Let me tell you, Telltale Games keeps impressing me with each new title that it pumps out. OK, so some aren’t as good as others (Walking Dead Season 2 definitely fell short of the perfection of Season 1), but I have thoroughly enjoyed devouring titles like The Wolf Among Us and the three Walking Dead entries (including 400 days).
What these games lack in actual challenging mechanics (very little puzzle solving, overdependence on quicktime events) are more than made up for with agonizing decisions, great characters, high production values, and storytelling that sucks me in to a degree that I thought only books could do.
So when I say that Tales from the Borderlands is officially my favorite of the Telltale library to date, I want to impress upon you that this is a game that’s gone above and beyond the already high standards that have been set by its predecessors. I promised myself that I would fully complete all five episodes on my phone before talking about it, and now that I have, I’m here to spread the word and make a few more converts.
Seriously. Play this game. You shan’t regret it.
What I like about the Telltale team is a willingness to take unorthodox IPs and whip them into an adventure game series. Wolf Among Us was a surprise in taking us into the comic book universe of the Fables, and now with TFTB, we have an adventure game that’s spawned from a rather madcap scifi shooter series. And the thing is, it may be the best Borderlands product out there.
So what do we have here? Tales from the Borderlands is the story of two characters on the planet Pandora: Rhys, a company man who is trying to jump ahead in the ranks, and Fiona, a con artist who’s attempting to score big. Their paths cross early, thanks to an unfolding plot device of a key that can open up one of the planet’s mythical treasure vaults. Soon, crazy adventures are happening left and right as the two assemble a wide entourage that includes Rhys’ best friend, a child-like robot, a shield-using assassin, gangsters, and more.
As with the other Telltale games (from Walking Dead on), the bulk of the interactive story is selecting action and dialogue choices — on a limited time frame — as they come up, not knowing how these decisions will impact the future of the game. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but sometimes the smallest action can have strong ramifications down the road. I thought it was quite brilliant that what you assumed to be a disposable combat robot turned out to be a creature that had feelings — and grudges based on how you treated it in the past.
Above and beyond the usual Telltale format, Tales from the Borderlands experiments with a few new features (Rhys has a cybernetic eye and Fiona can swipe cash to spend on odds and ends) and crafts a surprisingly deep and involved story that can be, in turns, funny, touching, sad, and action-packed. The opening credits for each episode are little masterpieces of the medium, turning an Indiana Jones-like tale into something larger than life.
This game is weird. Really weird. I didn’t know much about the Borderlands universe, but I certainly learned a lot from this game — and I like it. It’s part Firefly, part western, part Mass Effect, part Dune, part a lot of things and also a bit of its own creation. You almost don’t blink twice after a while at some of the crazy crap that goes down, including finding a guy’s face (!) to use for a con, talking to a holographic entity that has taken up residence in Rhys’ head, or suddenly becoming a death race celebrity.
It’s also one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever encountered. I really didn’t want the game to end because I was often laughing way too hard at all of the quips and funny little moments. There are great running gags (Rhys’ horrible tie and everyone’s reaction to it is one) and snarky asides that make you feel like you’re watching a well-crafted movie. Being able to direct what some of the characters say helps you delude yourself that you’re just as funny as the game’s writers.
Funny and weird, weird and funny. You fire off a pistol in an office-slash-corporate museum to hit the flank of a giant unicorn statue… and it bleeds. And your character is really taken aback at the fact that this is a bleeding statue and wondering why it’s a bleeding statue and it’s funnier the more nobody answers the question of WHY IT IS A BLEEDING STATUE. It’s just part and parcel of the greatness of this game.
I also want to give props to the title’s best action sequence (spoiler here but I can’t help but comment on it) — a huge Matrix-like shootout… in which all of the participants use imaginary finger guns. You just won’t see this in any other game, ever.
Finally, for all of its weird humor, TFTB left me feeling deeply affectionate for its cast of characters. Unlike Wolf Among Us or Walking Dead, this isn’t a dour game where everyone ends up dying (although there are a few unscheduled demises). It’s an upbeat adventure starring a crazy bunch of lovable misfits who might have just found their best friends — and that includes the love between two robots.
If you’ve played it, you know how awesome this game is. And if you haven’t, I just hope that I’ve convinced you to give it a try. Trust me — you need the laughs.