players lots of options on how to portray its bodyguard protagonist. “XCOM” is a turn-based game from the folks behind the “Civilization” series that’s getting great marks for its mix of strategy and modern gameplay aesthetics. All three games are rated M for Mature.

… Now that the iPhone 5 launch rush has died down a bit, Apple has introduced its $29 Lightning to 30-pin Adapter, which allows the newest Apple devices (also including the new iPod Nano and iPod Touch) to play nice with older iPhone and iPod accessories. A $39 version with a small cable is also available. The smaller Lightning port is now an Apple standard; for anyone looking to upgrade or buy an i-device in the future, it’ll be worth double-checking the ports if you’re buying add-ons like chargers or speaker docks.

… Stock analysts may be convinced that Facebook’s financial performance is making it an also-ran, but the company recently announced it has passed 1 billion active users. Yes, billion with a “b.” Facebook may not be generating the buzz it did a year or two ago, but it’s still got huge numbers on its side. For now, at least.

… We were sad to hear that the online and mobile quiz game “Qrank,” popular in Austin, especially among newshounds, was being retired. The company behind it, Ricochet Labs, ceased operations and the last “Qrank” game was on Oct. 8.

… Agonizing over a life decision or just feeling lost? Try the iPad app “Unstuck” (free, unstuck.com), which uses lovely visuals and lots of psychology to help you out of your mental jam.