To be frank, I’m jealous and angry regarding the people who get to play play Tales From The Borderlands via Xbox Live Gold this month. Jealous they get to experience the game for the first time, and angry they waited to long to do so. Where were you?
Tales From The Borderlands is an episodic and comedic adventure game with branching paths, tough choices, hilarious consequences, a healthy dose of heart and a dash of Chris Hardwick for good measure. If you’ve played it, you know that’s downplaying it.
If you haven’t played it, you will soon learn Tales From The Borderlands is Telltale’s crowning achievement. Across five episodes the series is always subversive, touching, weird, laugh-out-loud funny, and self-aware.
Comedy is something ‘Telltale 2.0’ had never really tried before – and they totally knocked out of the park. At the time of release, Telltale’s only two games in this format were The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us. Both operated in a grimy world of despair and omnipresent oppression; be it the existential threat of zombies, or a grim-gritty-dark 1980s aesthetic where characters are terrified of being found out. Both games were excellent, but neither were funny. At all.
In contrast, here’s what our first look at Tales From The Borderlands was:
As you can tell, Tales From The Borderlands is 100% a comedy. It absolutely succeeds in bringing the funny with gags that come from the juxtaposition of character, aided by quality – and often times subtle – visual storytelling.
One of the game’s funniest moments comes in the fourth episode via the simple grimace of a character as she pops into frame, looking you dead in the eye as you make eyes at someone else. The death glare she gives speaks volumes about her character, her opinion of *your* character, and her opinion of your opinion of another character.
Oh, and this moment occurs during a parody of the Apollo 13 / The Right Stuff / Armageddon ‘epic approach to the spacecraft’ cliche, meaning the joke exists within another joke – and is then compounded by a third joke immediately after it, all the while somehow maintaining the kind of grandeur you’d expect from a group of people about to travel into space. Talk about incredible command of tone.
Seriously, just watch this sequence:
(Director Martin Montgomery deserves a 300 percent raise and a statue for these 4 minutes alone)
And that’s just one brief example. In no particular order, Tales From The Borderlands features a spot-on Power Rangers parody, a finger-gun fight straight out of ‘Spaced’, a ‘deal with it’ meme reference, two instances of eye-ball extraction, a gun-pooping statue, a death race, an emotional monologue about friendship (eat your heart out, Spock), a far too long bro-love fest (fist bumps and all), and much, much, much, more.
It feels almost like a culmination. With The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, Telltale wanted to deliver quality melodrama, akin to what you’d see on basic cable television. Serious, thoughtful stories about men and women and magical frogs striving to survive; almost as a proof of concept – would gamers accept an adventure game primarily about people and choices, and not puzzles?
When the answer turned out to be a resounding yes, Tales From Borderlands decided to toss everything but the basic framework out the window. This title took risks. Risks regarding its two-protagonist structure, risks in how it handled the fates of beloved Borderlands characters, and risks regarding its licensed – but obscure – soundtrack – seriously if you don’t want to join a hair metal band after episode 4 you’re dead to me.
The risks all paid off resulting in a quality comedy adventure with a lot of heart and humanity. If you’re a fan of someone like Edgar Wright’s ability to punch you in the gut hysterically *and* emotionally – visually as well as via dialog, you’d best Catch A Riiiiide with Tales From The Borderlands immediately.