Editor’s Note: Because this review deals with the fourth episode of an inherently narrative-heavy episodic series, some spoilers are inevitable.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way before lifting your spirits with tales of the Butt Stallion and Face Pizzas: Episode 4 of Tales from the Borderlands is technically the weakest offering from this marvelous series so far.
While this might seem like a terrible bit of information for everyone who has enjoyed some of Telltale’s best work to date, the fact of the matter is that the worst episode of Tales from the Borderlands is actually much better than most of the games you’ll find floating around. This heist-focused two hours is designed to set up what should be a thrilling conclusion, and while the penultimate episode feels like filler at times, the best jokes of the season can be found here. Telltale is no stranger to the setup episode, as is evidenced by the fourth episode of The Wolf Among Us, but the fact that it was able to set the stage for an incredible ending while being full of the zany humor that fans of the series have come to adore, there’s still a great deal to love here. Oh, and in case you were wondering, 2015’s best new character, Gortys, has tons of adorable dialogue that will simultaneously melt your heart and bring a smile to your face.
Escape Plan Bravo is based around the conclusion of the previous episode, where the gang finds out that the final piece to Gortys’ vault-locating powers is located back on the Hyperion base on Helios. Not only does this rag-tag group of ruffians need to find its way off of Pandora, but a great deal of corporate-focused stealth must be employed in order to succeed.
What makes this episode stand out is the fact that all of the stealth sequences are interspersed with hilarious dialogue, ridiculous moments and the single most ludicrous action sequence any Telltale game has seen to date. In regards to that last point, imagine an entire quicktime-event-based scene where the only combat present involves shooting the biggest nerds in the universe with finger guns and oral sound effects (don’t worry, there may or may not be a virgin joke thrown in there somewhere). Escape Plan Bravo could have been the most boring episode Telltale has put out in quite some time, but the genius team of writers over there figured out a way to take a relatively mundane premise and turn it into a Grade A chuckle-fest.
Because Handsome Jack upgraded Rhys’ Echo Eye in a previous episode, a great deal of the best jokes in Episode Four wind up coming from the hysterical expositions that arise when you scan objects. Every bit of pop-culture zaniness that you could possibly hope for is present; there’s an incredible Tinder joke, intelligent innuendo and a well-timed “10/10 would play again” pun for players to enjoy. The latest episode of Tales from the Borderlands expects you to laugh, which is certainly great considering that there really isn’t a major revelation present in the entire two hour run-time. Sure, there’s a major choice to make at its conclusion, but after the third episode’s subtle hints at an insane character reveal, it’s slightly disappointing that nothing here will leave you on the edge of your seat. The good news is that the identity of your story-progressing captor is still to be determined, and if you’re a gambler, you should definitely put money on the final scene of the season revealing his or her true identity. There are a ton of loose ends to be tied up in the final episode, so the fact that Escape Plan Bravo merely existed to tell a ton of jokes and progress the story further really isn’t the end of the world.
There are two major highlights in the fourth episode of Tales from the Borderlands that push it into the “great” category. Without giving away any major spoilers, a major character death creates a heart-wrenching level of sadness, and a downright incredible sequence set to the tune of Twin Shadow’s “To the Top.” The latter scene could not possibly fit in more perfectly with Tales from the Borderlands‘ less-than-serious vibe, as it finds a way to turn a regular scene into something extraordinary. Combining an amazing, dramatic song with some well-placed slow motion and a group of characters that can’t help but bring a smile to one’s face makes for an awesome moment, and there’s no way that anyone could say otherwise.
In regards to that terribly sad character passing, it seems odd to say that the saddest moment in the season thus far set the stage for all of the amazing jokes that followed it. Tonal variance is a topic that has been at the forefront of the video game industry conversation as of late, and the fact that a players quickly shift from sadness to glee highlights the incredible writing at the core of Tales from the Borderlands. Think about it: if the weakest episode of this series manages to take you on an emotional roller coaster, that means that we’re talking about a pretty special game as a whole.
The beginning of this review stated that Tales from the Borderlands‘ fourth episode was its worst episode to date, and while that’s technically true, we’re basically talking about the difference between great and amazing. Tales from the Borderlands has firmly established itself as a bona fide game of the year contender, meaning that Telltale has earned the right to take an episode to set up what will inevitably be a grand and thrilling final episode. While there is a moment that will potentially bring a tear to your eye (by the way, pick “Step 3 here;” just do it), the vast majority of this two hour episode is gleeful, silly and an overall reminder that video games are meant to bring joy. It’s borderline terrifying to think that the lowest point of Tales from the Borderlands is better than most of the games that have come out in 2015, but that’s exactly the case and gamers everywhere should be overjoyed at this news.