episodic

Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 1 – review

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The Walking Dead has emotion. The Wolf Among Us has intriguing lore. Tales from the Borderlands has sheer hilarity.

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If you’re a frequent reader of this blog (of course you are!) you may have picked up that I’m a big fan of Telltale’s games. Now, admittedly, it’s only been in the last year that I have actually discovered these little gems, so I shan’t claim to be a diehard devoted long-time fan, but I really cannot recommend their games enough. Tales from the Borderlands is no exception.

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So where to begin? First and foremost, this feels like a Borderlands game. Now this review will feature a couple of tiny spoilers from Borderlands 2 – just what happens at the end – but that’s all. Here are some line breaks whilst you evaluate whether you want to carry on reading or not.

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Good. So Tales is set following the events of Borderlands 2. After Handsome Jack’s death, employees from the infamous Hyperion Corporation have been vying for power. The first playable character, Rhys, is one such employee. But after he is duped by Patrick Warburton, he finds himself on the planet of Pandora, caught up in a scheme involving a rare, invaluable vault key.  Despite the obviously different gameplay style from past Borderlands games, Tales fits into the lore and overall saga perfectly. Whether this will bridge the gap between Borderlands 2 and 3, or whether it will just be a standalone story set in the same world, is currently unknown – whatever the outcome, so far it’s very promising. It certainly links to the greater Borderlands world – without going into spoilers (though you can probably guess one Borderlands character’s involvement from the episode name, Zer0 Sum…and yeah, it’s awesome).

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The graphics are a clever amalgamation of your typical Walking Dead/Wolf Among Us style ‘cartoony’ graphics combined with Borderlands’ classic….um… ‘cartoony’ graphics. Telltale have managed to create a seamless blend between the two that doesn’t look out of place at all. The game still suffers from the standard Telltale defects, such as the odd clunky movement or sudden facial expression reminiscent of Sims 2. Or the occasional clipping issue, but apart from that, s’all gravy. I mean, these are the things that you kind of look over in Telltale’s games as they seem almost inevitable…for whatever reason.

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The script is just what you would expect from Borderlands: violent, in your face, and hilarious. Episode One: Zer0 Sum, which is, at time of writing, the only episode out, made me laugh out loud on several occasions. One of my favourite moments was near the beginning when they take the somewhat iconic running-over-a-skag skit to another level. This is definitely a Borderlands game.

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As mentioned, you play as two different characters – Rhys and Fiona, telling two sides of a story via flashbacks. Both characters play very different, but with enough scope for you to mold them how you want to. For those unfamiliar with Telltale’s style, the game is essentially an interactive story. During dialogue, you’re presented with numerous options regarding how you respond – one might be cocky or arrogant, another might be submissive, or aggressive, or even just silence. The game adapts to choices that you make (to an extent) and develops as such (…to an extent). None of the choices you make are going to cause a revolutionary difference – judging from past games the overall outcome will remain the same – but it’s how you get there that might be executed differently. But what would a Borderlands game be without action? As well as the dialogue options, you’ll also be greeted with quick time events, a bit of exploration, and even some shootouts. Whilst not quite as fun or detailed as your standard Borderlands game, these moments add a nice change of pace, sticking true to the source material.

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There are a couple of other new inclusions within Tales too. Firstly, when playing as Rhys, you have the chance to activate your ECHO-eye implant to scan certain objects in the environment around you. Scanning things doesn’t affect the story as a whole, but does allow you to gather some background information on Pandora’s finest, which is usually pretty hilarious. When playing as Fiona, you can use cash to buy certain things. Again, thus far, this has purely been aesthetic (with one exception in which I bribed someone) but it’s a nice little distraction.

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It’s hard to judge an episodic game from the first episode alone, although thus far I am pretty impressed. However, unlike previous Telltale games, if you are unfamiliar with the Borderlands story or style and want to just try Telltale games, then I don’t think you would really get on-board with this. If this is the case, then go and play through the other Borderlands games first. For numerous reasons. Telling the same story from both Rhys and Fiona’s perspectives could initially seem jarring, tedious and confusing, but the change in dialogue options and perspective really enables you to get into the other character’s shoes. I, for one, think that this is a fine addition to both the Telltale and Borderlands library, and cannot wait for Episode 2. It’s a game for fans of Telltale and Borderlands games alike! Next time: Telltale’s take on Game of Thrones!

