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From Game of Thrones to Borderlands: all of Telltale's adventure games rated

Telltale Games has an impressive back catalogue of licensed adventure games to its name, and we have opinions about all of them.

Note that this rundown doesn't include bundles, the non-adventure games or games published by Telltale but created by other developers. It's also got a fair bit of speculation in it, since at least two of the entries are only one episode in, and may be subject to complete re-ordering when the Minecraft series comes out (although whether it goes to the top or the bottom of the list is anyone's guess). Also, there were way more of these than I remembered - so if I've missed one I don't even apologise.


#13: Law & Order: Legacies
I have to be honest, I'm ranking this one last because I didn't actually know it existed, which isn't super fair. I'm sure Law & Order: Legacies is a fine, uh, graphical adventure released on iOS, Mac and PC as seven bi-weekly episodes between December 2011 and March 2012. Am I likely to go look it up and remedy this hole in my Telltale education? Absolutely not.

Law & Order: Legacies was was actually the fourth game based on the police procedural legal drama, and I feel like it came out at the end of the series' peak popularity, which probably explains why it was also the last one. It was also the first not to be developed by Legacy Interactive. I like to think Telltale chose the title as a nod to the previous developer.


#12: Bone
Before it was rolling around in the top licenses of popular culture, Telltale Games made a splash working with a couple of alternate comics. The lesser known of these is Bone, Jeff Smith's self-published series.

First released in 2005 and 2006, the two Bone games were developed while Telltale was still growing into its powers, and it shows. They're kind of funny, but not really funny. They're definitely traditional adventure games, but they don't bend your brain too much. That said, they're super cute and very worthwhile for fans. Still, they're not based on a TV show my mum likes, which ranks them higher than Law & Order in my book.


#11: CSI
CSI was Telltale's first license, having taken over the franchise from 369 Interactive. It did pretty well with it, making four games based on the show that really popularised forensic procedural dramas between 2006 and 2010. Although there have been a few social and mobile releases, there hasn't been a major CSI release since Telltale signed off.

It was probably the success of the CSI games that lined Telltale up for the Law & Order license a few years later. The series was rather more successful and popular than you'd believe in the post-casual era. They came out during the years of The Great Video Games Glut and were released on all sorts of consoles, during those amazing times when licensed console games weren't a death sentence. Also, TIL: Ubisoft holds the CSI license. Huh.


#10: Sam & Max
Sam & Max is the other alt comic property that helped Telltale establish a name for itself. The indie has made three games based on Steve Purcell's freelance police series, released in 2006, 2007 and 2010, and all were very well received.

Having sold well, appeared on multiple consoles, and been highlighted as an early PlayStation Plus bonus, the Sam & Max series is quite well known and popular. That said, they're not must-plays, I think. They're definitely old school adventures, with plenty of walking back and forth between screens pixel hunting and playing inventory games in the hopes of finding the solution. The humour either pleases you or it doesn't. Don't feel obliged.


#9: Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures
You have no idea how much work claymation takes - no, not even if you did a stop-motion project in your final year at college. Aardman Animation does incredible work, the old school way, and capturing that in a video game was quite a task.

Did Telltale come through? Well, the game's look great, that's for sure. But the Wallace & Gromit world, which seem a perfect fit for the frequently bonkers logic of adventure games, somehow didn't quuuuuuuite succeed. They're decent games, yes, but the feeling isn't quite there. Is the pace too ponderous? Are the jokes to twee? I don't know. It's better than Law & Order, though, for sure.


#8: Back to the Future: The Game
Since everyone had forgotten about CSI by the time this one came around, Back to the Future is often hailed as Telltale's first big license. It's also notable as the last really old school adventurey-adventure the developer produced (so far).

What really makes Back to the Future stand out is that Telltale took a really well-known property and told a new story with it, showing us new sides to familiar characters. It didn't have the impact that it deserved, really - it wasn't until The Walking Dead that Telltale broke into the big leagues - but if you're tracking the studio's development, it's definitely a turning point.


#7: Jurassic Park: The Game
I love dinosaurs and especially Jurassic Park so much that I almost put this at number one just on principle, but this series was made by a Telltale experimenting with a new kind of adventure game, and it hasn't quite found its feet. If it weren't for the dinosaurs I'd drop this down about four spaces, so your mileage will vary considerably.

The characters aren't in the same league as the film's, and neither is the set. You don't get any of the sense of consequential choice found in other Telltale games. This was also the first Telltale game to experiment with more action-oriented sequences, and although they're not terrible they lack the impact of later titles; it's a bit like watching a direct-to-video Jurassic Park sequel movie on Netflix and having to press the resume button more frequently than usual.


#6: Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People
If you are under the age of 20 you might not be that familiar with Homestar Runner. An intermittently-updated collection of flash video series dating back to 2000, Homestar Runner went on hiatus for four years only to return quite recently. Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People is based on the adventures of Strong Bad, Homestar Runner's primary enemy, whose popularity probably outranks his opposite number's thanks to his willingness to answer fan mail.

