Telltale Games has made itself a household name in the world of gaming through its adaptations of pop culture franchises. From their early work converting now-defunct humour site Homestar Runner into Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People, they’ve evolved through movies like Jurassic Park, TV shows like The Walking Dead and comics like The Wolf Among Us to have gained a great reputation for taking existing properties and making them visceral and emotional in ways never before seen. Now, they’ve struck again, in their first attempt to spin off both a game series not regarded as adventure fodder and one which is still ongoing.
Tales from the Borderlands tells the story of Rhys, a Hyperion employee who, after a demotion to the ranks of Assistant Vice Janitor, steals his boss’s car and takes to the dangerous of wastes of the planet Pandora (not that one) with the intention of defrauding a trader out of a Vault key giving access to untold treasure.
Comparisons to Grim Fandango in the basic setup notwithstanding, the game basically runs on a new story contained within the Borderlands world, which is the best possible way to produce this sort of adaptation. It allows new players to jump straight in without having played the previous two games, but the same world means it can drop in nods towards things familiar players will know. Compare this to the approach of many other remakes or reimaginings, which either rub the player’s face in nostalgia with which they may not be familiar or throw in a load of new elements which players of the originals hate. Not so here.
The gameplay consists of the standard Telltale format. A string of in-engine cel-shaded cutscenes play out, in between which the characters can move around limited arenas interacting with objects to find their way to the next story event. It’s about as deep and varied as a baking tray full of tap water, and what puzzles there are tend to be based more around clicking the right thing or completing quick time events, which aren’t challenging tests of intellectual ability.
But the sun goes up, the tides go in and out, and gamers complain about Telltale games not containing proper puzzles (with the exception of Sam and Max). It’s the way of the world, and although it may be annoying it doesn’t actually detract much from the fun of the game. The joy of Tales from the Borderlands is not in puzzle completion, but from its writing and the occasional giant robot fight.
Oh yeah, there are giant robot fights. In a rather scripted but still awesome scene early on, the woefully out-of-their-depth protagonists land on Pandora and find themselves ambushed by raiders. They summon the customised and chaingun-armed LoaderBot to protect them, resulting in several buckets of what we can only assume was red paint being splattered all over the walls and floor.
The cel-shaded graphical style always came across in previous Telltale games as either a way to make adventure games on the cheap without HD textures or high-poly models. But here, more so even than in the comic-based The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us games, the graphical style matches the source material almost exactly. It feels not so much like a spin-off as an extension of the Borderlands universe, and is genuinely an enticement to see what the rest of the games offer.
Some excellent voice and script work has gone into the game, and not a single line comes across as lazy or poorly performed. It’s approaching the convergence point of film and video game which David Cage, despite grandiose claims and endless disappointment, has never quite managed to achieve.
Tales From The Borderlands is a game for people who want to laugh and watch fun fight scenes taking place in the backside of a futuristic world. It’s not a searing work of intellectual genius, but it’s fun, funny and moreish, like a bad 1980s action film. With the Borderlands franchise expanded to four games and looking as though it’s here to stay, Tales from the Borderlands provides a great entry point for newbies without too many spoilers, as well as a brilliant morsel of back story for seasoned players.