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Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Tales from the Borderlands E4: Escape Plan Bravo

Tales from the Borderlands
Episode 4
Escape Plan Bravo.

These episodes keep sneaking up on me. Advertise your episodes more, Telltale, for god's sake. Not all of us regularly check your website. Or Steam. Or any gaming media outlets - look the point is that I pretty much only find out on the day of release that this was coming out, and if I'm being honest, I wasn't as excited as I thought I would be. I said during the early episodes that I thought that Tales from the Borderlands was the best game that Telltale Games had made, and while that still holds true, the humour and zest that those early episodes showed are increasingly starting to wear thin, because Telltale keeps reusing the same jokes and ideas over and over again. 

There's a section in this episode where Rhys imagines how the heist they're planning will go, and it left me cold because we've had the 'Rhys imagines a ludicrous fantasy version of his future plans' before. There's a prolonged period of gross-out face related humour in this game, and while that would've gotten a chuckle from me a few episodes ago, I've grown more and more inured to it. None of this stuff is really making me laugh any more, and for Telltale's most comedic game so far, that's not a great sign.

In this part, the team (plus August, two more members of Vallory's gang, and mechanic Scooter) fly to Helios to steal the final Gortys part from Handsome Jack's office - a heist that will require, among other things, impersonating a tour guide, impersonating Rhys' now deceased boss Hugo Vasquez, a diamond pony, and an encounter with Yvette, Rhys' old friend.

The standard heist walk sequence.

The best parts of this episode easily come towards the end of this heist - one being a pitched gun battle between Rhys-quez and the Hyperion accountancy department, none of whom are armed and so all of whom are 'shooting' by pointing their fingers and making sound effects; and the other being an unexpected moment when Fiona shoots a diamond horse statue, only to have it start bleeding, much to her horror.

(A close runner-up is Fiona and Sasha talking to Athena's girlfriend, who I never thought we'd actually see. It was really nice to see her, though, and the Athena subplot is one that I very much want to see some resolution on.)

For the most part, though, this whole episode just sort of skipped on by, never really managing to make an impression, and I think a lot of that is because, up until the very end, nothing really changes about the way the characters relate to each other. Vaughn is, notably, almost entirely absent, and the remaining three spend more time apart than they do together - and what time they do spend together feels like a rehash of previous conversations. Rhys does something dorky and everyone snaps at him for it? We've seen it. Fiona and Sasha have a sisterly moment? We've seen it. Previously benign character is revealed to have betrayed one of the protagonists? We've seen it. We saw that in the first episode, of all things.

(I'm not, incidentally, counting Jack as a 'previously benign character', he has always been very up front about his malicious intent.)


Give me something different. Give me something new and exciting that I can work with. Please? There are hints of something like that coming in this episode, with Sasha increasingly longing for the comfort of Helios, but we don't ever get pay-off for that in the game itself - despite the fact that throwing in new elements is what made the previous three episodes good. Episode three gave us Athena and Gortys, who shook up the group dynamic; episode two gave us the AI Handsome Jack, who shook up Rhys personally, and it also gave us the two con-women without Felix to guide them, and the Vasquez-August alliance. The series has changed up its character dynamics in every episode except, it seems, this one, and that's a shame.

Full credit to the ending, though, for raising the stakes even over the last ending, with Jack now poised to be the main villain for the finale, having taken over Helios and Rhys both (I would say that I called that happening, but I think everyone called that happening, so it's not really an achievement); and Sasha having seemingly (seemingly) betrayed Fiona to Yvette and Hyperion. It's a good set up for the finale, which should be dropping in about two months (presuming they manage to stick to their own schedule this time).

There's a lot to take in here.

Before that, we'll likely be seeing the Game of Thrones finale, due to become available on Steam about a month from now, so keep an eye out for that - and by all means, if you were thinking of buying this game but wanted to wait until most of the episodes were out, buy it now and enjoy the first four episodes in time to catch the finale on release day. It's a good game. 

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