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The Walking Dead (game) – Seasons 1 and 2 review

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Please excuse me whilst I….wipe away these tears and….DAMN IT WHY COULDN’T I SAVE EVERYONE?!

DISCLAIMER – All these images I use in this review I took from various Google searches as I was SO ENGROSSED with the story that I forgot to take any…

TWD-game-the-walking-dead-game-telltale-gamesTelltale Games’ The Walking Dead takes inspiration from Robert Kirkman’s comic series of the same name, the same which The Walking Dead TV series is loosely based on. You may recall, if you read my blog often (pft, of course you do) that Telltale games has popped up before in my The Wolf Among Us Review. Well, The Walking Dead follows the same basic structure – it’s essentially an interactive story, where your actions and choices affect how the game pans out. As with The Wolf Among Us, the overarching story is always the same; your decisions just determine how you get there. This game is an emotional rollercoaster that had me close to tears on several occasions. It’s won over 90 Game of the Year awards, and here’s why.

zmobie-leeThis is a review for both Season 1 and Season 2 of The Walking Dead games. Lots of my comments will be generalised and apply to both – they are essentially one big game – but I will be specific too. Both games are episodic. Season 1 was released in five episodes between April and November 2012, with one DLC episode, 400 Days, following in July 2013. Season 2, also comprising of five episodes, was released between December 2013 and August 2014, so it’s still pretty hot off the press. The 400 Days DLC bridges the gap between Season 1 and 2.

twd_203_hoardThe driving point behind The Walking Dead games is the incredible character development. Whilst the setting is indeed a zombie apocalypse, the game focuses more on characterisation and action, as opposed to action – to quote Robert Kirkman. That isn’t to say that zombies don’t play a pivotal role in the game – because they do – but the focus is really on how people band together and survive in times of such hardship, not just go gung-ho shooty crazy a la Left 4 Dead.

Walking_dead_telltale_game_dialog_screenshotSeason 1 focuses around protagonist Lee, a convicted murderer, who is caught up in the outbreak on his way to prison. After a narrow escape, he encounters eight year old Clementine, who serves as the deuteragonist (what a great word!) throughout the game. Thus, their story to survive begins, meeting various colourful characters along the way…many of whom’s fate is down to the choices that you make…so good luck with that. Each character is realistically flawed, and when the inevitable dissent among the group begins, you must really consider hard (in the short time that you have to decide) everyone’s arguments. Do you think of the group’s best interest? Or side with a favourite character whatever their decision? Or play the middle-man? There are a plethora of decisions that left me filled with regret and angst…resulting in various outcomes, adding that key word of “replay value” to the game. Like, so much. The characters are so well developed that you really do begin to empathise, sympathise and care for them. Which makes watching their struggle even more difficult. But overall it’s Clem and Lee’s relationship that really gets ya. It’s beautiful. It could be argued that these games are a commentary on how quickly children seem to grow up nowadays, and asks whether this is a good or bad thing? After all, we live in a pretty messed up world – should our children be protected in a bubble, or face the harsh realities? These are questions that characters are constantly battling with, and that you, as Lee, must face. Outside of dialogue, you’ll be faced with various quick time events and small explorable areas with several items that you can interact with. The QTEs are all pretty enjoyable and rarely feel stale, although some failures result in immediate death and game over whereas others effect the continuing story. The explorable areas are aight, but sometimes (in Season 1 more than 2) I found myself unsure of what exactly I was supposed to be doing…leading me to wander around aimlessly for a lot longer than I maybe should have.  All of your actions have an impact, and if you so choose to, you can load up a Season 1 save file in Season 2 to see how your decisions affect the second season. Mass Effect did a similar thing in that you could load up your older character to essentially continue the story as a whole. It just makes the whole game a lot more immersive and connected…and might make you think twice about rash decisions. The last episode of Season 2 can end in one of six heart-string-pulling ways, but definitely leaves you wanting more. Thank God that Telltale have confirmed that a Season 3 is in the works…! In fact, as a result of that, I’m going to go back and get a different ending….

