The latest gaming news with Ronan Jennings
SOME games are borderline TV shows. They are more interested in telling a story than giving the player control over what happens. They border on not being ‘games’ at all.
Tales from the Borderlands falls into that category, an experience that brilliantly draws you into its witty, fantastical world — but doesn’t leave you with much to do, except enjoy the ride. This is a well-worn formula for anyone familiar with Telltale, the creators of this and many other similar titles, like Batman: The Telltale Series, The Wolf Among Us and Game of Thrones. This month, Tales from the Borderlands is free with PlayStation Plus, giving many PS4 gamers a chance to try a ‘start to finish’ Telltale formula for the first time.
The Borderlands series, which began life as shooter, is one of gaming’s most interesting and funny universes. Set in a ‘junkyard’ future, where robots and scavengers travel through space in search of loot, it’s halfway between Pixar and Mad Max, Dune by way of Guy Ritchie. Robot servants come well-oiled with sarcasm and pithy put-downs, while grizzled raiders try to kill you with shotguns that shoot fireballs.
Tales from the Borderlands captures the spirit of the universe perfectly, telling the madcap story of corporate loot-hunter Rhys and his unwilling partner Fiona as they search for a mythical Vault key that will make them wealthy beyond their dreams.
As a free download with PlayStation Plus, Tales from the Borderlands is a no-brainer. Everyone should give it a chance. It’s stylish, well written and a genuinely entertaining story. On the other hand, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the Telltale formula is reaching the end of its natural lifespan and needs a serious shake-up. While Telltale do provide the illusion of choice with ‘timed’ conversation options and poorly executed action set-pieces, the truth is these games are no more than interactive storybooks: press ‘X’ to turn the page. Unlike traditional adventure games like Thimbleweed Park or Silence, there are no puzzles to solve and there is no sense of ownership over progress and exploration.
Tales from the Borderlands is a welcome addition to the PlayStation Plus lineup that will introduce new players to the formula, but if Telltale are going to expand their audience, they will need to decide which side of the border they really belong — games or cinema.
One place that has no borders (unless you count the sea) is Morrowind, the volcanic island of the Elder Scrolls series. Morrowind is considered by many Elder Scrolls fans to be the best in the series, the point at which top-notch presentation and true role-playing mechanics converged to stunning effect. Since then, the series has grown ever more impressive visually, but has lost its role-playing spirit.
Next month, gamers get a chance to return to Morrowind, but not quite in the manner they may have wanted. The Elder Scrolls Online, which allows players to explore the Elder Scrolls world in a massively multiplayer environment, is releasing a Morrowind expansion. The gameplay won’t signal a return to the single-player brilliance of the original Morrowind, but it will at least give players a chance to see the giant mushrooms, silt striders and dusty landscape of Morrowind through more modern graphics. It’s a very canny move on Bethesda’s part — it borders on cynical, but fans won’t complain.
END OF THE LINE FOR ALAN WAKE
Meanwhile, developers Remedy crossed a line of their own this week. In this case, it was a deadline, resulting in 90% discounts to one of their most famous games.
Cult favourite Alan Wake, first released on the Xbox 360 and in receipt of a serious marketing push by Microsoft at the time, has been pulled from (digital) shelves due to expiring music licences. The game features tracks like Space Oddity, The Darkest Star and In Dreams – usage of these tracks expired on Monday, meaning Remedy could no longer sell the game. There was a 48-hour ‘sunset’ sale over the weekend in which some lucky gamers got the game for just a few euro on Steam. Alan Wake, a Stephen King-inspired story of a writer facing supernatural forces in small-town America, was well received upon release and fans have long hoped for a true sequel. Instead, Alan reached the end of the line.
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