Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tales from the Borderlands: Zer0 Sum Review

The announcement that Telltale was making Tales from the Borderlands came as a surprise.  A cinematic adventure set in the world of a first person shooter seemed like an odd choice.  The results should put any remaining skepticism to rest, as Zer0 Sum manages to deftly craft a fantastic experience, blending the gameplay of The Walking Dead with some of the most important aspects of the Borderlands franchise.

As this is a Borderlands game, the game is set on the planet of Pandora, which is a desolate place full of psychotic people and dangerous creatures.  A company named Hyperion has become rich by supplying weapons to the planet, and is headquartered in a base in Pandora's orbit.  There are two playable characters, a recently downsized employee from Hyperion named Rhys and a woman from Pandora named Fiona who has been raised with her sister as a con artist in order to survive in the harsh conditions of the planet.  The story actually takes place in the past, as Fiona and Rhys are both recounting the the tale of their shared story.  Both of these people are unscrupulous individuals would would do anything to improve their station in life, so both of their stories are exaggerated and can't be taken at face value.

The graphical presentation fits right into the Borderlands universe, and the presentation of the story manages to do so as well.  The decision to opt for the two tale presentation of the story helps the game a lot.  It's a return to Telltale's comedic routes, and the fast pace, brought on both by the urgency of the stories, and by the nature of the way the stories are told, makes for a very enjoyable game.  All of the characters are well rounded, even this early in the season, and each is voiced extremely well.  Bay Area Sound has done their usual excellent job on the sound front, as in addition to the impeccable voice talent, the music in the game is superb as well.  The game's opening song, in particular, is a great choice.  The Borderlands games are known for having memorable moments in their introduction videos.  Zer0 Sum manages to stand up with the best of them, and the song choice is a big reason for that.

The gameplay is mostly like the style found in all of their main games since The Walking Dead.  The gameplay is mostly choice based, and as usual there are decisions that affect the fate of the characters.  There is also action mixed in, which, as usual, are quick time events.  Telltale has managed to blend their style with Borderlands quite well in the action aspect, as the action is dispersed with heavy weaponry and machinery.  Telltale also makes good use of the bionic eye implant that one of the main characters, Rhys, is outfitted with.  Every object which can be viewed with the usual look command can also optionally be viewed with the bionic eye.  This gives a detailed readout of the description of each object, and is used to great extent in both providing more insight into the game's universe as well as a unique opportunity to deliver some funny jokes.

Zer0 Sum is one of the best cinematic adventures that Telltale has produced yet.  The two story, big fish tale presentation leads to some clever ways to deliver the story, and the well written and well voiced characters help to make that story memorable.  The graphical presentation and music are also top notch, and the choice based mechanics are used to great effect.  The thing that brings this game up to the heights of the best games in Telltale's cinematic adventure catalog is the addition of features that are new to Telltale's arsenal.  The choice of weapons to deploy is nice, and helps to give this game a real Borderlands feel.  But the real gem of this game is the bionic eye.  It's mostly totally optional, but it really adds to the game, as it is used well to provide story background and humor.  Hopefully Telltale goes even further with it's use in further installments, as that gameplay mechanic has great story telling potential.

Final Verdict:

4½ out of 5
Episode Two Review

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