2378979-the_walking_dead_game_episode_2_achievements_screenshotAs mentioned, 400 Days bridges the gap between Season 1 and Season 2. You briefly play as six different characters, living parts of their lives during the apocalypse. As you may have guessed, your actions in this DLC also have a number of effects on how Season 2 plays out – from determining which characters you may meet, you minute details such as whether you encounter a certain body. I found, however, that I ended up disliking many of the 400 Days characters I played as when (if) I encountered them in Season 2. Especially Tavia. Fucking Tavia.

Visually, The Walking Dead utilises that same animated-esque style that various other Telltale games use, like The Wolf Among Us. Season 2’s graphics are that slight bit better, and the interface is more developed, but there isn’t that much difference. Character models are well animated for the most part, but sometimes can look a bit like they have been filmed using stop-motion, but I suppose that’s all part of the style. There are some issues with clipping that I noticed, or a character suddenly jumping forward in a lagtastic kind of way, but none of these are game breaking and, surprisingly, don’t break the immersion. And there is a lot of immersion. Oh, the immersion!

I’ll admit that it took me a while to get into The Walking Dead, but that’s largely because I was constantly comparing it to The Wolf Among Us, which, aside from its appearance and gameplay style, is very different. It’s like comparing something like Fallout to Call of Duty…although I know which one I would pick… I also, for whatever reason, went into The Walking Dead thinking that it was a comedy. It is not. Jesus this game knows how to make a man (nearly) cry. After I completed Season 1 I felt addicted and needed to go on and start Season 2…but I had to take a break. I just couldn’t handle it! If you’re into games with good story telling, then this is for you. I wouldn’t exactly class it as a horror game, despite its subject. There are a few jumpy, tense moments, but I’d put it more down as a thriller. There’s a Michael Jackson joke in their somewhere.

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Both The Walking Dead Season 1 and 2 are currently on Steam for £18.99 a pop, which may seem a lot, with each season lasting about 10 hours each, but that’s kind of like buying a box set for a series, with 5 two hour episodes or ‘summit. Even still, I think that it’s well worth the money, partially for that good ol’ replay value. The games also allow you to go back and replay specific chapters of episodes, so if you wanted to see how making a different decision affects the story, you can! The Walking Dead is, or will be, available on pretty much every gaming platform including Android, iOS, PS3/4, Xbone, 360, PC and Vita. So go. Go! GO NOW! RUN! GO!!!the-walking-dead-the-game-20120408020037548_640w

The Wolf Among Us review

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I have finished it and I want more!

Developed by Telltale Games, the same studio that produced The Walking Dead and Sam and Max games, The Wolf Among Us is (what I would describe as) a point-and-click-multiple-choice-crime-noir-episodic-adventure game. Like The Walking Dead, upon starting The Wolf Among Us, you’re greeted with a message that says “this game series adapts to the choices you make. The story is tailored to how you play.”Goodness, I thought to myself, how exciting! Whilst the overlying plot is always essentially the same, how it pans out and how you get there is down to the choices you make. But we will come to that in a bit once I explain the amazing premise of this game.

Colin, one of the "Three Little Pigs".
Colin, one of the “Three Little Pigs”.

The Wolf Among Us is set in the same universe as the Fables comic series, published by Vertigo (DC). The comics were first released in 2002, but I will admit I had never heard of them until playing this game, and I’m a self acclaimed comic nerd! For shame… In the world of Fables, various characters from fairy tales, fables and folklore have been evicted out of their homelands, and are forced to live among normal human beings (“mundies”) – some of which resides in New York City, in a community known as Fabletown. To protect themselves, the Fables must keep their identities hidden from mundies and the outside world, and as such use magic to keep themselves safe. Many of the anthropomorphic animal Fables, or Fables such as trolls or giants that cannot pass as human, must use glamours to disguise themselves. But glamours aren’t cheap, and many Fables cannot afford them – these Fables are sent to The Farm, which is supposed to be a safe-haven but is apparently more like a prison. The idea of incorporating fairy tale characters into the real world has indeed been done before, but nothing on this scale, I think. The Fables must overcome real life obstacles and band together to survive, lest they all fall apart. Some characters such as Bluebeard (who was a personal favourite of mine) are doing quite well for themselves, whereas others like the Little Mermaid have a much sadder tale to tell.

