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Tales From The Borderlands (MA-15+)
Tested on PlayStation 4
Also on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows, iOS, Android
Copy purchased (PlayStation Plus subscription)
I do love me some Borderlands, so any excuse to dive back into Gearbox’s shoot-and-loot universe works for me. Having played through Telltale Games’ Batman earlier in the week, I also had Tales From The Borderlands sitting in my PlayStation Plus queue, so fired it up this week and returned to Pandora.
Tales is set after the events of Borderlands 2. A mysterious stranger has captured Rhys, a middle-manager trying to work his way up the corporate ladder at Hyperion Corporation, and Fiona, one of a pair of con-artist sisters.
Rhys’ rival, Vasquez, had stolen a promotion out from under him and demoted him to “vice-assistant janitor.” Rhys decides to hijack a side deal Vasquez is doing that could land him a key to one of Pandora’s legendary Vaults. Sure, it’ll take two buddies at Hyperion to wire millions of dollars in cash and supplies to make it happen, but it’s only temporary embezzlement, right?
Meanwhile, Fiona and Sasha have spent their whole lives telling creative lies for fun and profit, and under the guidance of long-time mentor Felix, a long con appears about to pay off. Nothing on Pandora goes smoothly, however, and once Rhys and Fiona’s paths meet, the story really gets going.
As with any good heist story the deal goes south and the pair, along with Sasha and Rhys’ workmate Vaughn, have to try to survive run-ins with local bandits, heavily-armed militia, even more heavily-armed Vault Hunters, and Rhys’ boss hot on their tails. Some of the story is told in flashback, as the two argue with their captor about what really happened in each sequence; it appears both can be unreliable narrators. There are some cameos from established characters as they cross paths, although you don’t get to play ‘as’ any of the Vault Hunters from the full games; rather, Tales is its own, unconnected story.
Much like my previous review (Batman: The Telltale Series), Tales From The Borderlands isn’t heavy on involved gameplay, preferring to focus on telling its story. The ‘series’ is divided into five episodes that were originally released separately (and apparently experienced some delays in the process). You alternately play as Rhys or Fiona, depending on the scene; sometimes you’ll switch between characters in the same sequence, while at other times they will go their separate ways and have chapters to themselves.
You get choices during conversations that will either impress or discourage other characters, and a few scenes are totally different depending on the choices you make along the way; dialogue changes depending on the choices you make, and using certain items in the early episodes means you won’t have them available later. That said, there don’t appear to be any choices that will screw you over later on- players of old Sierra games will know what I’m talking about there. There’s always another way to resolve each conflict.
In true Borderlands fashion, “another way” often means gunfire, although Tales doesn’t have any of the FPS elements of its source material. There are fight sequences but these are just a sequence of quick-time events- press the button it tells you to and you’ll be fine, mistime it and you’ll sometimes get hurt. A few sequences allow you to ‘pre-plan’ your route through the level- you still need to get the button prompts right but mapping out how you’ll take down a room full of mooks, then watching the scene play out, is quite satisfying. The game seems fairly generous with its timing, too, and even though some of the reflex tests will see your character killed if you fail, it saves your progress frequently enough that mistakes don’t get frustrating.
The art style sticks much more closely to its source- the comic-book-style shading will be familiar to Borderlands players and doesn’t seem out of place (unlike in Batman where it looked a bit unfortunate at times). This could be because Borderlands plays for laughs most of the time; the characters are already a bit cartoony and not super-serious so they’re allowed to look a bit goofy when drawn and animated.
As per my Batman review, Tales is also extremely generous if you’re hunting Achievements or Trophies- completing all five episodes is enough to get you all the Trophies or Gamerscore the game has to offer, and these aren’t affected by your choices. You can probably burn through the series in about 8 or 9 hours, or you can break the game down into its individual episodes and play for an hour or two at a time.
I probably enjoyed this one a little more than season 1 of Batman. Borderlands‘ humour can be a bit cringeworthy at times and reliant on pop-culture references, but there were more than a few moments in Tales that made me laugh out loud, and that was enough to get a recommendation out of me. Plus you have to at least play to episode 4 to see the single greatest gunfight in video game history- or possibly the silliest. But either way, it’s worth it.