Developer / Publisher: Telltale Games
Tales from Borderlands is rich with wonder and mystery, but the most nagging question you'll be asking throughout this point-and-click version of Pandora is, what's the point?
There's the obvious answer, of course: this is a Telltale game; and after knocking it out of the park with The Walking Dead (and to a lesser extent The Wolf Among Us and Game of Thrones), the studio has earned a reputation for spinning pop culture franchises into point-and-click gold. Then there's the fact Gearbox Software's Borderlands universe – like Telltale's past muses – is teeming with new and interesting stories to tell.
This explains why Telltale picked Borderlands and why any gamer with good taste should feel compelled to check it out. Still, after 4 hours of half heartedly tapping one or two buttons through the series' debut episode, Zer0 Sum, you might yet have trouble determining what kind of game Tales From Borderlands wants to be (or if it even wants to be a game at all).
Whatever it is, Tales from Borderlands has style. Gearbox's off-kilter universe is captured with almost pitch perfect accuracy, and Zer0 Sum sets up an odd-ball, over-the-top, sci-fi adventure that fits in snugly with Borderlands lore. In it, you'll split your time between playing two characters, Rhys and Fiona, who cross paths after a Vault Key purchase goes south. Despite their seemingly disparate backgrounds – Rhys being a Hyperion employee out for petty revenge and Fiona being a Pandoran scam artist out for a quick buck – both are the kind of lovable rogues who have a knack for falling ass-backwards into ridiculous situations. Which they do. A lot.
To say anything more would be giving away some of the game's many satisfying twists and surprises. Needless to say, events in Zer0 Sum have a way of snowballing from bad to “holy crap we're dead” real fast and you'll run into more than a few Borderlands celebrities along the way (spoiler: one of them is in the episode's title).
It's a good thing the story is so strong, too, because despite the game's efforts to cast gamers in a meaningful role, Zer0 Sum saves the best scenes for itself. Yeah, you'll see loads of interesting people and locations and you'll witness a fair share of action scenes, but your actual part in the whole mess is largely reduced to bare-bones QTE events, extremely light puzzle solving (move box, enter vent), and pointing Rhys or Fiona in the direction of the next dialogue sequence.
To be fair, when Zer0 Sum takes a shot at being a game, it does it well. An intense Loader Bot battle at the beginning hints at more twitch-shooting sequences to come, and the final “boss” encounter succeeds at making rote QTE actions feel important. Aside from these rare moments of gameplay, however, Zer0 Sum still feels as though it's happy doing its own thing while occasionally looking back at the screen and saying, “Oh, you're still here? Fine, press this.”
More troubling still is that when the game remembers you're in the room, your actions don't appear to amount to much. In one seemingly do-or-die stealth scenario, for example, you'll be instructed to sneak up on a guard, subdue him with a QTE sequence, and hack a nearby terminal. That all sounds dangerous and game-ending, except failure to correctly pull off the QTE event (or even press a single button) results in the enemy killing himself. Oh, and that potentially cool hacking mini-game? Here's a protip: select “hack”.
Even your dialogue choices don't appear to have much influence – at least, not yet anyways. Despite the game's warning that everything Rhys or Fiona says will have a ripple effect on the events to come, and even though the game displays a “so-and-so will remember that” reminder after nearly every dialogue scene, there's little evidence that anyone is listening.
For instance, in one scene I was role-playing Rhys as a complete asshole, yet was later told I couldn't be trusted because I act too professional. In another, I was given an elaborate background story that I was told – in no uncertain terms – was vital to earning the trust of a Pandoran outlaw. Out of curiosity, I decided to flunk every one of his questions to see how he would react and if it was indeed possible to “lose”. Sure enough, instead of eating a bullet or failing the scene, an excuse was made on my behalf by another character and the game continued along as if I'd bothered to take my objective seriously.
In short: if dialogue choices really matter, Zer0 Sum does little to prove it. Likely, my idiot role-playing will come back to bite me in the ass later, but in this episode they don't carry much weight.
