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Tales from the Borderlands Episode Three – “Catch a Ride” Review
This review contains spoilers for previous episodes of Tales from the Borderlands. Release Date: June 23 Developer/Publisher: Telltale Games Available For: PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Android, iOS
Just about every TV show features the inevitable setup episode. It’s the middle point in the season where the major conflicts have been named and the character arcs have been established. It’s the moment where a storyteller maps out the route between A and B and the first steps down this path are taken. This scenario comes to mind when I think of the latest episode of Tales from the Borderlands.
Episode Three, titled “Catch a Ride,” spends time tying up a few loose ends while introducing some new ones for the final two episodes. The series has been consistently delivering on on great humor and writing and that trend continues with this latest episode. However, by design it leaves less of an impact than earlier entries.
“Catch a Ride” begins by finishing off the cliffhanger of the previous episode with a terrific action scene punctuated by the right dose of humor. It then follows into the main premise of the episode, which has Rhys, Fiona, Sasha, Vaughn and Athena searching for an upgrade for the now-active Gortys project.
This search takes up the entire narrative and this is where the episode’s primary issue comes into play. It’s never clear what this upgrade will do or how exactly it will make accomplishing the ultimate goal of finding a vault any easier.
All the player knows is that they need the upgrade for the project to work. It’s as if the developers are shrugging their shoulders and asking us to go on a fetch-quest. This is either an example of poor explanation or lazy writing but either way it severely limits the potential of this episode.
The main cast of characters stick together for most of the episode, limiting the benefit of having multiple perspectives. The swap between Rhys and Fiona’s points of view feels arbitrary and dare I say, unnecessary. A point of frustration for me has been the flash-forwards to Rhys and Fiona, recounting their story to their mysterious captor. We’re three episodes in and I feel no closer to understanding what’s really going on. There’s a clear line between cryptic and mysterious and I’m all too confident of which side this aspect of Tales from the Borderlands falls on.
The first two-thirds of the episode moves at a relatively slow speed. The pace eventually picks up at the end when several Vault Hunters show up. The resulting action is spectacular with the constant switching back and forth between Rhys and Fiona’s perspectives adding to the tension.
The action is creatively staged which helps it stand out in a positive way. For instance, one scene has a character hanging upside down, swinging back and forth, punching enemies and grabbing weapons as they pass over the ground. For a good twenty minutes the action keeps you on the edge of your seat, wondering how what you’re seeing could possibly be topped and then being amazed when it is.
Rhys, Fiona, Sasha and Vaughn remain charming, witty and fascinating in this episode. Fiona in particular receives plenty of development, showing early signs of moving from a con artist to a fierce Vault Hunter. I wrote in my review of “Atlas Mugged” that the four main characters work as an ensemble. It’s pleasant to see someone finally breaking away from this limitation. The chemistry between characters is still terrific and the voice acting is, as always, stellar.
A new villain named Vallory steps up in this episode and while she poses a believable threat to the main characters, she lacks the wicked and dastardly charm of Vasquez, who is unfortunately absent for most of this episode. The previous episode greatly benefited from Handsome Jack’s presence but he’s not in this episode enough to keep you distracted. The real issue is that there’s no one there to fill that role. It leaves the episode feeling a tad forgettable.
Another disappointment is how sparse the dramatic decisions are. Telltale’s games have lived and died by their ability to force difficult or at least interesting decisions on the player. This episode is severely lacking in that department. It’s even reflected in the choice overview screen at the end of the episode, which displays significantly fewer decisions than previous episodes. The decisions that you do make in “Catch a Ride” feel short-term at best. It’s difficult to get a sense of consequence when most of your decisions are resolved quickly after they’ve been made.
The world of Pandora doesn’t feel large and expansive but instead quite small. Few locations are visited in this episode and the ones that are visited aren’t particularly interesting. There’s a large jungle with some colored plants and mushrooms but there’s not a whole lot to do. Previous episodes have encouraged me to play previous games in the Borderlands series but this latest episode neither adds nor subtracts from that feeling.
The jokes are funny and the writing is solid but “Catch a Ride” has far less tricks up its sleeve than you’d hope. It’s a somewhat predictable affair that has far too few dramatic moments and not enough answers. We’ve crossed the halfway point in this “season” yet the bigger picture of where this story is headed is barely coming into view. In comparison to Telltale’s two previous visits to Pandora, “Catch a Ride” falls a little flat. It lacks the charm and spectacle of “Zer0 Sum” and the tension and cinematic flourish of “Atlas Mugged.” It’s by no means bad, but we’ve seen better.
Perhaps if you’re the kind of player who plays all episodes in succession, you won’t notice this issue. For everyone else however, while I may be looking forward to the next episode it’s with much less excitement than I expected.