Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 4 ‘Escape Plan Bravo’ serves as the penultimate episode of what many are already calling Telltale Games’ best series yet. While individual episodes have varied in quality, usually vacillating between great and excellent, the overall feel of the series is that it will go down in graphic adventure history as one of the best. Episode 4 continues this trend, though some of the cracks that have appeared in past episodes have widened to form fissures that actually impact the experience this time around.
Players join the continuing adventures of Rhys and Fiona right where they left off at the end of Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 3. The two are still captives of the mysterious man, telling the tale of how they met, and the hunt for the Vault that followed. That quest finds them in even worse shape than usual, having been captured by Vallory and her goons after their discovery of another Gortys piece. After some short, but possibly bloody negotiation, the team sets out to locate another upgrade for Gortys, which is unfortunately located off the surface of Pandora.
Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 4 has one of the more rough starts of the series. Things take a while to really form the shape of the adventure to come, and if you haven’t just finished your run through Episode 3, you might find yourself a little lost as to what is going on with certain characters. Once you get back on your feet, and the story gets going it definitely begins to live up to the high expectations set by previous entries in the series, but the slow start hurts the experience.
Despite this, the writing, voice acting, and storytelling are all on point as usual, giving players yet another fantastic gaming experience. The biggest strength of Tales from the Borderlands has always been its humor. While Episode 4 might not have the overall best comic moments of the series, it delivers throughout with genuinely funny lines and scenarios that will become true classics.
Not to get into too much for spoiler concerns, but events like Fiona’s excellent tour guide skills, Rhys’ finger gun shoot out, and pretty much everything that Gortys says throughout the episode are definite standouts in a series that was already full of them. Speaking of Gortys, she has quickly become one of the best characters from any Telltale game, with her cute and naive dialogue acting as the real comic flair for the whole episode.
However, there are a few odd absences this episode that might leave some fans confused. At the end of last episode a few of our mainstay characters were either captured or fled in an unknown direction. It was easy to assume that they would reappear at some point this episode, but it seems like that’s being held for the finale instead. If you are a fan of these characters then Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 4 might feel a bit hollow due to their absence. Thankfully a few other characters make a return, in some fashion, which somewhat makes up for the smaller cast.
Also making an unfortunate return are the glaring technical issues that have begun plaguing Telltale games. It’s not that animation issues and other problems weren’t present before, but they were more forgivable a few years ago, and when Telltale was just becoming big. Now, with a few very successful series under their belts and more developers getting into the graphic adventure genre once again, the problems feel more pronounced.
It’s become quite obvious that Telltale needs a new engine, as they are still using the same one that crafted The Walking Dead back in 2012. Of course, they can’t really change engines mid-season, so the problems here aren’t unexpected. However, it feels like more work could be done to polish the game’s episodes before release. The start of Episode 4 in particular seemed to suffer from this. There was a strange mixture of bad lip-syncing, animation problems, and even characters teleporting strangely while off camera. In a genre that is wholly dependent on immersion and sucking you into the story, these small problems add up, as they do the exact opposite.
Luckily that story does well enough on its own to almost wholly make up for the problems that have become unfortunately expected at this point. Taking our cast of characters and launching them on a new quest really did a lot to shake up what could have become a stale formula. The heist format works extremely well, propelling our characters on a defined quest, with pre-set goals that will inevitably be altered as the plan falls apart and gets reshaped into something new and unexpected.
Along the way, Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 4 delivers some excellent story beats, including some truly emotional moments. The choices forced upon the player can be tough, though not quite as heart wrenching as in the developer’s other running series, Game of Thrones. Still, they fit within the context of this story well, and give the player just enough freedom, while keeping the story interesting.
Unfortunately, the best emotional beat is marred a bit by the fact that it feels rather forced. Just off the top of my head I could think of a few things that could have gotten a better outcome, but it was obvious that Telltale had an end goal in mind and there was no getting around it. Perhaps if they’d just given me the chance to try and fail it would have worked better, but even without this it still delivered one of the most memorable moments in the series.
This penultimate episode of Telltale’s stellar Tales from the Borderlands series certainly lives up to the series’ pedigree. However, a few missteps along the way, combined with the technical problems that the developer has become infamous for, make for an overall less enjoyable experience than episodes past. Still, this is certainly one of the best narrative driven games available, and the finale is looking like it will easily cement this reputation.
Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 4
- Available On: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Mobile
- Published By: Telltale Games
- Developed By: Telltale Games
- Genre: Graphic Adventure
- US Release Date: August 18th, 2015
- Reviewed On: PC
- Quote: "This penultimate episode of Telltale's stellar Tales from the Borderlands series certainly lives up to the series' pedigree. However, a few missteps along the way, combined with the technical problems that the developer has become infamous for, make for an overall less enjoyable experience than episodes past. Still, this is certainly one of the best narrative driven games available, and the finale is looking like it will easily cement this reputation."