The premiere of Telltale Games' and Dalla-based Gearbox Software's Tales from the Borderlands showcased something unique, even in this modern age of lifelike graphics, complex gameplay and being called a "fag noob" by a 11-year-old New Zealander who just fragged your virtual ass.
The new graphic adventure showcased Tuesday night at the Alamo Drafthouse in Richardson is well written, smart and damn funny, and that's just the first episode. (Audience members got to watch and make suggestions as players maneuvered onscreen through the first of a planned five episodes of the game.)
The game puts players in control of two protagonists: a conniving company man named Rhys and a street smart con-woman named Fiona. Rhys works for the mega corporation known as Hyperion that decimated the barren wasteland of Pandora in the name of achieving the highest profits possible. He gets screwed out of the promotion he feels he deserves by Vasquez (voiced by Patrick Warburton) and decides to mess up his deal to obtain an ultra rare "Vault Key" from raiders on Pandora, thanks in part to his buddy in accounting Vaughn (voiced by Nerdist founder and @Midnight host Chris Hardwick).
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Using celebrities to voice characters in video games will always be the norm as long as it's profitable, but it doesn't necessarily make a game or a character better. Both Warburton and Hardwick deliver a fine performances, but the familiarity of their voices reminds you that you're not watching a totally genuine character.
Thankfully, that's the biggest problem with the game so far. The first episode called "Zer0 Sum" kicks off a treasure hunting adventure that's simultaneously being told through the memories of Rhys and Fiona and adapts to the choices the players' make throughout the game. Certain characters you interact with retainmemories of how you reacted to them and they may come back to help or hurt you later on in the game. The focus of the game glides along the central narrative, but making malleable characters is a nice touch for a graphic adventure that doesn't offer as many puzzles as other games of its kind.
There aren't as many moments to participate in the action compared with the original Borderlands games, and that actually works in the game's favor. Players will have to push characters out of harm's way with timed reaction moves and some targeted punches and shots, such as when Rhys takes control of a wisecracking "Loader Bot" that serves as a gun turret with a smartass sense of humor. It's actually smart to do it this way. It leaves plenty of opportunities to actually make fun of the interaction in some clever ways and it would just get in the way of the social interactivity and the very clever script.
In fact, the true star of Tales of the Borderlands is the writing. Just like the other Borderlands games, the dialogue is clever and witty. The characters are rich with pathos and personality, even with the presence of celebrity voices behind them. It shows that they took the time to make sure that the lines and events actually produce genuine the laughs the way a movie would with a test audience.