Tales From The Bor­der­lands: S1

360, An­droid, iOS, PC

EDGE - - GAMES -

Decades af­ter the orig­i­nal dis­ap­point­ments, call­ing a game an in­ter­ac­tive movie tends to be less a de­scrip­tion than an as­sas­si­na­tion. With Tales From The Bor­der­lands, how­ever, Tell­tale of­fers as good a de­fence as any­one’s ever made for sit­ting back and en­joy­ing a ride where any­thing is pos­si­ble, pro­vided you can ham­mer a QTE ac­tion but­ton quickly enough.

Call­ing it a movie isn’t quite right, in fairness. Like most of Tell­tale’s games, it’s closer to tele­vi­sion in terms of pac­ing, va­ri­ety and char­ac­ter, only with far more of a de­sire to not be a reg­u­lar show, but your favourite show. Like its char­ac­ters, it of­ten suc­ceeds de­spite it­self, through charm and wit and mo­men­tum, bounc­ing from set-piece to set-piece with an in­fec­tious con­fi­dence that makes it easy to ig­nore how lit­tle you’re usu­ally con­tribut­ing ex­cept laugh­ter. The stan­dard Tell­tale gripes are all here, it’s sim­ply harder to care dur­ing a com­edy than in the more muted drama of The Wolf Among Us or Game Of Thrones.

No knowl­edge or en­joy­ment of Bor­der­lands is re­quired here – in fact, many of Tales’ big­gest fans don’t like the orig­i­nals much at all. This is very much its own game, flesh­ing out the world of Pan­dora and its evil cor­po­rate over­lords and show­ing it from a far more in­ter­est­ing an­gle. You’re not a hard-as-nails team of Vault Hun­ters this time, but a gang of screw-ups and sch­mucks led by the two main char­ac­ters: ar­ro­gant but good-na­tured salary­man Rhys, and cow­girl-style con­woman Fiona. Both are, of course, seek­ing the trea­sures of one of Pan­dora’s cursed Vaults. This time, though, the quest for for­tune isn’t built on shoot­ing, but wit, friend­ship, es­pi­onage, and pulling off the oc­ca­sional sui­ci­dal heist as time per­mits.

The five-episode arc tells a great story, with the only real frus­tra­tion com­ing from the mo­ments where the ac­tion briefly as­pires to be more in­volved than it is, iron­i­cally act­ing as a re­minder of how much more Tell­tale would be ca­pa­ble of were it not so wed­ded to its tem­plate. There’s also a run­ning theme of col­lect­ing money, which threat­ens to be­come a part of de­ci­sion making, but can also be used to buy new in-game cos­tumes or sim­i­lar cos­metic tweaks, such as car­a­van paint jobs. Just as Tales stum­bles on new me­chan­ics with po­ten­tial, how­ever, it drops them and re­treats to the com­fort of con­ver­sa­tions and QTEs.

Hap­pily, the con­tent in those sec­tions is good enough to for­give many sins. From the first episode’s ex­tended se­quence dur­ing a chaotic death race to each episode’s glo­ri­ously chore­ographed mu­si­cal in­tro, Tell­tale knocks the cutscenes out of the park. Voice ac­tors Troy Baker and Laura Bai­ley both bring their A-game to Rhys and Fiona, with Tell­tale’s writ­ing and an­i­ma­tion teams let­ting the char­ac­ter mod­els act their hearts out, whether they’re do­ing gags or go­ing through one of the more som­bre mo­ments that cast the laughs into proper re­lief, making the story more than just a re­lent­lessly goofy com­edy.

In par­tic­u­lar, Tales em­braces the need for a cin­e­matic game to feel cin­e­matic, show­ing Rhys and Fiona’s plans with Hustle-style demon­stra­tions of ev­ery­thing go­ing far bet­ter than ev­ery­one knows it’s go­ing to, as well as cheery breaks from re­al­ity. This hap­pens a lot, not least be­cause both char­ac­ters are vet­eran BS artists telling a story to a mys­te­ri­ous bounty hunter who has them at gun­point. Not that it stops them snip­ing at each other con­stantly over what went wrong, or try­ing to steal the credit.

It’s a game full of glo­ri­ous lit­tle touches, which en­cour­ages you to pick the fun­nier choice – both be­cause, un­like The Walk­ing Dead, you know it all turns out es­sen­tially OK, and be­cause it’s far more fun to see Rhys des­per­ately try to throt­tle a guard who’s too amused by his sad at­tempt to mind all that much, or for Fiona to spit sar­casm at en­e­mies at gun­point. Other high­lights in­clude a char­ac­ter get­ting shot with a par­a­lytic and spend­ing a whole episode only able to move their eyes and be­ing treated like a prop by their sup­posed friends, and a trip to Hype­r­ion’s or­bital HQ to take part in the most glo­ri­ously over-the-top fin­ger-gun bat­tle since the sec­ond se­ries of Spaced. All of this silli­ness is also why the lim­ited choices tend to work. They’re not, for the most part, is­sues of moral­ity but of fun, and the QTEs that sur­round them are en­joy­able enough in con­cept to get past the lim­ited in­ter­ac­tions. An early ex­am­ple in­volves Rhys hav­ing a col­league send him a guardian – a Loader-Bot, whose grow­ing hu­man­ity and weari­ness soon makes it Tales’ break­out star – with the op­tion to kit it out with your choice of gear. It’s ob­vi­ous that what­ever you choose will work, but that doesn’t mean choos­ing and see­ing the out­come isn’t en­ter­tain­ing in it­self.

To some ex­tent, though, it’s hard not to feel a lit­tle guilty about that. All the run­ning is­sues with Tell­tale’s cur­rent de­sign tem­plate re­main. There are no puzzles, no chal­lenge; the only real in­ter­ac­tions are the same but­ton-mash­ing minigame a hun­dred times over, along with oc­ca­sional choices that never af­fect as much as they feel like they should.

On its own terms, Tales From The Bor­der­lands is one of Tell­tale’s best works yet. Each of the five two-hour­long episodes flies past, to the point that it’s dif­fi­cult to find time to pause and com­plain about the lapses un­til it’s over, at which point there are far more en­ter­tain­ing things to think about. It’s funny. It’s dra­matic. It’s great fun to catch a ride with Rhys and Fiona as they plun­der the Bor­der­lands for all they’ve got. The en­ter­tain­ment value is a bit of a con-trick at heart, but it’s a damn fine trick and one there’s no shame in be­ing sucked in by while the il­lu­sion lasts.

It’s funny. It’s dra­matic. It’s fun to catch a ride with Rhys and Fiona as they plun­der the Bor­der­lands for all they’ve got

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