Comedy is hard, as the old saying goes. It requires timing and surprise and also that undefinable thing – the sense of humor. Video games are especially difficult to mine for comedy, save for short bursts, though a few games, like Saints Row the Third, do an admirable job in creating ridiculous situations. TellTale Games’ Tales from the Borderlands is unique in that the comedy often comes from the characters themselves rather than some outlandish situation (though there is some of that, too). The reason i mention this is that I haven’t laughed as often playing Tales from the Borderlands as I have watching most Hollywood comedies. It really is that funny.
The story begins with its framing device, in which our heroes, Rhys (Troy Baker) and Fiona (Laura Bailey), are in the clutches of a mysterious abductor who forces them to describe the events that led them to this point, on their backs and dragged through the desert wastelands of Pandora. Set after the events of Borderlands 2, Handsome Jack is dead and Hyperion is in the midst of corporate turmoil. Rhys is an ambitious up-and-comer, whose plan to get the cushy executive position is curtailed by his Hyperion rival, Vasquez (Patrick Warburton). With Rhys’s mentor ejected into space, Vasquez now pulls the strings at Hyperion and demotes Rhys to janitor. Unbeknownst to Vasquez, Rhys has caught wind of a deal for a vault key on the surface of Pandora, and, with his faithful companion Vaughn (Chris Hardwick), sets a course for the barren planet to steal the deal from beneath Vasquez’s feet and secure his place in Hyperion’s executive wing.
Of course, this does not go as planned. Thanks to a pair of craft con artists, Fiona and Sasha (Erin Yvette), the deal goes south and forces our heroes into an unlikely alliance as they hunt across the wastes of Pandora for a way to restore Rhys to his former glory and find a home for Sasha and Fiona, recently abandoned by their surrogate father. Along the way, they are embroiled in a heist to retrieve an secret piece of technology left behind by the abandoned Atlus Corporation. Oh, and the ghost of the hilariously villainous Handsome Jack is stuck in Rhys’s head.
To say more would be to ruin some wonderful moments, and each episode only gets better. The first is burdened with the task of establishing our characters, mostly new to the Borderlands universe, but some familiar faces pop up along the way. I’d like to credit the directing team on this game, too. Nick Herman, Martin Montgomery, Ashley Ruhl and Jonathan Stauder have done a remarkable job in taking the admittedly-thin stories of the previous games and turning it into a world beset by hopelessness and corporate greed. The list of writers is too long to call out individually, but it is sharp and sly and occasionally, and most surprisingly, heartfelt and bittersweet.
The voice acting is second to none, and Tales from the Borderlands excels in its cinematic presentation with a clever use of credit music for each episode that perfectly captures the tone. The art, while evocative of the Borderlands series, is quite good, too, with only occasional clipping I assume is a product of the varying choices to be made throughout.
Which brings us to the real issue with the game. If you don’t like TellTale Games’ brand of design, this won;t change your mind. If you can even tolerate it, I recommend
you grin and bear it to follow the story here, but if you happen to be one of those who insists that this sort of storytelling “isn’t a game,” perhaps this isn’t for you. For all others, this is a shockingly good adaptation of the Borderlands world, with surprises and laughs to spare. Yes, I even teared up a little at the end. What are you waiting for? Go play this!