In every story where a wish is granted - whether by some primary-coloured goon sticking out a lamp, a creepy piece of fairground entertainment, or a piece of cursed bushmeat - there's always an ironical sting in the tale. You wish for health and it turns out you can't die. You wish for a personal chef, but it turns out he only does offal. You wish everything you touch to turn to gold, then it'll turn out there's no way to turn it off - or it kicks in just as you go to the toilet, that kind of thing. You should, as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for.
I'm sorry I wished for New Tales From the Borderlands, everyone.
Tales From The Borderlands is an interactive narrative adventure set in the Borderlands universe, where you choose dialogue options, actions, and pass or fail quick-time events. These accumulate over the course of several episodes and ultimately contribute to the outcome of the story. It is, and I cannot stress this enough, fantastic, especially because how good it is came as a surprise when it released in 2014. Tales From The Borderlands is not only the best Telltale game, but also the best Borderlands game, probably because it wasn't made by Gearbox. I have wanted more Tales From The Borderlands for almost a decade now. Gearbox have seen fit to make one, in-house, and presumably out of profit rather than desire, or any affection for the title.
New Tales From The Borderlands is an interactive narrative adventure set in the Borderlands universe, where you choose dialogue options, actions, and pass or fail quick-time events. And it fuckin' sucks.
As before, you play multiple characters, switching control between them as they do different things in the story: anxious pacifist scientist Anu, her (heavy air-quotes) street-smart adoptive brother Octavio, and bloodthirsty fro-yo shop owner Fran. They are also accompanied by a robot called LOU13, pronounced Louis. For reasons I won't go into, the unlikely trio team up to steal a healing crystal from a vault, try to monetise their discovery, and eventually save the world from both the bloodthirsty head of the Tediore megacorp, and a strange entity living inside the crystal.
I honestly don't like being very mean about games. So in the interests of both brevity and clarity, I have decided to present the rest of this review as a list of things I like, and a list of things I did not like.
Good things about New Tales From The Borderlands
- The character designs are cool. I liked that Fran, who gets the best optional skins, is a
wheelhoverchair user but is also a very physical character who gets the most traditionally heroic moments
- The voice acting is mostly decent, and the mocap means a lot of the animations feel idiosyncratic, as is befitting the universe and characters
- The banter between the Tediore drone guards is pretty funny, although it happens every time two or more Tediore guards are on screen and is therefore subject to diminishing returns
- I like the weirdo Tediore guard who is a superfan of the in-universe miniatures game Vaultlanders, who turns up in increasingly unlikely places to battle the characters (this like does not extend to the mini-game in question itself)
- There is one (1) joke done by the above character involving Octavio hiding in a box that made me laugh out loud
- There's an angry shouty gun on legs called Brock, who goes "bang!" when he shoots; he can stay
- LOU13, who is an assassin bot, can also stay. Although he's on thin ice because of the played-out jokes about plugging into data ports being like sex
Things about New Tales From The Borderlands I did not like
- Rhys from the original Tales is in it, after he was brought back for Borderlands 3, and I know it's not the New Tales devs' fault, but the whole thing is very "Look how they massacred my boy!" for me
- If there are multiple instances where characters say something like "oof, capitalism, am I right?", that is an indication that you have not created an effective or insightful critique of capitalism
- Octavio's introduction has a run of jokes that made me instantly hate him, including telling a late middle-aged woman that her new cybernetic leg is "fire!" and then she lifts it up and it's also a flamethrower, omg, lol
- There are multiple instances where a joke starts and then they sort of... loop back and do the joke again, in the middle of still doing the joke the first time? Like, it's hard to explain. There's a bit where Octavio is in jail and Brock the shouty gun is yelling at him to be less depressed because it's not as fun torturing him, and Brock and the guards keep stating that at different points during the bit, but Brock also gets mad when the guard gives Octavio a scented candle to cheer him up
- IDK, just, sometimes it's like some of the people involved had no experience of jokes, yet had to write some after the concept of jokes was explained to them. Possibly by Randy Pitchford
- Similarly, it is often clear that a joke was conceived without real reference to the people in the scene or their characterisation, meaning e.g. Anu will routinely become extremely stupid for about 30 seconds to facilitate a humourous and/or literal misunderstanding (the misunderstanding will not be humourous)
- LOU13 is simultaneously a super advanced assassin bot who is capable of monitoring the player characters' relationships through details as small as facial expressions - to the extent he grades those relationships with a score - and, fucking, Drax from Guardians Of The Galaxy
- Multiple characters do not get a resolution, including the recurring Vaultlanders fan that I actually liked
- The most interesting things in this game happen off screen, in a way that whispers of not being allowed time or budget. Fran fights a bunch of sharks and you don't get to see it.
- Even so, New Tales From The Borderlands can think of fuck all for you to do as a player. I had to do a QTE to bang helplessly on the bars of a cage. At least once I got bored enough and automatically tried to skip forward on a video progress bar that didn't exist.
- The main MacGuffin is a crystal that instantly heals, rendering the bit where a fatally wounded character does the "go without me, there's no time" sacrifice almost insultingly stupid
- A main character died at the end of mine, off screen, and I have no idea what I could have done differently or which factors played into that
- Also a bunch of times if I failed a QTE it resulted in success anyway, or instant death and reload - rather than like, consequence to deal with, which I thought was the whole point of this kind of game?
- At one point LOU13 asks another character "Are you playing one of those insipid interactive narrative video games?"
- It doesn't even do the cool music video bits at the start of chapters properly! That's like the best bit of actual Borderlands! How do you mess that up?!
Look, I know making almost any game is a labour of love, but I spent like a week being sad and not knowing why, until I finished this game and realised I was happy because I didn't have to play it every day after work anymore. All this does is prove that Gearbox cannot be trusted with their own IP anymore. The very existence of New Tales From The Borderlands is a more effective critique of corporate structure and the pitfalls of capitalism than any of the content of any Borderlands game. Apart from the best one. Just play Tales From The Borderlands.