Monday, November 23, 2015

Games Review: Tales from the Borderlands and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequal

It's fair to say I'm a big fan of the Borderlands series of games. Over the last few years I've got a lot of play out of both Borderlands and Borderlands 2, mostly playing co-op with a freind, so the gaming experience has been greatly enhanced by good company and the occasional outburst of mutual competance. It's a series that has an emphasis on pace, humour, and a lot of loot, and Borderlands 2, especially, managed to bring all it's disparate elements together in a mechanically solid, and flashily entertaining way. This year I've had a double bill of the Borderlands universe, with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, and the more offbeat Tales from the Borderlands. They've very different experiences. 

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel 
First up, we have co-oped out way through a prequel game, not made by the usual Gearbox team, and somewhat inevitably feeling a little worse the wear for it. The Pre-Sequel is set before the events of Borderlands, told in flashback from after the end of Borderlands 2, and in it's smarter moments works to tie the two games disjointed narrative together. The flashback structure allows interjections from the returning cast, which is a nice touch, but these feel stacked very much towards the beginning and end of the game, and vanish for large stretches in the middle. 

As usual you have a choice of playable Vault Hunters with differing powers, all characters from the earlier/later games, and two of which end up a villians. The story is, in many ways, the origin story for Borderlands 2 arch-villian Handsome Jack, and as players you wind up being responsible for much of his rise to power. The better bits of the story work with that foreknowedge in mind,  which is nice for series veterans like me, but probably less so if it's a starting point. Thats prequels for you though. 

I guess the best and worst thing I can say about The Pre-Sequel is that it's "just" more Borderlands. Sure, it's set on the moon and has a low gravity and air reserves mechanic, but neither feel sufficiently game-changing to be interesting. Most of the creatures you meet are straight-forward reskins, and the new Energy Weapons are fine, but again, not really game changing so much as a change in noise when you fire them. The root of the game is solid, and the outlandish black humour comes through, but by the end I think we were feeling done with the franchise for now; at least until Borderlands 3 (as yet unannounced, by c'mon!) arrives. 

Tales from the Borderlands
At the other extreme, we have Tales from the Borderlands, from Telltale Games. If you've ever played a Telltale game, you'll know that they are far from the Borderlands gameplay style as you can get really; story-based games with branching choices, intersperced with pretty straightforward quick-time events. Telltale are about character, about the journey, about telling you a good story. How was this going to work? Pretty well, as it turns out. 

Tales from the Borderlands is a two handed between Rhys, a corporate drone, and Fiona, a grifter. The story is framed by the two of them being captured by a mysterious stranger who seems to know them, and makes them tell him their story. The narrative then flips between them, starting with how they got caught up in the hunt for a vault, and then each other, and then the unlikely alliance - and dare we say freindship - that ensues. With all Telltale games; you'll get to roughly the same places in the end, whichever choice to make, but the relationships at the end could be notably different. 

So whilst you don't get showered in guns and loot, what Tales does capture is the worlds sense of humour. It's really, really funny, and clever and sweet, and the cast are excellent all around. Being able to interact with Pandora with more than just a collection of guns actually makes it feel more like a world, and the presentation - from the great opening credits, to the framing of the set-peices and action elements - is top notch. It also handles the existing games much better than The Pre-sequal does, referencing them when it needs to, but I never felt I needed pre-knowledge to know what was going on. Even returning characters are well explained in the plot. 

So if you're a fan of the Borderlands series, play both, I guess. But if you had to choose - play Tales from the Borderlands, it's properly great.