(Click for reviews of episode one, episode two, and episode three. This review will contain spoilers for the past three episodes but tries to remain as cryptic as possible about any surprises in episode four)
Telltale is wrapping up their initial journey into Gearbox’s Borderlands franchise, and with only one episode left, the stakes are higher than ever in the fourth episode. Anxiety is strung up like some poor guy’s intestines in a psycho shanty town, and Escape Plan Bravo expertly rockets Tales From the Borderlands to a nail biting set up for the finale, giving quite a bit of heart and one of the craziest action sequences in the season thus far.
Escape Plan Bravo is Tales From the Borderlands meets Oceans 11 or The Italian Job. It’s a heist movie, complete with the initial planning phase, and of course the revelation that not everything goes according to plan. You can almost see George Clooney standing in Rhys’ place detailing each step of how they are going to break into the orbiting Hyperion base of Helios. That foresight that there will be complications is what helps to intensify each moment, but it also lends a lot of heart and feeling as we go along.
Changing the Dynamic
Let’s face it, this is Telltale Games, and as we’re getting to the end of the season, no one is safe (aside from Rhys and Fiona, who we know are alive and telling the masked figure their story), every decision that I was forced to make was another cringe-inducing moment of wondering if I had just said my last goodbyes to that character. Rhys and Vaughn share another special bro moment — not nearly as goofy as their interaction in episode two — which shows how much this journey to Pandora has changed each of these characters and their relationship with each other. While the episode still has plenty of funny moments, there’s a much larger focus on reigning in and humanizing these characters to get us prepared to quite possibly say goodbye to many of them.
Trust is a huge theme in Escape Plan Bravo. Allegiances will be tested, convictions will be broken, and it makes every single decision a stressful one, though that did lead to one of my biggest problems with the episode. With such a heavy need to inject this emotion into the story, choices feel completely meaningless, with very few obvious consequences for choices you make. Perhaps they’ll have some bearing in the finale, but the narrative decisions for Escape Plan Bravo feel quite linear. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, giving them a chance to refine the emotion of the plot, but it’s worth mentioning.
The couple of pivotal decisions you do make are absolutely stress inducing. I mentioned the stakes being high, and there are a few choices that pit emotion against logic. Having only seconds to make each one adds to the tension and doesn’t allow you to process the ramifications of each. It’s a well written script that places these points at just the right moments to really stab you wherever you keep your bag of emotions, and no matter what I picked, I always regretted not picking the other one, even though there was really no right answer.
Answering the Call to Arms
So much focus on character moments and the heist doesn’t leave time for much action, and let’s be honest, Ocean’s 11 wouldn’t have exactly been the same movie with a massive scale gun fight breaking out in the middle of the casino. Telltale answers this call in two ways. First, this episode is filled with some of the darkest moments we’ve seen. Peeling the face of a character we had previously met off of the mask of a psycho? Thanks to whoever at Telltale had that idea, I now can’t eat pizza anymore. Another grim moment builds up to a conclusion you will know is coming, but are hoping so badly to be able to resolve. Borderlands has always had dark humor, but the boundaries are being pushed.
The second answer to a lack of death filled action scenes is a particular sequence that is hilariously clever from it’s inception. Pay attention when you get to Helios. There’s some foreshadowing, and the whole thing wittily manages to provide action while still maintaining the undercover heist vibe of the whole episode. Bravo to whoever thought this one up (but it still doesn’t negate the other guy that ruined pizza for me).
Episode four is really about Rhys and Fiona. We begin to see a distancing of other characters to focus in on our main two. Depending on how you perceive him, we also see Jack becoming a growing threat in Rhys’ head, going from a humorous annoyance, to a real peril for our leads. I personally choose to not trust Handsome Jack in a majority of cases, so other players may see his growing power as more of an opportunity for Rhys. Either way, it’s clear that Handsome Jack is becoming a far larger player and much more influential to the transpiring events than he has previously been.
From the opening with Rhys hilariously attempting to zig-zag as he runs from his masked captor, to the epic Borderlands staple credits sequence set to a great soundtrack, and all the way to the jaw dropping conclusion, Escape Plan Bravo manages to cram humor, heart, and tension into one of the best episodes that they’ve ever created in any of their series. Sure, it’s not the most choice driven or fastest paced thing they’ve done, but they’re telling a great story that has captivated me wholeheartedly both overall and moment to moment, and judging by their name, isn’t that what Telltale is all about?
Tales from the Borderlands Ep. 4: Escape Plan Bravo review code provided by publisher. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.