Friday, August 21, 2015

Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 4: Escape Plan Bravo review

    Having just finished the penultimate episode of Tales from the Borderlands, I am grinning ear-to-ear. In a very real way, I'm kind of disappointed by this episode but only in the context that the ending was so perfect that I don't think Episode 5 can improve on it. In my case, Rhys chose to make a deal with the Devil and became the one who knocks. I'm going to be very disappointed when this is, inevitably, reversed but for a few shining moments, it's good to be king.

    Escape Plan Bravo is an episode with a huge number of surprises, revelations, and twists. A lot of these are scripted but I long ago made peace with the fact Telltale games are more and more roller-coasters than RPGs. The illusion of choice is just that, an illusion, especially with the short development times but I don't mind it when the characters are as well-established as they are here.

Sasha + Rhys doesn't get much development but they're definitely the official couple now.
    The premise is Rhys, Fiona, and Sasha have barely managed to survive the events of the previous episode. Captured by Vallory, they're now being forced to complete the Gortys robot which will summon the Traveller's Vault. This involves breaking into Hyperion's space station and getting into Handsome Jack's office. For that, they need a spaceship, to steal a tour guide's group, and to go through a trap-door filled with horrific death-traps. Along the way we'll suffer a tragic death and a terrible betrayal. Oh and, as I mentioned, Rhys can become Handsome Jack 2.0.

    Escape Plan Bravo is only about an hour and a half long, which is a worrying trend in Telltale Games since episodes are more commonly two hours long. I'm going to give it a pass, however, because it was so damn entertaining. Telltale has really made their mark on Gearbox's universe and I've got to say I hope they make a sequel to this series. This is some of the best work they've done in years and is a wonderful antidote to some of the darker and grittier stuff I've been playing.

Butt Stallion is in this episode. What more need be said?
    My favorite moment from the episode was Handsome Jack and Rhys bonding in the former's office, including the horrible realization Jack doesn't know his daughter is dead. I also loved Fiona bluffing her way through the Handsome Jack museum despite the fact she only knows him as the equivalent of Stalin on her world. There's a hilariously awesome finger-gun fight which is, quite possibly, the most epic action sequence in all of Borderlands history. Plus, I never thought I'd get misty-eyed about a certain character but, damn, if it wasn't something worth getting misty-eyed over.

    See you, Space Cowboy.

    There's some flaws in this episode, minor as they may be. For a section which is only an hour-and-a-half-long, it feels padded in the beginning. As enjoyably sick as it is to bond with Handsome Jack over stealing a man's face-pizza (seriously) plus talk with Janey Springs about her relationship with Athena, there's really nothing important happening until the space ride.
The greatest hero who has ever lived. Except to Lucky, of course.
     The absence of Vaughn this episode was troublesome and the fact Athena was dragged off to star in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel's opening narration doesn't mean I don't miss her presence in-game. I was also irritated by the fact we don't get any more development on August or Vallory's goons despite the fact they're with us for virtually the entire episode. I liked Vaughn, sociopathy aside, and wanted to continue his flirtations with Sasha despite the fact that ship has sailed.

     Still, I'll forgive a lot for putting rocket-boosters on a caravan like in Mel Brook's Spaceballs, though. I mean, how can you complain about an episode which has the option of saying, "What's up, ladies?" to two male guards, only for them to talk about how that's misogynist. Maybe I'm easily pleased but the worst moments of this episode are just mildly dull while the best moments are great.

     This episode's greatest strength is it manages to do a lot of what Borderlands 2 successfully did in balancing drama, wackiness, strong characterization, and comedy. Scooter is a character who is repulsive and lovable in equal parts, which makes his actions in the game all the more surprising. We only knew Yvette as a lovable lunch-mooch so when she achieves some sudden depth, it's a swerve but doesn't break my suspension of disbelief either. Likewise, due to Handsome Jack's softened characterization, the choice to side with him or not is genuinely hard.

There is a context which makes this scene make sense. Honest.
     In conclusion, Escape Plan Bravo is a great-great episode and probably going to be remembered as a highpoint of this game. I just hope the big climax, where we get all of the plots resolved, manages to keep itself to the high standard set by its predecessor. Which, given the predecessor has the option of shooting a diamond unicorn in the but, is pretty hard to imagine doing so.


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