In this episode, our adventures take their knack for drawn out dialogue up to Planet Helios where they continue to talk. And then they walk a bit. Maybe talk a bit more.
Every once in a while you’ll play a game so funny, so immersive, that you’ll forget you’re even interacting with a pixelated piece of software. Unfortunately, as is the case with the newest addition to the Tales From The Borderlands franchise, it’s not your own actions that prevents you from interacting, it’s the episode itself off.
Some games have had this issue of non-inclusiveness in the past, such as Tail of The Sun and even bloody Pictionary for the NES, but rarely has TellTale struggled with the concept of a ‘boring’ game. At the heart of all their most beloved titles, players are asked to simply walk about and interact with the environment/characters. So why does it feel like such a pronounced issue in the newest addition of their successful (to this point) Borderlands series?
Well, from the off, Escape Plan Bravo plunges our lovable rogues further into the pit of inescapable shit they’ve found themselves in. Thankfully in this penultimate episode, TellTale have strayed away from the fetch quest style of gameplay in the previous episode, Catch A Ride, but instead have changed their favour to long winded cutscenes and conversations with almost every recognisable face in Pandora. And that’s pretty much all it does. For two hours, which wouldn’t be too bad if it had any semblance of action or energy running parallel to all this dialogue.
For comparison let’s take a look at another TellTale classic that requires a lot of drawn out talking – The Wolf Among Us. Here we have Bigby Wolf, an emotionally challenged sheriff in a fabletown gone to the dogs. The main crux of the game? Talk to everyone and inspect every possible scene to solve the ever unfolding mystery.
On the outside, a game about solving a murder sounds slow and clunky (See also: LA Noire) in comparison to a whirlwind gun slinging title such as a Borderlands spin-off, and yet, that just isn’t the case. Bigby Wolf got to yell at angry frogs, get into bloody bar fights and has to work his little tail off to avoid being killed by, well, anyone who wants to pick a fight with him that given day.
In the other corner, we have Escape Plan Bravo. We watch a very funny missile launch scene, we watch Rhys hack into Helios defense systems, and we watch Fiona conduct a tour of Handsome Jack’s office. If you haven’t picked it up by now, I’ll lay it out clearer by suggesting a new promotional tagline for TellTale to use for the duration of Episode 4′s marketing strategy:
“Escape Plan Bravo – Where you can watch your favourite AAA title play out in front of your very eyes with minimal input over a 12 month period!”
Now don’t get me wrong, if this was a TV show it would be a firm fan favourite for those die-hard Borderlands junkies in desperate need for an extended overdose of 2K’s universe. It just very rarely lets you play in the same sandpit as our protagonists Rhys and Fiona, opting instead to let you sit back and simply witness their innate ability to fuck up even the most nonthreatening situations. So much so that Fiona, a woman painted as an unstoppable con-woman, can’t pickpocket a Tour Guide.
What’s worse is the lack of justification given to both Rhys and Fiona following the complexity of their character development in the last three episodes. Even secondary characters such as Athena and Sasha are left in the dark following their emotional and compelling debuts in Catch A Ride.
In previous episodes, TellTale should be praised on their impressive ability to take a fast paced shoot’n’loot title such as Borderlands and turn it into a fascinating point and click ‘talkie’ game. However, it feels like things slowed down creatively following the climax of Catch A Ride, as Escape Plan Bravo had me wishing for marginally more agency than just selecting dialogue tree, before walking into a contained area to have the next conversation.
The trademark humour was still heavily featured throughout and the narrative eventually picks up steam to culminate into one of the most climactic and fist-slamming finales of the entire season, but all I did to reach this level of dramatics was bleeding talk. And then I walked forward a little bit, so I could talk some more.
What stood out most amongst the tiring amount of dialogue and time spent wishing for the opportunity to actually play some of the damn thing was the times the game truly just had fun with itself – a style of game design and management I welcome in every single way. With Ocean’s Eleven style montages, a triumphant return from Butt Stallion and a brief section of time dedicated to ‘finding Vasquez’s face at the pizza skin party’, the folks at TellTale periodically had me considering that I was even enjoying myself.
If it wasn’t for all the talking, Escape Plan Bravo could have been the best highlights from the Tales From The Borderlands seasons. Unfortunately, for all of its humour, emotionally blackmailing character decisions and franchise based callbacks, Episode 4 lacked heavily in one major department – honest to goodness agency.
By ending EPB on a high note with the rise of certain antagonist back onto the throne at Helios, one can only hope that the season finale, The Vault of the Traveler, will draw together every single winning element of its previous episodes into a successful crescendo of hyperactive quick time events, side splitting humour and emotionally scarring decisions. And maybe we’ll luck out and get it all in the same episode!
6 outta 10. All in all, if you want to experience an episodic video game with plenty of character, narrative drive and a genuine sense of humour, look no further than Tales from The Borderlands. However, if you’re looking for a game you can plug yourself and actually PLAY – Escape Plan Bravo might not scratch that itch as well as other episodes in the season. I’m primed on a killer ending thought, so here’s to hoping the finale can tie together the whole season.
The final episode, ‘The Vault of The Traveler’, is expected to land in October/November 2015. (if we’re lucky)