Picture your favorite summer action blockbuster. Something pulpy and mainstream, complete with a loud-mouthed, wise-cracking protagonist, a comedic sidekick, daring acrobatics, guns and explosions. Maybe add a few aliens and exotic locales. Because that’s exactly what you’ll get with Tales from the Borderlands, Telltale Games’ latest in their series of cinematic point-and-click adventures (Check out our reviews of their excellent The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and The Wolf Among Us).
Like Telltale’s other offerings, Tales from the Borderlands, is very cut-scene heavy, sprinkled with split-second decisions, dialogue choices that affect the path of the story, and a few moments where you have to make specific finger-motions on your touchscreen. If you’re looking for innovative game mechanics or challenging puzzles, you’ve come to the wrong place. What Telltale excels at, however, is crafting interesting stories where players get to make major plot decisions.
A byproduct of this story-focus is that the most traditionally “game –like” part of the game, are Borderland’s weakest link, and something I could honestly have done without. During important action sequences, (hitting a greasy bandit with your stun-baton, leaping onto a truck full of murderous lunatics) the game prompts you with a specific motion: repeated taps, a curved swish, a quick swipe, for example. Usually, failure to do so means death. Which means you have to restart at your last checkpoint. I feel the same way about these moments as I do about save-or-die mechanics in tabletop RPG’s: why do they even exist? They don’t really add any sort of challenge, nor don’t help to further the story (i.e. succeeding or failing changes nothing in the plot). They’re basically there to give players something to do –which should never be the reason for a game mechanic to exist.
Apart from that quibble, Tales from the Borderlands is an excellent romp through the world of the critically acclaimed Borderlands games, revolving around the machinations of a shady megacorporation, a key to an alien vault, a mysterious “vault hunter”, and your two protagonists, a con-artist and an overambitious company man, who get caught in the chaos. The series’ comic-style art and trademark humor (as well as a few characters) both reappear in Telltale’s adaptation. The visuals are magnificent, and stylistically very cinematic. So much so, that you’ll often wonder why the game isn’t marketed as a $5 “interactive movie”. The storytelling is excellent, from cool viewpoint changes, to splashy character introductions, and the characters are both believable and easy to get emotionally attached to (you really get to hate your boss, the one who likes comparing spaceships to anatomy). And of course, there’s the humor. Tales from the Borderlands is incredibly funny. The writing, from the dialogue to the descriptions of objects and the environment, is hilarious (I was torn between laughter and tears at my dying robot’s agonized cries of, “the metal is willing but the spirit is weak!”). I often found myself choosing the goofiest dialogue options, just to see what would happen and how others would react. In my book, the writing more than makes up for the annoyances of the touch and swipe mechanics.
Finally, there’re the choices. I must say I was a tad disappointed by them. Many dialogue options lead to an ominous message at the top of the screen: “[Insert character] will remember that…” Unfortunately, (having played the game twice), I found that very rarely did my choices make a significant difference to the game; it was usually a slightly different scene (hilarious, without a doubt), with the same end-results. However, I’m confident that future episodes of Tales from the Borderlands will actually use your major decisions to make significant changes to the story (but I was hoping for more of that in this first episode).
Overall, unless you’re looking for a mechanics-heavy game, I would highly recommend Tales from the Borderlands. As an interactive movie, it’s exceptional, and I guarantee that you’ll receive many a dirty glare from fellow subway-goers as you constantly burst into peals of laughter.
Is it Hardcore?
A hillarious and rollicking adventure.
A hilarious, rollicking adventure.