Posted Mon Jun 16, 2014 at 01:00 PM PDT by Brian Hoss
Unreliable narrators make for a slippery game.
Telltale Games is becoming more and more familiar to players thanks in large part the massive success of their two season 'The Walking Dead' series. Personally, I'm looking forward to the conclusion of their excellent, 'The Wolf Among Us.' The developer is on big hot streak and running wild with their current breakout take on adventure games. This success has allowed the company to hook none other than the phenomenal 'Game of Thrones' property, and we can expect that they will demonstrate their excellent interactive storytelling techniques when that series' first episode lands late this year.
But where the character-driven 'Game of Thrones' seems like a natural fit for the company that has instilled such endearment for character's like 'The Walking Dead's Clementine, the developer's next major project, the collaborative 'Tales From The Borderlands' has been one of those announced, yet question mark titles. A game with big names and big promises, but without much in the way public substance.
We've known that the player-character would not be your typical 'Borderlands' bad-ass vault hunter, and in fact it would alternate between two con-artist types in Rhys and Fiona. The game has also been said to take place after 'Borderlands 2,' and yet there have been hints that Handsome Jack would feature heavily in the story. And of course, unlike other 'Borderlands' titles, this game is not an FPS.
For better or worse, Telltale has been trying to explain exactly what the collaborative 'Tales From The Borderlands' is without outright spoiling it. At E3, I watched the first 30 minutes of the first episode being played, and this was done as demonstration with commentary. After which, much of the unexplained aspects of the title were made clear.
First of all, the game not only nails the look of 'Borderlands' in character, environment, and most signature of all, UI terms, but Pandora and Hyperion look the best that I have ever seen them look. Likewise, the humor of the 'Borderlands' series has been imported and kicked up a notch. And finally, this isn't just 'The Walking Dead' or 'The Wolf Among Us' with a 'Borderlands' paint job, the new game has some major new gameplay systems and a promising narrative structure unlike what we've seen in those other current titles.
Warning: Story Spoilers Follow
It seems that Telltale decided the best way to illustrate what to expect from the new series, was with a demonstration of one way to play the first thirty minutes. The game starts with the player character Rhys meeting up with someone on Pandora.
For now, we will just have to call this person the Intro Dude. Rhys is clearly a shady, smooth-talking type, while the Intro Dude is a bit more no-nonsense. Before much develops deal wise, the Intro Dude springs a talk showesque surprise on Rhys. The one person that Rhys has evidently sworn not to work with again, Fiona, is to be his co-worker in this new dreadful venture.
Fiona appears on scene, and her intro card lets us know that we will also eventually be playing as her. As Rhys and Fiona resume some grudge-worthy bickering, Rhys has no choice but to begin his account of past grievances. And suddenly, Pandora fades away as we jump to a day (the last day maybe) in Rhys' life on Hyperion.
Apparently, the power-vacuum at Hyperion left by Handsome Jack attracted the ambition of all sorts, including Rhys and another character, the Patrick Warburton voiced Hugo Vasquez. Vasquez is now in charge of the very pretty but in cold orbit Hyperion. In between moments of vehicle customization as Vasquez orders his new executive saloon (an extravagant golden armored hover car), Rhys is given the facts of life as explained by his new top boss. The sexist, egotistical, bullying diatribe starts the humor rolling, and meanwhile what appears to be Vasquez' last rival floats around in the space outside the CEO's window (as in the no one can hear you die space), punctuating Vasquez' threatening posture.
We meet Vaughn, Rhys' better part of valor friend, and Vasquez, in love with his own crapulence, let's slip that he's about to send money down to Pandora to make a buy on a vault key. (Rhys has a cybernetic eye that lets him learn some more of the meeting details.) From there, Rhys decides that rather than slave under Vasquez, he'll make a play for the vault key, and he talks both Vaughn and his other friend, Yvette, into assisting. Yvette, stays at Hyperion in position to direct important supplies, while Vaughn has to tag along.
Next we next see a typical Pandorian landscape dotted with bandits. From Hyperion in the sky comes a meteoric bandit-crushing landing, and suddenly Rhys and Vaughn are moving purposefully, having acquired both Vasquez' suitcase full of money for the vault key deal, and the new executive saloon.
