It’s hard to believe that we’ve already seen so much action, humour and canon-defining moments so far crammed into just three episodes of Telltale Games and 2K Games Borderlands spin-off. Nonetheless, we’ve still got a vault to find as Tales From the Borderlands embarks on an intergalactic journey for it’s somewhat calmer, more emotionally driven fourth outing, Escape Plan Bravo. Before you join on us a trip into outer space, please be aware of passing asteroids, lasers fired from overhead space stations, and of course spoilers.
Escape Plan Bravo opens to find the ragtag group of wannabe vault hunters we’ve grown to love at the mercy of Vallory, Pandora’s leading lady when it comes to all things criminal. In exchange for their lives, Fiona and Rhys reluctantly agree to help their captors find the Vault of the Traveler; an elusive, almost mythical vault that appears in one spot for only a few moments before teleporting and apparently holds great treasures. This involves going back into the belly of the beast and obtaining a missing component for everyone’s new favourite robot, Gortys, from within Handsome Jack’s old office.
And so the episode unfolds in the same manner as a slick heist movie. While the smooth set-up provides some humourous moments, the execution throws up more than just a few unexpected hiccups along the way, leading to the inevitable, and quite frankly predictable cliffhanger ending. Escape Plan Bravo is even a little lighter on the action this time around, but for those who may expect a bit of a breather after Catch A Ride’s high octane finale, then prepare to yourself for one of the series’ (and indeed franchise’s) most emotional beats.
Before we get to all of that, the first segment of the episode involves retrieving a necessary item that Rhys and Fiona will need if they are to infiltrate the Helios station orbiting Pandora. This unlocks the series’ approach to stealth as Rhys must navigate a pack of bloodthirsty, face-skinning bandits, while scanning them for clues, without waking up them up. It’s a tense sequence but one that very much keeps the humour flowing as Rhys’ pants-wetting cowardness plays off against the cocky banter from the Handsome Jack hologram that’s inside his bionic head. Short and sweet, it also reiterates the grizzly sort of place Pandora is, and definitely not one that should be explored on a dodgy tummy.
Meanwhile, Fiona must convince Pandora’s chirpiest mechanic, Scooter, to provide them with a means of space travel, despite the fact that she may have double-crossed him in episode two, depending on your choices at that time. It leads to the game’s first solemn moment as Springs (who was one of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel’s most memorable NPCs) confronts Fiona on the whereabouts of her partner Athena. How this confrontation plays out is completely up to you, but anyone with half a heart will generally go for the more comforting options in the dialogue choices.
The most memorable set piece soon follows as intrepid gang of vault hunters-turned-hostages jettison into outer space in order to reach the Helios base. For once, everything seems to be going to plan, that is until the ship they're on begins to fall apart and Fiona is tasked with accompanying one of the other crew members onto the exterior of the ship in order to fix the problems. This then follows with another, somewhat sentimental moment that proves that there’s more to life in this universe than guns, bandits, and loot.
Providing these touching interactions between two or three characters obviously lends itself well to the dialogue choices that make up the backbone of all Telltale Games offerings. You can be as ruthless or endearing as you like, but the game’s tone and atmosphere pushes many towards relying on their emotions. This demonstrates that while we may not have had a huge amount of variation in terms of gameplay between each one of Telltale’s licensed series’, the quality of writing never dips, no matter if they’re handling TV’s biggest show (Game of Thrones), a gut-wrenching comic book saga (The Walking Dead), or a beloved eighties classic (Back to the Future). While no one would argue that Tales From the Borderlands is treated any differently, this episode proves that even a lowly video-game spin-off can be treated with the same respect as cherished franchises just the same.
Of course, all of this drama comes at a cost and Escape Plan Bravo has an obvious lack of action throughout. Investigatory segments are the usual “check every item and character in the room” affair and this hand-holding approach doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. With the episode focusing on pulling off a heist, it’s natural that Fiona’s undercover approach or Rhys’ body-swapping antics don’t call for a huge amount of gunfire or explosions.
Perhaps Telltale were aware of this right from the beginning, and one scene in particular suggests this. Rhys is confronted by a group of Helios employees in a common area, who without warning seem to threaten his life. However, the laughs keep coming as what unfolds is perhaps the game’s funniest, potential most self-aware moments as Rhys finds himself the lone gunman in a shootout that mimics one of the best Spaced moments ever made. It’s essentially an action scene without any action, just plenty of humour to keep us players interested.
If you’ve made it this far, then the big question is how will this all pan out. Obviously that comes down to the decisions you’ve made as a player since right back from episode one and it’s when you consider the bigger picture that Escape Plan Bravo also seems to falter a little. Many of the game’s conversational cues don’t really seem to have a huge impact on the story. That is, until you reach the end. The way in which the final episode will go all seems to hinge on one decision by Rhys which most of us will have seen coming a mile and could potentially spoil this otherwise brilliant series. No one wants a repeat of the big let down that was Mass Effect 3.
Overall, Escape Plan Bravo feels like the breath that this series’ has earned given that everything up until this pace has been pretty fast-paced. The depth of writing and how that fits into the Telltale format is to be admired, particularly given that this particular series might not be on the top of everyone’s “must-buy” list at the moment. Tales from the Borderlands has already proven time and time again that it can do comedy, but by showing us a different side of the coin with some dignified drama makes this another worthy entry as we head towards the grand finale at full throttle.