I WILL WEAR YOUR SKIN AS A CINEMATIC EXPERIENCE!
Tales From the Borderlands is the latest game from Telltale, the studio that brought you The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us . You’d think this means that they were bringing us a serious game about moral choice where people will die based on tough decisions that you make. NOPE! This is the Borderlands universe! People die left and right and nobody cares. Heads explode, bodies are electrocuted, robots are torn limb from limb, and there is just so much murder you could use the corpses to build your very own meat bicycle. The big ten million bullet question here is does Telltale’s point and click cinematic choice based formula hold up when lives aren’t on the line, and the answer is… EXPLOSIONS!!!
Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 1 – Zero Sum puts you in control of two main characters–Rhys, a businessman from Hyperion that is looking to take Handsome Jack’s place after his demise at the end of Borderlands 2 ; and Fiona, a con-woman looking to make a quick buck off of Hyperion’s current disorder. Rhys is joined by Vaugh, a weedy little accountant who is just dying to screw over a rival Hyperion bigwig, and Fiona is joined by Sasha, her partner and sister in crime. The story follows the misadventures of this unlikely band of brothers as they search for fame and fortune (mostly just fortune) on the bandit ridden surface of Pandora.
And this is where I practically bite my tongue off to avoid telling you all the awesome spoilers I have rattling up inside my noggin.
HANDSOME JACK MAY BE MAKING A RETURN! There. I said it. No more spoilers after that. But seriously though, Handsome Jack fans will love this game.
In fact, the game itself is greatly enhanced by being a fan of Borderlands . The more you are a fan, the more the game appeals to you. Right at the beginning of the game you are introduced to Shade, who was a character from a DLC pack, along with Bewm, a beginning of the game boss, and the corpse of Professor Nakayama, another characters from a DLC pack. In fact, Nakayama is a serious plot point in this game so if you didn’t play his DLC, you actually kind of miss quite a bit. The plot itself makes references all the way back to Borderlands 1 , bringing up some stuff that even I forgot about. You can enjoy the game without having played Borderlands , but it’s obvious that the ultra-fans will be getting the most mileage out of this series.
Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 1 – Zero Sum isn’t a mystery or a horror or a drama. It’s really more of an action comedy, with emphasis on the comedy. But this style of writing works perfectly in the Telltale formula. The whole tale is being told in the form of a story recap, much how Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel was. Rhys and Fiona just so happen to be tied up, and a man with a rifle wants them very, very badly to tell them about something called the Gortys project. What the heck is that project? We don’t know! Actually… we barely care! And that’s the fun part!
Instead, the thing we focus on is how the story keeps changing. Rhys and Fiona keep lying to make themselves seem cooler than they actually are. So you’ll frequently find the game cutting, rewinding, and playing out differently as one corrects the other. This is one of the main sources of humor in the game and it works perfectly. Even death conditions utilize this storytelling device to great effect. “Then he swung a cleaver into your face and you died?” you might hear someone ask if you fail a quicktime event. “Well… yeah… I mean I could have died…” Rhys says, backpedaling.
Telltale went a long way to make this game look like the iconic Borderlands universe that we know and love, and for the most part it succeeds. You will travel to a lot of old and familiar locales, meet some familiar faces, and even have a heart to heart with bandits and psychos.
Even the U.I. is themed around Borderlands . Rhys’s U.I. is themed around the sleek polygonal blue on blue design of the Borderlands menu. Many times his options will not simply be laid out as text, but as menu options on his palm device, and this is kind of cool. Fiona’s U.I. is lower tech and has a wild west sort of feel to it. She has less context sensitive options than Rhys but more complex dialogue options. This trade off feels good, actually. When Rhys is at the helm, you’ll be summoning down loader bots and hacking databases, and when Fiona is in charge, you’ll be sweet talking your way past guards just to shoot them in the back.
The U.I. does fail in one critical aspect though–the mouse cursor is usually black or grey with a black outline. Sometimes it will light up teal when you hover over an option but otherwise it’s still this dark and barely noticeable arrow. This is a real problem when playing on the PC version. It’s nearly impossible to figure out where your cursor is on screen. I would frequently find my dialogue sequences timing out because I couldn’t locate my mouse cursor in order to click the option I wanted. It’s also frustrating that your choices are presented as a sort of top down list, rather than the big four boxes that you saw in games like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us . Everything is just a little bit more finicky in this game and I’m not sure why. I had to play in windowed mode and moved my cursor outside of the game window just to figure out where it was for every choice I had to make.
Finally, Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 1 – Zero Sum also shakes up the Telltale formula a bit by adding a couple extra game mechanics. For example, Rhys has the ability to go into first person and scan the world with his computer eye. It works a lot like the way it did in Metroid Prime , as scanning objects around you gives you more information on them, as well as more jokes, and can get you special items or new dialogue options in the future.
Fiona’s big change to gameplay is cash. She starts with a meager 10 dollars and through her decisions can end up with more. She can then spend that money to bribe people in special dialogue options, or to buy interesting items. For example, at one point in the game she needs to pick up a bandit mask to disguise herself, and more money could give you a rarer more badass mask.
There’s also a couple other interesting twists to the gameplay here. You’ll many times find guns and items lying around, with their classic Borderlands pillar of light marking their rarity. Players who know that orange means legendary will likely go for these first and that changes how the game plays out. Inventory plays a much bigger role in this game, and at times you’ll even be able to select loadouts of loader bots that will fight on your side. There is just something so incredibly Borderlands -y about the game, and that’s what makes is so great.
I will say that Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 1 – Zero Sum didn’t immediately grab me as a must see piece of game art like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us did. However, it did grab me as a well written piece of game comedy, and those might be even rarer than the dramas, horrors, and mysteries we have seen throughout gaming’s history. Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 1 – Zero Sum is undeniably fun, and I can’t wait to see what further episodes bring. Until them, I AM THE CAPTAIN OF THIS POOP TRAIN! I’M GOING TO FILL YOU UP WITH BEES AND PLAY YOU LIKE A HARMONICA!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
Very good graphics with an unfortunately lacking U.I. 4.0 Control
Once again the point and click nature of the game works fine but the hard to see cursor ruins some of the experience. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Incredible performances all around. 4.5 Play Value
Well it has me hooked. I can’t wait to see the next episode. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best