It's here where Rhys' recklessness begins to become problematic. (Rhys is evidently quite new to Pandora.) They stop at the first slightly better than a bandit they can find to ask for directions, clearly brandishing their relative affluence without much in the way visible protection. Rhys picks up some loot, which being cash goes right into his account, and we're told that money and inventory are much-more gamelike than previous Telltale titles. As Rhys decides to needle a character referred to as 'Grease Face,' serious trouble begins to brew.
One note on Grease Face. Rhys's first words to the stranger are something like "Hey Grease Face" can you point in the direction of..." followed by something like "Yeah I called you 'Grease Face' cause it's the truth you have a greasy face." The "Grease Face will remember that." message in the upper corner is priceless, and baddies begin to emerge."
Up to this point, the gameplay has followed the standard Telltale gameplay model (with the exception of picking up loot), choosing dialogue and moving the story along. Now though, Rhys calls for Yvette to send down a loader bot. The bot's armaments are customizable, and it's here where I noticed that the 'Borderlands' UI has been so uncannily implemented. The art style in general looks so good and so much like 'Borderlands' but better that I'm sad that Telltale has only thus far mostly only shared some stills that don't do their game's visuals justice.
The loader bot falls to earth (Pandora) crushing an enemy before standing inert. After some fumbling, Rhys recalls how he needs to directly command the machine, the player then targets and dispatches enemies using controls that look a little like a shooter but also are clearly in line with Telltale's other titles.
Vaughn, the handcuffed money, and the hover car are all stolen quickly, with the loader bot in pursuit. At this point, the loader bot is more autonomous, but also begins spewing very sanguine commentary along the lines of Marvin from 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.'
Ultimately, Vaughn and the money are recovered, but the loader bot, now exhibiting something of a lovable personality, is being overwhelmed by bandits. The tear off a leg and arm, and the player (as Rhys) is given one first (to me) obviously important decisions. He can order the robot to flee, which could mean that the bandits turn their full attention on Vaughn, Rhys, and the money. Or he could let the loader bot's bad situation reach its likely conclusion.
In the demo, they did just that, Rhys rather callously and even ruthlessly sacrifices the faithful loader bot. In terms of normal Telltale game expectations, I doubt that telling the loader bot to escape would have changed much aside from allowing Rhys to display a serving of humanity. When I asked Telltale about what would have happened had the loader been directed to evacuate/escape, I was assured that he would have.
After the loader bot's demise, Rhys and Vaughn reach their destination and meet up with a couple who are the one selling the vault key. Naturally, there are some questions regarding the absence of Vasquez, but just when it seems like the exchange will go down without trouble, the vault key holders blink, and decided to walk away from the deal. While just about everything before has set up a fun but fairly straightforward caper story, this is the point where Telltale pulls their 'Big Fish' card.
Rhys makes a striking statement about unfortunately not being able to allow the couple to leave with the vault key. His calm, firm, and certain words precede a deft move, and immediately he becomes the holder the of the vault key, and an all around shining figure worthy of the praise bestowed by all of the other characters.
But then a very familiar Vault Hunter shows up, as does Fiona.
Suddenly, we're back with Rhys, Fiona, and the Intro Guy, and Rhys contends that Fiona prevented him from dealing the Vault Hunter a death blow of some sort or else wise escaping with the precious loot, while Fiona, fed up with Rhys' version of events, takes charge of the story.
Now the player is controlling Fiona, and right off the bat, her dialogue choice will initiate the direction of the next phase of the story.
With that being the end of demo, I was left with a few questions. Namely, just how will Telltale keep the shifting story in check while offering some distinct versions? Will the 'Borderlands' gameplay elements like the bank balance and other loot realize into a new set of systems for Telltale titles? (Or will they just be loot pick-ups that canbe used in other 'Borderlands' titles?) And of course, when will the events of the game's intro, where Rhys, Fiona and the Intro Guy are arguing, dovetail with the story being played out 'Rashomon' style? I don't know the answers to these questions. I'm not sure that Telltale does either, but I do know that I've seen enough to know that the series is not to be missed, even for nonfans of 'Borderlands.'
You can find the latest info on 'Tales From the Borderlands' linked from our Video Game Release Schedule.
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