So if the most of the real action leaves players sidelined, and there are virtually no puzzles to solve, and the dialogue mechanic is more-or-less window dressing, the question remains: what's the point? After all, there are not shortage of Borderlands games that scratch the itch for real action, and there are plenty of Telltale games that offer more to do. The optimist in me believes the point is that Zer0 Sum is merely laying the groundwork for what will become a larger, more involved adventure (and indeed, you get the impression it is). The cynic in me, however, thinks Telltale coded a wonderfully engaging Borderlands movie and remembered at the very end that they were suppose to be making a game.
Thankfully, Zer0 Sum's story is strong enough to generate interest for the next episode, and those brief flashes of gameplay are compelling enough to keep fans on the hook. That said, if this debut episode is indeed supposed to be an opening tutorial of sorts, here's hoping Telltale takes the training wheels off soon.
The next to the last episode in the Telltale Games ‘Nest of Vipers’ will be released on July 21st for the PC, Mac, PS4, PS3 and be available for download through Steam, PSN, and other distributors. The Xbox Game Store will get it the next day on the 22nd, and on the 23rd you will be able to download it to your iOS or Android device.
‘Nest of Vipers’ is set in Westeros, the world created by George R.R. Martin and follows the Forrester line during the War of the Five Kings, and is played from the point of view of five different Forresters. If you are a Game of Thrones SuperFan who had read the books more than once (guilty as charged) and owns all the seasons on Blu-ray (guilty again!) and you still need your fix as you wait for The Winds of Winter (book 6 of the series) to come out head over to Telltale Games and check it out!
After the phenomenal three episodes of Telltales “The Walking Dead: Season 2”, it was about time that we experienced our 'breather' episode. Just like any form of episodic storytelling, there comes a time where events seem to slow down in order for the audience to catch their breath.
Although this episode has turned down the excitement factor a notch, that doesn't mean to say that we weren't treated to a lack of drama. The stakes were as high as ever for Clementine and her rag tag group, but for the majority of Episode 4 we were experiencing the calmer side to the zombie apocalypse with intermittent bursts of violence and difficult choices.
Throughout the episode, we experienced Clementine dealing with loss once more. Telltale has become renowned for making each death feel purposeful to the narrative as well as the consequences. As an audience we become attached to the supporting cast, which in turn makes each decision all the more gut wrenching and saddening.
However, 'Amid the Ruins' fails to capitalise on the successes of previous episodes, and manages to make each consequence feel cheap and lacking any form of emotional depth. It's almost as if the writers realised the supporting cast was too big for their story, and used Episode 4 as an excuse to get rid of the extra baggage.
Characters were dropping like flies left and right in rapid succession. So rapid in fact, that there was hardly any time to dwell on the choices you made; and in some instances the characters vanished off screen, leaving you feeling unsatisfied and previous episode choices hollow and unnecessary.
Moving on from the unsatisfying take on character deaths, we see Clementine spending the majority of the episode with the unknown character Jane who we met in Episode 3. Through Jane we get a chance to witness the pros (and cons) of surviving as an individual, which brings up the question of how important it is to have family in this new world. Should Clementine be bogged down with the groups responsibilities or take the route of Jane? It's almost as if Jane is what Clementine would be if she went alone and turned her back on the group.
The majority of tensions and conflicts that arose in previous episodes were disappointingly swept under the rug as the group began to focus on new problems. Unfortunately, that made me question whether or not my previous choices made an impact and dampened the idea that previous decisions would effect future episodes.
On top of these minor inconveniences throughout Episode 4, there were some brilliant scenes between Clementine and specific characters. One such scene revolving around suicide and the other concerning the decision to leave someone behind. Again as brilliant as these scenes were, they were never fully resolved and instead swept under the rug and replaced with new dilemmas.
Overall, Episode 4 of Telltales 'The Walking Dead: Season 2' was a lacklustre effort from the storytellers. Previous decisions and consequences felt useless and evaporated without resolution, only to be replaced with new problems that Clementine had little influence on.
These nagging problems overshadowed some key scenes that proved once again how brilliant the writers of the game are. Although the suspense from the previous episodes has all but fizzled out, I am still hopeful that the Season 2 finale will do the game justice.