The primary reason I felt the need to talk about shooters in my introduction, is because I have always been a tremendous fan of the Borderlands games. I have played them all, but perhaps none of them soaked up my time the way the original title did. The number of hours I sunk into it were far more than I would be comfortable admitting to, had I been counting in the first place. Everything about the games, from their vibrant use of color to the ridiculous humor found throughout (Seriously, Face McShooty might be the star of the greatest quest in a game ever).
When it was announced that Telltale Games would be bringing their own unique sense of humor and narrative skills to a world I was already smitten with, I was immediately intrigued but also concerned. Would the action-heavy Borderlands games translate well to a slower paced tale that was more interested in plot and character development than acquiring loot and shooting people? The answer is a definitive 'yes', due in large part to an outstanding voice cast and the introduction of a clever new storytelling mechanic in having the player control two main characters. It can be hard to talk about a narrative-heavy game without giving anything away, but I am doing my best to stay spoiler-free.
First, I want to talk about the visuals and gameplay. For those who have not yet had a chance to play a Telltale game, they are titles most heavily focused on telling a great story. You walk around, interacting with people and items in the environment, sometimes working through fairly simple puzzles as you go. In the Telltale games prior to this, players were focused on controlling a single character throughout the story. Game of Thrones (another excellent series by Telltale Games) and Tales from the Borderlands shook things up by having multiple characters you can control. The primary difference between these two games is that in Game of Thrones, most of these characters are in different physical locations most of the time.
These characters have their own distinctive stories with very little direct overlap. In Tales from the Borderlands, our two primary protagonists (Rhys and Fiona) often find themselves separated, but also quite often are sharing the same space in the adventure. This can lead to the two characters taking radically different views of the same events in the game. One particularly hilarious example of this happens when Rhys takes a tumble. In Fiona's mind, he was a bloody mess who basically exploded on impact with the ground. Rhys begs to differ, as he points out that he would likely have died had that been the case.
Another interesting aspect to how the story is being told, is that all of these events happened in the past. Rhys and Fiona have been found by a mysterious figure who walks them a considerable distance without ever really giving you any indication of who they are or why they are invested in hearing this story, but it is clear that they have an interest in hearing both sides of the tale. The approach to having split protagonists is also aided by some subtle but effective gameplay mechanics. Rhys has some cybernetic functionality, and one of those mechanical differences allow him to view the screen in a first person mode that allows Rhys to scan and learn about specific objects in the room. This is often leveraged for puzzle solving. Fiona is more interested in acquiring money, and there will be opportunities for her to spend on that money on different items in the game. These items are cosmetic, but they do help to differentiate Rhys and Fiona from one another in tangible ways.
While the key to the gameplay is to traverse the environment and interact with people and things to prompt the story to continue, the most prominent feature in Telltale Games titles is the ability to choose how your character reacts to a given situation. You can alienate characters or make friends for life based on how you choose. The general tale is told regardless of your choices, but I have always been a fan of this storytelling device, because it gives me a stamp of ownership on what is happening. At the end of an episode, you get to see how your decisions stacked up against other members of the community who have played the games as well.
Visually Tales from the Borderlands finds a happy medium between the usual art style used in Telltale games and the world of Borderlands. Characters are not always perfectly animated, but the level of detail and visual design that Telltale Games has provided in this game shows that the development team has grown over the last few years. The bright visuals really make great use of color, providing a nice compliment to the zany world of Borderlands. The game splits time on the world of Pandora and the more sophisticated moonbase above, Helios. In truth, the world of Pandora is far more interesting visually, but the stark difference between the two ways of life comes through visually as well as in the story. It is worth noting that Tales from the Borderlands performs far better on the PlayStation 4 than it did on the Xbox 360. There are a fair number of load times, and sometimes the scenes take a few minutes to come up. On the Xbox 360, there were scenes where people started talking while the loading screen was still up, but I did not see anywhere near the same types or numbers of technical hiccups when playing on the PlayStation 4.
I mentioned the voice acting before, and with good reason. There are some industry veterans on this team, with Troy Baker and Laura Baily leading the way as Rhys and Fiona respectively. Chris Hardwick is hilarious as Rhys' best friend Vaughn (the line, where he begs someone to lick his eye had me in tears - that whole scene was great. I know, it sounds weird - but trust me, it's great when you reach the scene). Ashley Johnson, Nolan North, Dameon Clarke, Erin Yvette and the always awesome Patrick Warburton also provide outstanding voice work for their characters. A lot of games pull in collections of talent, but for a title like this where the dialog is so key to the game, Telltale Games knocked it out of the part with this crew.
So many of the Telltale games tell grim, serious stories (The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, Game of Thrones). Many of these games work in moments of levity, but none of them would be considered funny. There is absolutely a place for serious narrative of that nature (I enjoyed all three of the aforementioned titles), but Tales from the Borderlands manages to find a different kind of balance. There are absolutely serious moments, and while the story itself is a somewhat linear track, I actually felt as though my choices had more weight here than in some of the other Telltale titles. The serious moments help to propel the characters to new points in the story, but at the same time the humor just makes the ride that much more fun.
Do not confuse the slower pace of Tales from the Bo4derlands with boring, or even akin to a visual novel. There are large periods of time where you are listening and reading, but there are plenty of moments where you are expected to press specific face buttons or flick the control stick as guided on the screen as well. There is a 'gunfight' (and boy do I have to use that term loosely) in a later chapter that is incredibly memorable and can best be described as wacky. Moments like this allowed Tales from the Borderlands to create memorable moments without having to be too serious, though there is plenty of action in the storyline to compliment the moments of goofiness.
Tales from the Borderlands: A Telltale Game Series has reached its conclusion, and the ending that was provided was satisfying if we do not receive another game in the series. That being said, I really do hope we get more sooner than later. Now that each of the episodes is available, you can binge play through it in a day (I did) and the ride was an entertaining one that is actually in my discussion as a game of the year. There have been a lot of heavyweight titles this year, and plenty of them have strong claims to such a distinction, but I had as much fun with Tales from the Borderlands as any other game this year - and that's what it's really all about.
|Other Platform(s)||PlayStation 3
Article by Chris