Borderlands 2 VR Lacks In-Game Subtitles, Gearbox Declines to Comment

Borderlands 2 VR doesn't have subtitles available, and as a result, those wanting to enjoy the story but require subtitles can't.

When it comes to understanding the visual media I’m wanting to consume, subtitles help me follow the dialogue. Subtitles help indicate sounds I may not have been able to hear, they help me follow spoken dialogue. It’s not just me, they help other Deaf, hard-of-hearing, and even hearing people alike. When games offer subtitles that are too small or aren’t stylized thoughtfully, it’s an annoyance. When games don’t even have subtitles as an option, then a large portion of potential players feel overlooked.

Back in 2012, Gearbox Software developed and launched Borderlands 2, an open-world FPS and sequel to the studios’ previous 2009 Borderlands game. Seven years later in 2018, Gearbox Software and publisher 2K Games would announce that players would be able to revisit the title on PS4 using a PSVR headset and experience the game in a new way.

Borderlands 2 VR launched in December 2018 as a single-player only experience with some new features, and is exclusive only to PS4. We reviewed it if you’re interested. However, in-game subtitles have, for some reason, been cut-out completely. In another odd move, Gearbox Software opted to keep subtitles in for cutscenes only, and there’s no option to turn them off.

This news was shared with me when Dr. Jon Henner reached out after he had purchased himself a PlayStation VR for the opportunity to experience Borderlands 2 VR and found himself unable to find any subtitle options. Henner proceeded to bring Twitch streamer DeafGamersTV into the conversation as well.

DeafGamersTV, who’s real name is Chris, was actually streaming Borderlands 2 VR live on Twitch when he noticed that the subtitle accessibility option wasn’t present. You can find his Twitch stream recording timestamped at 01:18:30 which shows him navigating various menus. VR options, visual settings, and volume settings all appear intact, but subtitles are not.

Henner reached out to 2K Support on his own accord to ask why subtitles were taken out and shared the entire email exchange with me. He started by telling 2K Support that he is a “longtime supporter of the Borderlands series” and also deaf before mentioning that he noticed there doesn’t appear to be an option to turn on subtitles for in-game sections.

A representative at 2K support replied back saying, “I’m sorry to hear that you currently cannot enjoy the game in the way that you intended to”. They continued, “Unfortunately at the moment there is no option currently for subtitles in the game outside of the cutscenes. I will happily forward the suggestion to add them to the development team to see if anything can be done.”

Henner, in a reply to that, made a reference to the existence of the original Borderlands 2 script and timings, suggesting a patch shouldn’t be too difficult. However, 2K Games speculated with, “I don’t think it’s the difficulty of having subtitles that’s the cause but more that due to not having a fixed point of view, it can be difficult to use them effectively without showing up in an area that is inconvenient for the user.” If this support representative is correct, that is the reason why in-game subtitles were taken out of Borderlands 2 VR.

Regarding this, Chris, Jon, and I reflected on other games that make use of VR and still manage to implement subtitles that effectively follow the players’ point of view. Superhot, Skyrim VR, and Until Dawn: Rush of Blood are all PlayStation VR titles that are accessible to deaf or hard-of-hearing players. Rush of Blood specifically features subtitles that stay in view all the time, with Chris applauding their implementation, sending me a video of him playing the title with subtitles enabled.

DualShockers reached out to developer Supermassive Games to try and get more insight into how they implemented VR subtitles in a way that wasn’t “inconvenient for the user,” but did not receive a response. Following this conversation, Henner returned to his email about Borderlands 2 VR and responded to the comment from 2K Support with a suggestion.

“People who aren’t deaf are used to communicating with others without needing to keep them in a fixed point of view. That is they can look at other things and still receive communication. Not so with people who are deaf. We need to keep our communication partners in a fixed point in order to receive language. Following that it would be perfectly acceptable to keep subtitles locked to the speaking character. If the deaf person wants to receive the language they’ll keep looking at the character. For radio communication, the subtitles can follow the viewpoint periphery like the health bar, the shield bar, or the ammo bar. In the original games this was the subtitles were located. This information follows the viewpoint around. For people who need this information it wouldn’t be an inconvenience if done well.”

In response to his suggestions, the 2K Support representative said “the development team has seen the suggestion and the context” but later told him that “we do not receive updates in regards to the progress of any issues,” in another email. Following that, the conversation between Henner and 2K Support ended.

DualShockers reached out to Gearbox Software to get a definitive answer on whether or not a potential patch to Borderlands 2 VR to implement subtitles could be released in future or if they aren’t ever planning on adding them. While initially receptive, Gearbox Software ultimately declined to comment. Of course, they have recently had a lot of their plate; however, the exclusion of in-game subtitles and the unwillingness to comment on their absence doesn’t sit well with me.

Last year I learned that Activision and Toy’s for Bob’s beautiful looking Spyro Reignited Trilogy lacked cutscene subtitles. I expanded on the news with a more in-depth post explaining why the online noise about why the lack of the accessibility feature was important to take notice of. After that, I looked into how subtitles are designed in various game engines in a bid to not only inform myself but others about the process of creating subtitles in video games.

I then spoke with Chris more to learn his opinion on the importance of subtitles in games as a streamer, what he thought about them being left out of Borderlands 2 VR, and why they should be included. “I feel very left out, not only because I’m deaf but because some game companies don’t see how it could be useful to many people,” Chris told me. This echoes a similar narrative to when I was covering Spyro Reignited Trilogy, both hearing and deaf players expressed their desire for subtitles.

“As a deaf gamer, I rely on subtitles like it’s my lifeline to be able to understand information. Other people who are not native to English or other languages could use subtitles as a study tool when learning other languages,” he continued. “Subtitles can be helpful in many different ways. This is why games and any media should implement subtitles/captioning for people who need them. Accessibility isn’t a loss, it’s an opportunity to bring the gaming community together to enjoy gaming together that they couldn’t do before.”

Chris also mentions something that not only I but loads of other players I’ve spoken to about this topic agree with. “We need to be able to adjust subtitles settings such as the size, maybe colors and perhaps the fonts (because sometimes these games like to get too “creative” with their fonts like the game called Agony.” He mentions that the font choice in Agony was terrible, which is something I agree with. The font choice was too small and a gothic typeface.

The lack of subtitles for Borderlands 2 VR seems like a major oversight on the developers part. As Henner stated to 2K Support, the script would have been available with timecodes from the previous release, and other titles have been capable of motion tracking subtitles or at least implementing them in ways that work. It may have required a bit more work to have been implemented correctly, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be an impossible task for VR developers.

Essentially, it’s appalling to me that subtitles are still so neglected in video games, especially when it comes to large companies who should have the time and resources to create decent subtitles. For now, games like Apex LegendsThe Division 2Far Cry: New Dawnand Marvel’s Spider-Man should be complimented for their accessibility options while we should bring attention to games that don’t include them like Spyro Reignited Trilogy and Borderlands 2 VR. The noise being generated surrounding accessibility is good and helps ensure that more players of all kinds can be included.

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Ben Bayliss

Based in the UK and adores venturing through FPS horrors and taking photos in pretty much anything with a functioning photo mode. Also likes car games.

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