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Tales from the Borderlands Zer0 Sum review: Lives Less Ordinary

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What do you get when you take the highly-stylized shoot-and-loot world of Gearbox Software’s Borderlands and give it the Telltale Games treatment? Hijinks, humor, and exploooossssiiiooonnnssss!

Telltale Games continues their pedigree of excellence in the genre of interactive storytelling in the first installment of Tales from the Borderlands episode 1: Zer0 Sum. Our story picks up after the demise of Handsome Jack on the Hyperion Moon, where middle managers all clamor to become the next suit to rule them all. You play as Rhys, a Hyperion employee looking to climb the corporate ladder… You ALSO play as Fiona, a con-artist from Pandora trying to climb out of the depths of the cutthroat world. Yeah… two characters… chew on that, it tastes like awesome. Their paths cross, setting into motion an adventure whose humor and insanity more than live up to the Borderlands name. As the episode name might imply, you might see some familiar faces along the way too!

Seriously, the mashup between Telltale Games and Gearbox Software go together like peanut butter and chocolate, milk and cookies, or Hall and Oates… Tales from the Borderlands hits all of the notes that you’ve come expect from a Borderlands game, while continuing to push the boundaries of what is possible in interactive storytelling. The game pulls off some great action sequences, without the core shoot-and-loot gameplay that defines the source material. To describe this game in outdated movie references, imagine the main characters from A Life Less Ordinary being thrown together as one of the teams in Rat Race (in a good way). Seriously, I think someone on the writing team has seen the former, which just makes my day. To describe the episode further would ruin the fun, you need to see it for yourselves (the game, not the films… well, you really should see A Life Less Ordinary, at least, but I digress). The game is a total blast from start to finish.

By comparison, a game like The Walking Dead really focuses in on managing emotions and relationships through careful action and selection of dialogue; in Tales from the Borderlands, I really tried to make choices that I thought would be hilarious, and the game rewarded me for it. There is even some great meta-humor in there for fans of both developer’s games. Humor is hard to pull off anywhere, Telltale does it within a system that allows for branching narratives. Its really impressive.

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It wouldn’t be a Nerd Appropriate review without taking a look at something that we and our readers passionately care about: the voice cast. If good writing comes from the pen, then good voice acting is the ink that comes from the pen. It brings the writing to life. The voice work in Tales from the Borderlands is nothing short of excellent. Let’s take a quick look at the folks involved JUST in episode one! The season will feature Troy Baker as Rhys, Laura Bailey as Fiona, Chris Hardwick as Vaughn, Erin Yvette as Sasha, Nolan North as August, Patrick Warburton as Vasquez (many will know Patrick’s work as Joe Swanson in Family Guy), and more! It continues to amaze me how so much emotion can be expressed in the delivery of a single word. The delightfully cheeky sarcasm delivered in this game brings the world and the characters to life, and really made me feel invested in the story. 

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not give some most deserved props to the music in this game. Listen to it… not just when its in your face, but listen to it in the background. The game sort of has this tale-of-two-worlds vibe, and the music consciously matches both worlds. For instance, the music on the Hyperion side is reminiscent of something you might hear in Blade Runner or Deus Ex. It works so well that you just might miss it, but keep an ear out for the contrasting stylistic differences in music when experiencing the world through the eyes of Rhys and Fiona, respectively. As in many aspects of this game, there’s some really great attention to the musical design.

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Tales from the Borderlands episode 1: Zer0 Sum is available on PC and current gen systems, and will be available just about everywhere by the end of the year. Fans of Borderlands will love this game because it gives players a chance to explore more of this rich universe. Fans of Telltale’s games will find new and interesting ways to play within an interactive story. Honestly, though, I would recommend this game to anyone because of its excellence on multiple fronts and movie-like cinematic quality.

Happy Gaming.

Tales from the Borderlands: Zer0 Sum was reviewed on Xbox One with a download code provided by Telltale Games. 

 

Scott

Hi, I’m one of the founders of Nerd Appropriate and the Rated NA podcast. I like good and bad sci-fi films and tv, pho, and the retrofuture. I am primarily an Xbox gamer, but also do some PC and Wii U gaming as well. By day, I am a research scientist, mostly in topics related to human-computer interaction and user experience. Before all this, fellow NA co-founder Matt and I played music together in various bands. I also used to make "comedy" videos for my high school morning news program before there was a place to post them online. Favorite Star Wars character? Admiral Ackbar. Best Bond era? Timothy Dalton (Craig a close second). Game of all time? Maybe System Shock 2. Thanks for being a part of this labor of nerdy love with us.