Tales from the Borderlands review - a solid dose of humor

Author: Jakub Mirowski
Date: 2015-10-21 13:00:00
The review was based on the PC version.

Regardless of what you think about Telltale Games - and this studio can be both loved and hated - Californian developers must be honored. Having in hand two seasons of The Walking Dead , Wolf Among Us and Game of Thrones , i.e. titles set in universes conducive to serious themes, they set about the absurd, crazy world created by Gearbox Software, thus returning to the comedy atmosphere of the times of Sam & Max , which was neither the safest nor the most profitable movement. And yet, the move ultimately did the best for developers and players alike: Tales from the Borderlands feels like the first game since Wolf Among Us that Telltale Games has enjoyed working on with real pleasure.

However, let's start with a short remark - we all know what to expect from the Californian studio in terms of gameplay, so I won't complain too much about extreme minimalism in this aspect. Nobody expected that Tales from the Borderlands, due to the source material from an adventure game based on dialogues and choices, would suddenly become an adrenaline-filled "Call of Killzonefield" . However, it must be honestly admitted that there is much more action here than in previous games by this developer: even in slightly quieter episodes you have to grab the mouse and keyboard from time to time to shoot or perform a simple QTE. This highlights the final episode in which you can even die once or twice without losing your dignity - which of course does not change the fact that the game is still extremely easy.

Telltale Games tries to diversify the gameplay a bit, mainly by offering different views from the perspective of two completely different heroes . Rhys is an employee of the Hyperion Corporation, trying to get revenge on his boss for taking his rightful position and humiliating him; Fiona is a fraud who has spent her entire life on Pandora and is currently setting up the most spectacular of her scams to date. Their fates connect when both of these plans fail. From now on, this distrustful, temporary tandem must work together not to die at the hands of mercenaries, bandits and the exciting fauna inhabiting this hostile planet. Of course, both have different skills: Rhys can hack electronic devices and scan the environment, which is helped by the Echo Eye - a special device implanted in his eye. In turn, Fiona, as a born kleptomaniac, collects all the banknotes that she can get her hands on, thanks to which, during the game, new dialogue options appear (rarely), of course related to bribing the interlocutor, as well as the possibility of changing the car or clothes. It's hard to call these improvements revolutionary, but it's nice to see that Telltale has gained any new features - although even with them, the gameplay layer is still extremely poor.

It is easy to turn a blind eye to this, because compared to other projects by this studio, Tales from the Borderlands stands out with one key element: humor. If the game had failed in this respect, it would have failed all along, so I am pleased to report that while Californians have been dealing with rather grim stories these days, they have not become very skilled at comedy. Although at times you can feel the seriousness and the desire to play on emotions, it is much more surprising, absurd and with a pinch of salt . This is a production that made me laugh loudly from time to time (which must have looked quite interesting, considering that I often played in public places) and every now and then made me smile with references to the Borderlands universe, such as corporate names or vertical shafts of light, beating with items that can be taken. Real gems, however, happen during dialogues - in order not to laugh at a few moments, you need to have a surgically cut sense of humor.

Heroes also do theirs. We spend most of our time with Rhys and his friend Vaughn, as well as siblings Fiona and Sasha - there is hardly a character in this quartet that would not be liked. Telltale Games' most powerful guns are, however, in the background. Here is Vasquez, whom I wanted to stab with a spoon throughout the game, the mercenary duo Kroger and Finch, the utterly crazy Shade, the gangster Bossanova with powerful loudspeakers on his chest and, above all, the Loader Bot - an extremely polite robot with a love of philosophy and an amazing talent for saving others out of trouble. The new heroes really made the developers successful, which, unfortunately, cannot always be said about the performances of those we have already seen in Borderlands . Zer0 or Scooter add charm to the story, but for example Athena is extremely stiff and does not fit well with the comedic mood. I also have doubts about the participation of Handsome Jack in this story (and yes, he does appear, and for good reason) - he is a great character and here he shows his claw a few times, but whether it was really possible to create a fresh, equally ingenious one in this universe? the arch-villain?

One of the biggest advantages of the new creation by Telltale Games is a good understanding of the universe in which the story takes place. Fans of Gearbox Software do not appreciate it only for its explosive action, but above all for its atmosphere, for a world full of bizarre situations, absurd sense of humor and colorful characters - and you will get all this in a more condensed dose here as well. There is power, the heroes in which we could play in particular parts of the Borderlands series return like boomerangs, and in general, everyone who had fun with the positions from this series will feel at home here - although knowledge of the events from the original games is not obligatory . You can see that this is a production created with passion, which the developers themselves had fun with. Well, at least for most of the story.

Real men - and if you trust the list of creators, the ugly sex dominates in Telltale Games - because you get to know them after they finish, and the last episode of Tales from the Borderlands, unfortunately, does not show an equal level. For the first half of it, I thought that just before the finish, the authors suddenly lost all their enthusiasm . A large part of this episode gives the impression of being put together quickly, as if it was suddenly realized that in two hours a whole lot of interesting events must be packed here - which in turn means that many plots have been neglected. The most important twists can be predicted two weeks in advance, and the whole thing has the ending stretched out like the third movie The Lord of the Rings . On the other hand, Telltale Games shows that even in comedy he can play on emotions extremely skillfully - this is by far the most serious episode of all five, which could be treated as a disadvantage, if not for the fact that there are still plenty of humorous elements here. The dialogues are still disarming, and the references to Pacific Rim or Power Rangers made me immediately feel this mocking tone of the endgame. After a really mid-way start to the final episode, his final act turns out to be entertaining and packed with great action, a worthy culmination of Rhys and Fiona's story.

Traditionally, in Telltale Games we deal with great acting. The duo of the main characters was played exceptionally solid, but if like me you already have enough of Troy Baker in every new game, you will probably be disappointed. Once again, the studio shows its true strength with supporting characters. True, there are those that could certainly be presented better - say Yvette - while others do not make a special impression, but there are absolute gems. Vasquez has a voice and manner that makes him automatically want to tear his throat out, Finch and Kroger are the ornaments of every episode, and Dameon Clarke as Handsome Jack ... just keeps up the level of the previous parts, which is enough to make him an undisputed star most of the scenes in which it appears.

Unfortunately, the visuals do not make such a positive impression. Telltale games have a distinctive, comic book style (basically in line with the Borderlands style) that shouldn't age, but won't last too long without corrections. Character models can be great and it's hard to fault them, but the animations already require thorough changes - most of the characters move so stiffly as if they had a terrible car accident recently and have not yet recovered from a few months in plaster. And that's not the end of complaints: several times in each episode, there are textures that many developers would have been ashamed of a decade ago . I understand that the productions of this studio are based on history and atmosphere, but without even minor improvements, they start to get ugly.