There are a lot of things to love about the Tales from the Borderlands series from Telltale Games. It’s often laugh-out-loud funny, equal parts charming and violent, and can even muster up the capacity to be heartfelt from time to time. There is this underlying sincerity to it all that makes the series work better than one might expect from a story-driven adventure set in the insane universe of Borderlands.
While an enjoyable segment of adventure, Episode Three was essentially the set up for the craziness that makes up the meat of Escape Plan Bravo. Our heroes, backed into a corner and left with no other option, must undertake the biggest con of their lives to secure the final piece of the puzzle that will lead them to a legendary vault. Failure to secure the piece will mean death for everyone involved. It’s a classic set up that slowly becomes more and more convoluted as parts of the plan fail or run into snags. By the end of the episode, just when things couldn’t possibly become worse, the stage is set for the finale with an improbably catastrophic turn of events.
In the middle of all the enjoyable con artistry, the game pauses for an unexpected character death. It serves as a reminder that Pandora is a harsh and violent place where death is never far away, even during hijinks and heists. More importantly, this scene again shows that Tales from the Borderlands can achieve more emotional high-notes than laughter and visceral excitement. The death hits home as genuinely sad. It is an effective send off for a character who has become a staple of the series, though I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if that character turned out to have survived through a series of improbable events.
Picking the highlight of Escape Plan Bravo is easily done. Towards the end of the episode, an imaginary gun battle breaks out with a bunch of accountants who are upset about discrepancies with the books. The amazingly creative and hilarious scene features dozens of accountants getting finger-gunned down and imaginary grenade explosions. It injects some levity into an otherwise tense con.
Those two aforementioned scenes demonstrate the solid construction of the individual episodes of Tales from the Borderlands. It all feels balanced. Events are funny, but never wander into outright farce territory. An element of danger always underlies the humor. However, that danger is managed in such a way that it never feels suffocating, allowing the humor to speak for itself while making the tragedies encountered over the course of four episodes feel earned or at least understandable. It’s a precarious path for the series to walk, but it manages to toe the lines with apparent ease.
From a technical perspective, Escape Plan Bravo ran the smoothest out of any of the Tales from the Borderlands episodes to date. I encountered no graphical hiccups or bugs during my two hour playthrough, which led to a very pleasant experience. Not much else to say on this other than it works without a hitch.
Visually, Escape Plan Bravo is probably the most diverse and eye-candy filled episode in the series to date. We get to see more than the blasted surface of Pandora, which makes for a nice diversion from crazy psychos, monsters, and eccentric locals. There is an air of novelty to the visuals that is hard to pin down on any one part of the visual design.
Perhaps a part of what makes thing so interesting to look at is that they come with a lot of meaning. People who have played through Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and Borderlands 2 will get a lot more out of Episode Four as it deals rather heavily with Handsome Jack. It manages to humanize the character to such a degree that it is perilously easy to forget that a cold-hearted villain lurks beneath Handsom Jack's outward charms.
The one complaint that I can possibly level against Escape Plan Bravo is that the overarching plot is very predictable. If you have ever seen a heist or con movie, you’ll understand where Episode Four is going. Even if you haven’t, the set up leads to a large chunk of the episode feeling like formulaic moving from Point A to Point B in the most over-the-top ways imaginable. There’s nothing wrong with that, but part of the fun of previous episodes was the blindsiding unexpectedness of encountering Pandorans living their hyperbolic lives.
It is a Telltale Game. Expect great writing, game-changing choices, and some really interesting scenarios. Escape Plan Bravo comes close to being a new high for the series between its dramatic and comedic turns. With the overarching mystery laid out in the framed narrative still unsolved, Episode Five is sure to hold a lot of bombshells and insanity. As it stands, if you played the first three episodes of Tales from the Borderlands, you will be doing yourself a favor by playing Episode Four.