Mr Toad with Toad Junior "TJ" in the background.
Mr Toad with Toad Junior “TJ” in the background.

The story of The Wolf Among Us follows a gritty murder investigation in Fabletown – this game is not for the faint of heart! You play as Bigby “The Big Bad” Wolf. Yeah, that’s right. You’re the Big Bad Wolf. Bigby (Big B, get it?) is the sheriff of Fabletown, and is trying to relinquish himself from his past of killing grandmothers and blowing down pig’s houses to help his fellow Fabletown citizens. When one of their own is murdered, Bigby must hunt and track down the killer, avoiding detection from the outside world, and gain the trust and respect of the sceptical Fabletown citizens. That’s the gist of it really, without spoiling anything else. But surely that’s enough to entice you into the game? I know it was for me. But if not, let’s talk about the gameplay.

wofl 1If you have played The Walking Dead, then you know what to expect. The game is made up of five episodes that were released bi-monthly from October 2013 to July 2014. Playing The Wolf Among Us is like watching an interactive series. A large part of the game is cutscenes, but at every conversational fork in the road, you must make a decision. For example, a character may ask Bigby how he’s feeling. You have the choice to respond “Fine”, “Great, thanks”, “Fuck off”, or “…”. How you respond will influence how the story pans out and how characters act towards you. Ask the right questions, and you’ll get the right answers. It’s like LA Noire, but not painstakingly boring. Out of conversation, you control Bigby through means of point-and-click gameplay. Each explorable area has a number of objects that you can look at or pick up to try and uncover clues and information, and piece the investigation together. There are also a number of quick time events to keep you on your toes during a couple o’ little brawls, but these are infrequent enough for them not to get boring and stale. Throughout the game, you also uncover character and event dossiers in the form of The Book of Fables, which is a great little add-on to help keep track of who people are and learn some of the lore surrounding Fables.

250320_screenshots_2014-07-10_00008The game’s visual design is again similar to that of The Walking Dead: it’s almost animated. It’s a very unique art style that plays out well with the story. My one gripe is that sometimes characters’ movements and facial expressions looked a little robotic, but I can let that slide – it’s still immersive as hell. Musically, the score is brilliant at creating the exact atmosphere that the developers desired, and really adds to perilous mood. It’s that kind of score that you don’t really notice at first, but when you notice it it makes the scene ten times more impactful…which I don’t think is a real word, but describes my point wholeheartedly.

250320_screenshots_2014-07-10_00003The Wolf Among Us has not only opened up a new series that I want to explore (Fables), but has also introduced me to a new genre of game. Whilst some people may find the interactive story elements boring, I personally loved every moment of it. A couple of the episodes are weaker than others, but all in all this was a great experience, and I want more from the world of Fables. My hat goes off to Telltale Games, who are currently working on a new Borderlands and Game of Thrones game – both of which I am very excited about.

250320_screenshots_2014-07-13_00001I managed to get The World Among Us on the Steam sale for about £6.99, but it looks like it’s gone back up to nearly twenty squids. The story takes about 7 – 9 hours to complete, depending on your choices and how thorough you are. Due to the amount of choices the game offers, there is a lot of replay value: my first playthrough saw me as a kind, sympathetic Bigby, but I want to try again and be an absolute dick and see how that affects things. You can also compare your choice stats to others who have played the game. So whilst £18.99 is a fair bob, I think that it’s well worth it. Just keep a vigilant eye open for it to come down in price. Now, I am going to go and write fanfiction. I wonder if Jack Frost is a character in the comics? That could be interesting….

Who's afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?
Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?