It's a well known fact that most movies based on video games are rubbish. As it turns out, it's not an angry bald man with a red tie that made Hitman cool, but rather the feeling of pulling off the perfect simulated murder. It wasn't the nightmare nurses or occult story that made Silent Hill a hit, but the oppressive sense of dread as you navigated it twisted world. Doom wasn't amazing because of its demons on Mars, but rather because it let you obliterate said demons on Mars. There is one video game movie that gets this right, however, only we don't think about it as it's technically still a video game.
I'm talking about Tales from the Borderlands, Telltale's latest whimsical attraction in its winning formula that can best be described as a "choose-your-own-adventure movie". With minimal character control and only the slightest hint of a puzzle, Tales from the Borderlands practically plays itself. You only choose the dialogue and key actions.
So far, so Walking Dead. But what convinced me that Tales from the Borderlands had more in common with cinema was seeing it played by a crowd of 800+ fans yelling at the screen at PAX Prime. Whichever side would make the most ruckus would get their voices heard by the developer running the live show. Suddenly Telltale's latest jam wasn't enjoyed with a controller, but by a screaming, partially inebriated audience. Just like a film.
And what a wonderful experience that is! Imagine watching The Rocky Horror Picture Show where the audience could actually decide whether they, collectively, wanted to do the time warp again? That's pretty much what watching/playing/shouting at Tales From the Borderlands is like.
Despite having less agency this way - with your voice being shared or shot down by hundreds around you - it actually offers more engagement as yelling over others to get your actions across is a lot more involved than simply tapping a button. When a particularly tear-jerking moment arose the entire audience screamed honour a character's dying wish ("Step three!"). Tapping the circle button just doesn't have the same impact, I reckon.
While Tales from the Borderlands' structure isn't unique from other Telltale games (or Life is Strange for that matter), it works especially well with this sci-fi comedy due to the exuberant popcorn-munching tone of the space western. I'm not sure I'd want a bunch of drunken yahoos shouting in my ear about how to raise Clementine or negotiate with Ramsey Snow, but Tales from the Borderlands' Firefly-esque ragtag gang of bandits, thieves and con artists feels like the kind of cult classic that would be a hoot as a monthly midnight event at a beer theater.
I'm not sure Tales from the Borderlands has quite that reach yet, despite the popularity of both Gearbox's shooter series and Telltale. Five episodes is also a long commitment for most folks to attend (the PAX screening was dedicated solely to Episode 4: Escape Plan Bravo, which already needed some slight trimming as the dev bypassed some text description gags as the audience grew restless in the third act). But the type of experience Telltale has crafted here doesn't just mimic a movie on your telly, but offers the interaction we've all craved when rambunctiously yelling at Tommy Wiseau to put some clothes on. Perhaps Tales from the Borderlands' biggest choice isn't what decisions you make inside the game, but the social experience you choose to build around it.