The series started okay but got particularly good in later episodes, but doesn't have much draw outside the Homestar Runner fanbase. The world of Homestar Runner is a perfect fit for the randomness of adventure game conventions, but if you're not already keen on it there's not much reason to check out a pretty low-risk adventure offering. If you are a fan you'll probably love this, as it's basically more Homestar Runner with extra clicking. Not Telltale's strongest effort, then; in other titles it has done an excellent job of creating games that appeal to total newcomers, too.


#5: Tales from Monkey Island
This is one of those instances of a really good idea running flat into the jaded cynicism of the grumpiest corners of the Internet. Monkey Island: one of the most important and beloved adventure franchises of all time. Telltale: even in 2009 already one of the most recognised modern adventure developers. A match made in heaven, right? Sadly, it turns out the same nostalgia card that makes us rush to drop our cash on Kickstarters also makes us pretty ornery about people messing with our favourite IPs, so you'll hear a lot of whinging about it.

In fact it's actually a pretty damn good series. No, nobody will ever match the LucasArts originals - but as a love letter to Guybrush, it certainly worked. Again, Telltale showed it could put together a satisfying extension of a story we know and love, and to take familiar characters in new directions. Give it a chance; it's worth it.


#4: The Wolf Among Us
As a fairly lackadaisical comics fan I'd not heard of Fables before Telltale got the license, but I was interested enough by the news that the team was set to tackle it that I pulled the trades off my housemate's shelf and read through. I can confirm that they are pretty rad, as is The Wolf Among Us.

The distinctive neon aesthetic of The Wolf Among Us and its fairly heavy content work perfectly; the feeling is of a noir detective tale. The investigations aren't exactly CSI material, but they're also not the focus of the game - the lives and development of the colourful characters are. It's easy to like Bigby, despite or perhaps due to his flaws, and one of Telltale's greatest accomplishments is making him feel real and consistent regardless of how you choose to play him.


#3: Game of Thrones
Like Tales from the Borderlands, Game of Thrones boasts multiple playable characters. The action switches back and forth between various members of a minor house, just like the books and TV show, and it works really well thanks to Telltale's masterful handling of a story that has a similar complexity of content as George R.R. Martin's writing without becoming confusing. There are enough hooks to the story you know that it doesn't feel unnecessary, but it also doesn't make you re-experience stuff you've read or seen already.

Telltale did an excellent job with character models, and it's really cool hearing the actors from the HBO series voice their characters (and confirm that Peter Dinklage is a much better voice actor than Destiny suggests). It's just a delight for fans, and thanks to the audience I enjoyed while playing through I can confirm that it makes compelling watching for those who don't know anything about the franchise, too.

We're only one episode in, but the series is off to a cracking start. The ending of the first episode wrung a round of applause from me - seriously, I clapped my hands and shrieked. I can't way to see where Telltale takes us next.


#2: Tales from the Borderlands
I feel a little bit uncomfortable ranking this one so highly because my flatmate (for three more weeks) works at 2K, so I normally try to keep my Borderlands fangirling under my hat. But not only was this produced and released without any input whatsoever from 2K, here's the thing: of every game I took home for the holidays, this was the one my dad liked the most. I consider him a purely objective critic, so when he agrees with me I can trust my own opinion (he also liked Far Cry 4, if you're interested.)

Gearbox was quite open about its reasons for getting Telltale to try its hand with Borderlands: frantic first person shooters just aren't the best medium for storytelling. And yet the Borderlands setting and lore really are quite compelling (play through the games alone sometime and actually check out the characters and story properly), and deserve exploration. As we've seen throughout this list, Telltale is great at taking other people's creations and exploring them.

Tales from the Borderlands is a lot of fun, and it paints Pandora as a real place people might actually live, as opposed to a series of shooter arenas. The unreliable narration of the split-protagonist works really well. The jokes are genuinely funny. The characters are likeable. There's lots of stuff for fans, but it's friendly to newcomers alike. Handsome Jack is in it (sort of). I loved it.


#1: The Walking Dead
There was really only one choice for first place, wasn't there? The Walking Dead is the game that propelled Telltale into wider critical appreciation, and came at a perfect time to pull a whole new audience to gaming, too.

Telltale's formula of consequential choices and carry-over progress really came into its own, and that captured our imaginations. A cast of interesting, varied, non-stereotyped characters and a plot full of conflict and drama helped, too. But it was the budding relationship between Lee and Clementine that really sealed the deal; by the end of the first season many players were so invested that the confronting ending left them reeling.

The second season was not as well-received as the first, as sophomore efforts rarely are, and I have wondered whether that has something to do with the difficulty of relating to a young female protagonist rather than a lack of quality. As a whole, The Walking Dead (two seasons and intermittent DLC 400 Days) is one of the most important (and plain enjoyable) things to happen to the adventure genre in years.


What's next for Telltale?

The next project on Telltale's radar is Minecraft: Story Mode, something we find somewhat incredible - but Telltale's definitely proved it can adapt anything to an adventure series.

There's also a third season of The Walking Dead on the cards, which is great, and of course the current seasons of Game of Thrones and Tales from the Borderlands to complete.

Most excitingly, though, there's an original IP. Given what Telltale can do within the constraints of someone else's fiction, imagine what it can do with a free rein.

Telltale is bigger and stronger than ever before, and has grown into its powers impressively. We're looking forward to whatever it gets up to in the future.

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