Tales From The Borderlands Episode One: Zer0 Sum Review
This, ladies and gentlemen… is the Gortys Project. And it’s going to lead us to a vault. And then I’ll probably kill you.
Tales from the Borderlands is the product of a partnership that on paper should have no right to succeed. The chaotic violence and obsession with loot of Borderlands was to be married to branching dialogue choices and scripted cinematic sequences, the staple of Telltale Games’ franchises. Hence, I can’t have been the only one scratching my head at the announcement?
Nevertheless, Telltale have somehow pulled it off, crafting a fantastic opening episode that is brimming with humour, superb characters and enticing mysteries yet to be solved. Perhaps the most striking aspect of the episode is how confidently Telltale has translated the source material into a product that showcases their adventure game formula without fault. In fact, I’d go as far to say this is the one of the best episodes Telltale has ever done across all of its franchises.
For its narrative, Tales Of The Borderlands adopts two leads, the first one you meet is Rhys; A proud employee of Hyperion Corporation with dreams of following in the footsteps of his idol, Handsome Jack. This ambition of scaling the top of the corporate hierarchy however is quickly dashed in the opening sequence as he is outmanoeuvred by his arch rival. Facing a humiliating demotion, he decides the only reasonable path to go down is to steal a potential deal to buy a vault key, oh and also steal the 10 million dollars from Hyperion to fund said deal.
Then there’s Fiona, a con-woman from a tough background who formulates a scheme to net 10 million dollars with a fake vault key in an attempt to escape the tumultuous plains of Pandora. Yeah so you can likely where this is heading.
Thus, the story in Zer0 Sum is both of their perspectives of the events meshed into one entertaining, if slightly disorientating adventure. A principal factor behind its success is how Telltale recognises the unreliability of its narrators, and deliberately plays upon that for often hilarious results. The lies and petty arguments over the failed heist infuse the plot with a playful energy and self-awareness but never descending into tiredness. The shifting perspectives flesh out hidden details of scenes you previously thought were complete, and dangle other plot threads begging to be resolved later down the line. It’s effective storytelling, heightened by a fantastic sense of pace.
As far as gameplay goes, it sticks close to the Telltale template. This involves simple puzzle-solving, a lot of dialogue and key decisions to make. That’s not to the detriment of the experience however as that combination is as good as it’s ever been here in Zer0 Sum, but for those who haven’t clicked with Telltale adventure titles, this won’t make you change your mind. There are a few minor deviations in the formula though, occasionally you will be able to scan the wider environment and search for clues using Rhys’s cybernetic eye. More significantly, a currency system is introduced where Fiona can loot money to unlock extra dialogue options and buy upgrades, albeit these additions are easily overlooked.
Zer0 Sum is a stellar opening episode to what promises it to be one of the best Telltale franchises yet, providing another tale from the chaotic world of Borderlands that I never believed we needed.
+Brilliant sense of humour
+Outstanding sense of pace