Tales From The Borderlands Review
Tales from the Borderlands places an interactive fiction game in the universe created by the popular shooter franchise. Now there are a few implications in that opening sentence that we should probably address right off the top. Tales from the Borderlands in no way tries to take Telltale Games' interactive adventure formula and try to turn it into a shooter. That's good news to those who have enjoyed Telltale's games in the past, and not so good news for those who were hoping to shoot a lot of skags and psychos with a dizzying array of weaponry. From a story perspective, Borderlands players will certainly be at an advantage with their prior knowledge on all things Pandora, and the game doesn't shy away from adding plenty of little references and inside jokes for their enjoyment. Those new to Borderlands should do just fine as the game does enough to bring you up to speed with Borderlands fiction and avoids intermingling the previous games' storylines by being set after the events of the Borderlands 2 (there was another Borderlands game released after Borderlands 2, but its events were set prior to those in the other games). Having personally played all of the Borderlands games I can't entirely promise that this will be the case for everyone, but with subconscious biases as aside as I can put them the game does feel like it delivers a self-contained narrative that can be enjoyed on its own.
As for that story, I will refrain from giving any specifics beyond the general setup since the fiction is a big part of an interactive fiction game. The game's story is related as "he said, she said" styled flashbacks told by Rhys, a mid-level manager at Hyperion Corp who conspired with his coworker Vaughn to get his hands on a key to an alien vault containing untold wealth, and Fiona, a street hustler who, along with her sister Sasha, saw an opportunity to take advantage of blind greed, as they are being unceremoniously led to an undisclosed location by a masked bounty hunter. It's not a typical narrative style for a game, but it works well here giving you the opportunity to play as two different protagonists and to see the story from both of their perspectives. It also leads to some humorous moments as some impressive story/gameplay moments are interrupted in short order by the other character protesting their accuracy and/or authenticity. The game's writing is both funny and sharp, and fits perfectly into the universe created by the Borderlands games. Borderlands players will be happy to revisit Pandora one more time and those new to the whole thing will probably be quickly sucked into it.
That being said, if story is the last thing that you look for in a game, then you should probably pass on Tales from the Borderlands. You will spend a lot of your time with the game watching the story unfold and listening to conversations between the characters. Interactive elements come into play when the game prompts you to select a conversational response, during action sequences that will prompt you to quickly enter the keystroke flashed on the screen or to move the mouse and click on a hotspot, or when you're left to explore a room or small area. When asked to pick a conversational response, you'll be given the choice of three different lines and a fourth option to say nothing. You'll have to select your response before a quickly moving timer counts down or you'll default to the "no response" response. You'll have to keep on your toes because you won't know when one of these response selection moments is coming; on more than one occasion I found myself scrambling to reach the keyboard or mouse because I had been become lost in watching the story unfold and forgotten on a conscious level that I was playing a game. Some responses merely elicit different replies from another character, but some carry an impact on the story itself. You won't be able to tell which is the case before selecting your response, but if it's the latter then you'll see a note on the screen informing you that a character took your response positively or negatively.
Action sequences require occasional input from you in the form of hitting the key that you are prompted to press or moving the mouse pointer to a target spot and clicking on it. In either case, you are given a very short time window to complete these actions. Just about all of the actions just require reaction on your part without any choices to make, but on rare occasions you'll have to decide which prompt to follow - think deciding whether to turn right or left during a chase) or be given an additional choice such as which type of elemental ammunition to use. For a game based on a shooter, there's very little shooting in the game, and the few moments that involve gunfire don't involve any more input from you than other actions so - just move the mouse cursor to the target hotspot and click. And should you miss a key press or click at a moment that would have otherwise prevented your demise the penalty for death is not severe. When you return to the game you'll be able to immediately pick it back up at the beginning of the failed sequence and give it another try.
Now how much all of this actually constitutes gameplay will depend a bit on your definition of the term. There aren't really any puzzles to solve as you'd find in an adventure game and the action sequences are exercises in pressing the same key that you see displayed on the screen. The game here is in driving the story and seeing where it goes based on the choices that you make when conversing with the other characters. There aren't alternate endings based on every choice you that you make - in fact, the game ultimately ends in the same place no matter what you do - but you will see different scenes based on your choices, and even help determine who is left alive and standing once you reach the end of the final chapter. For some gamers that will be enough, and in my case I found the story compelling and the writing both clever and interesting enough to keep me engaged and playing despite the fact that I was aware that I was as much, if not more, a viewer than a gamer during my time with Tales from the Borderlands. If you like a good story, or simply want to return to Pandora one more time, the game is easy to recommend. If you're looking for something that you actively play more than you watch, then you should probably pass on Tales from the Borderlands.
Final Rating: 86% - Tales indeed.