Full steam ahead as we plow through Tales From the Borderlands fantastic third episode like an out-of-control Runner smashing through a nest of skrags on the dusty planet of Pandora. Book-ended by two heart-racing action sequences, Catch A Ride doesn’t only keep the pace very much flowing for 2K games spin-off adventure, but also proves that this series could potentially be one of the greatest that Telltale Games have made to date. Spoilers will be kept to a minimum, but you can get a quick recap of the adventure by looking back at our reviews of episode one and episode two.
How episode three begins all depends on the final choice that was made at the end of Atlas Mugged. Taking control of Rhys, your quick last minute reaction will either see Fiona attempt to distract the August and Vasquez or have the Handsome Jack hologram take control of the security drones that are guarding the facility you’re trapped in.
Some previous Telltale Games have had alternate paths that are revealed depending on the choices you’ve made, giving some replay value to their otherwise straightforward adventures. This episode however takes this notion to the extreme, by having certain narrative paths locked to the different decisions that have come prior. It really does entice you to replay not only this episode but the previous ones again as well, creating a secondary save to see which one will yield better results. As of the final moments of episode two, we’re now seeing potentially two totally different games on offer which is a big bonus in anyone’s book.
One of the biggest arcs involves Rhys’ interactions with the “ghost” of Handsome Jack. While it’s tempting to see the franchises big bad giving us some of the best slices of comic relief - dishing out brilliant one-liners such as “Get ready to lick my boots you raging douchebag!” - you’ll also grow weary of just how much control you’ll want to give him over one of the game’s heroes. Despite the comedic interludes, it also adds a sense of tension amidst the already growing chaos as he and his fellow vault hunters are once again forced into a corner.
Beyond that, there are plenty of other crucial moments in this episode that could all potentially create a butterfly effect upon the rest of the story. At times, even the fates of other characters - both good and bad - rest in your hands, so be prepared to take a deep breath and go with your gut in these instances . Without getting into spoiler territory, I’m keen to see how one particular decisions will ripple out in the final two instalments.
Reactions also factor into the game’s overarching plot, which sees Fiona and Rhys being escorted across the sand plains of Pandora by an as-yet unidentified bounty hunter. This masked stranger gets a lot more screentime in this episode, adding further to the mystery of their identity. It also brings into question the reliability of Rhys and Fiona testimony. Some of the funniest asides are when one will call shenanigans on the other’s narration. But this also raises the question - how much of this story is actually true? Whatever the answer is, it’s a hell of a lot of fun spending time with these two untrustworthy braggarts.
To dump further praise on the episode, we’re also treated to a number of new characters, all while further developing the backstories and personalities of the ones we’ve already met. The “Queenpin” of Pandora, a dominating space pirate called Vallory, makes her debut and immediately sends shockwaves through the rest of the series. Countering this pure villainy is Gortys, an ever so cute robot built by Atlas to show our heroes where the legendary vault at the centre of this story is hidden. Both characters immediately gel well with both the player and the rest of the cast, which is surprising considering just how late in the series they have been introduced.
Athena from Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel gets quite a bit of screen time, as she and Fiona work together on one particular mission that harks back to the vault-hunting essence this world was founded upon. Their interactions not only help give more insight into Fiona’s ambitions but also fully gel Athena as a mainstay in the Borderlands universe. And speaking of Fiona, we also get a very powerful scene where she and her sister further discuss the shady nature of their adoptive father, Felix, who seemingly double-crossed them in the first episode and whose lingering presence provides an emotional beat for the series.
Rhys on the other hand is still reeling in from the hard-to-swallow reveal he faced during episode two. While it’s up to the player to decide how he will deal with this, it also gives him the chance to spend some time with Sasha, Fiona’s sister in a move that essentially mixes up the teams and changes the dynamics before the episode’s finale. It’s actually quite surprising that with so many plot threads being juggled around, none of them feel stale or forced, leaving you chomping at the big for the next episode in order to get a little more resolution.
Between the heavy dialogue and variety of responses, there are a number of scenes where you’ll control either Rhys or Fiona. If there are any criticisms of the game as a whole, it’s that these moments feature clunky movement as you wander around a particular scene looking for things to interact with and people to talk to. What should be a quizzical puzzle moment in the game results in a section where you just have to interact with everyone and everything in order to progress the story.
There are also a few notable errors in the scene transitions. The comic book graphics are still as eye-poppingly refreshing as ever and further exploration of Pandora further increases just how wacky and wonderful this backdrop it. But while the odd frame rate jump or inconsistent soundbite are easily forgivable, the game has a tendency of handing over the reigns for a quick-time event without any advanced warning. The story is strong enough that you’ll not want to skip cutscenes or even turn away from the screen for a second, but some QTEs will pop up at times when you least expect, resulting in a game over slide and having to redo the whole portion again. This is most apparent in one of the final action sequences and having to redo the sequence two or three times in order to hit every note becomes a nuisance that disrupts the overall fast-paced chaos unfolding on screen.
The action segments as a whole are varied enough however to keep you well and truly engaged. Whether you’re using Fiona’s elemental gun to take on some despicable goons or using Rhys’ cybernetics to control the loader bot’s movements, it definitely demonstrates some of the most inventive scenes to ever take place in a Telltale Games adventure. One particular section sees Fiona planning and executing her very own vault hunt, adding a certain element of strategy to the proceedings. It certain brings this spin-off further in line with the typical Borderlands gameplay in a manner that could potentially come full circle by the time series ends.
Catch A Ride further explores the weird yet strangely alluring backdrop of Pandora in a jaw-dropping episode. The final moments of the game may be the epitome of a dark and despairing cliffhanger, but it certainly whets our appetite for the upcoming fourth episode. Thankfully, a series of potentially game-changing decisions gives us the perfect excuse to replay the story so far and see just how much playing God can impact the lives of our heroes.