TALES FROM THE BORDERLANDS Game Review
I’ve never played any of the Borderlands games. I know what they are obviously, but I’m not a huge first person shooter guy. I like Goldeneye, and the recent Far Cry games (although I’m more into the hunting and crafting then I am the gunning dudes in the face) but on the whole FPS’s aren’t my favourite. But Borderlands always looked a little different. It had personality. Personality is something I find most Shooters lack, but Borderlands seemed to have it in spades. It looked like an odd ball, unhinged psycho type of personality, but I’ll always take a nutbag over a bore. It was almost enough to get me to play them, but the first person shooter thing still kept me away (coupled with the fact my PC still struggles to play Street Fighter 2, let alone any game approaching new). But if you were to take that off the wall personality and inject it into a point and click style game, well, I’d be all over that.
That’s exactly what Telltale Games has done (who are on fire currently, after releasing the first episode of their Game of Thrones series). They’ve taken the madcap universe Borderlands is set in, some of the insane characters that live there, and the twisted sense of humour the series is famous for, and fused it with Telltale’s own brand of choice based story telling to create something that is as engrossing as it is hilarious.
In Tales From The Borderlands you play as two charmingly inept con artists, Rhys and Fiona. Rhys works as a mid level guy for Hyperion, a big corporation that doesn’t try very hard to hide the fact it is pure evil. Rhys and his merry band of colleagues are on the rise, expecting big things in their future. Their new boss (voiced with the dulcet tones of Patrick Warburton!) has other ideas. So Rhys slaps together a plan to get back at him, and get rich quick in the process. Fiona is a career criminal. She and her sister were raised by a small time conman who taught them all the tricks of the trade, and Fiona has spent her life playing whatever part a particular con required her to play. She lives on Pandora, a planet sick with violence and misery, a violence and misery Rhys’s company profits greatly from. So it’s fair to say that after meeting the two of them don’t exactly become fast friends.
As is now the norm with Telltale games it’s the characters that make or break the series, and Rhys and Fiona might just be the most instantly likable characters in Telltales extensive back catalogue. They are both duplicitous and self serving but ultimately good hearted (at least in the way I play them). Rhys’s over inflated ego is a constant source of laughs, and Fiona’s no nonsense attitude becomes increasingly funny when she is paired up with Rhys’s bumbling partner Vaughn. The banter remains fresh throughout the game, with all of the characters having well defined, interesting personalities that bounce off each other well and create plenty of opportunities for friction, drama, and gags. And that seems to be Tales From The Borderlands main agenda: to be funny.
Whereas The Walking Dead aimed to pull at our heart strings, and Game of Thrones wants us to feel the weight of consequence, Tales From The Borderlands goes for laughs. But that is in no way a lesser agenda. Drama is easy. Comedy is hard. Especially in video games. Telltale pulls it off completely. The humour draws us to these characters, and we quickly come to care for them, forgiving them their flaws, and even embracing them. We have such a good time with this rag tag gang that when the drama does eventually come it hits all the harder. Will anything in this game be as moving as the relationship between Clem and Lee from the first season of The Walking Dead? Probably not. But it doesn’t need to. Telltale have gone with a very different tone here because they are telling a completely different style of story. The characters are broader, the universe wilder, the action more OTT. All Tales From The Borderlands needs to be is fun. And it is most certainly that.
Choices in this game don’t have the same weight as Telltale’s other work, but that works in its favour as it is often exciting to make a choice knowing it will derail the plans of the central characters, leading to more hijinks and more laughs. The game in some ways reminded me of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, which is about as ringing an endorsement I can give. It has delightfully comical characters with hidden depths, a universe full of interesting oddities, plenty of guffaws, one or two belly laughs, and just enough heart to get you to love it. Of all the games Telltale has released Tales From The Borderlands is the one I most want to play and replay. The first episode, named Zer0 Sum, might just be my favourite thing they’ve ever done.