Review: Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 3 – Catch a Ride

After three lengthy episodes, it’s about time to start addressing the elephant in the room: Tales from the Borderlands is shaping up to be the best title Telltale Games has ever developed.

Yes, that includes the wonderful first season of The Walking Dead, Sam & Max and last year’s Game of the Year contender The Wolf Among Us. It’s gotten to the point where the moment Jungle’s “Busy Earnin'” starts playing inspires me to institute the deadly combination of a toothy grin and a hardcore white-boy head bob. The writers over at Telltale are proving that they’re not only able to weave drama and comedy together in pure harmony, but that they can craft a story that seems incredibly self-aware. From the very first moment our protagonists encounter the cutest character to ever grace Pandora to a final action sequence so absurd that it can only be effective in a video game, ‘Catch a Ride’ is a testament to the talent at the premiere adventure game studio. Not only does this latest episode continue the wonderful wave that Tales has been riding from the start, but it subtly hints at a new mystery that could wind up turning the entire series on its head. Whether you’re having the best day of your life or wading through tumultuous waters in your personal life, the third episode of Tales from the Borderlands reminds us all how joyous and enthralling the video game medium can be.

Episode 3 picks up right at the edge of the cliff that ‘Atlas Mugged’ left us on, and doesn’t stop delivering excitement until those final moments in an abandoned Atlas wildlife research facility. After discovering the location of the Gortys Project in Old Haven, the central narrative of ‘Catch a Ride’ revolves around following Gortys, the world’s cutest robot (no seriously, Telltale has crafted a character so endearing that it all but buries Claptrap) and its quest to upgrade its chassis. The interactions, both optional and mandatory, between Gortys and the lovable Loader Bot are so joyous that anyone who doesn’t smile when they hear them might just lack both a heart and a soul. If it seems like a great deal of emphasis is being placed on a new robot character (after all, an entire paragraph of this review is basically being dedicated to the ambiguously-gendered little robot ball), that’s not a mistake. The fact that Telltale can introduce such an endearing character out of the blue, one that technically doesn’t have to exist, shows how strong the development team behind Tales from the Borderlands is.

Yeah, Gortys is absolutely adorable, and writing an entire article on the happiness it brought me would be relatively easy, but it’s probably best to get back to the main focus of the proceedings. By upgrading Gortys’ various components, Rhys and Fiona will, hopefully, be able to use the lovable robot’s powers to locate the Vault that they so desperately desire. Of course, our gang isn’t the only group of people who see the potential in a piece of Atlas Vault-location technology; the big boss who set the original Vault Key deal in motion (and someone whose identity will be kept a secret to preserve her dramatic effect) also reveals that she wants a piece of the pie after her deal went sour.

If Rhys’ and Vaughn’s attempts to run away from Vasquez in Episode 2 inspired a certain “cat and mouse” comparison, this newest chase is the equivalent of a full-grown lion jumping into the fray to chase that same rodent. From the jump, Tales from the Borderlands had the ability to weave its story in any direction it desires, and all indications are that it’s going to tease us with the idea that the twists are going to continuously grow until they explode into one massive revelation.

Handsome Jack plays an even more prominent role in the first half of Episode 3, as Rhys continues to come to accept that the former Hyperion boss isn’t going away any time soon. While Borderlands 2 gave us a true taste of how psychotic Handsome Jack can truly be, it’s interesting to see him up close and personal, albeit in hologram form. There’s a unique dichotomy that results from Jack’s psychotic nature and the fact that he has to protect Rhys in order to survive; his current form prevents him from being able to be as crazy as he might desire, which results in strange moments of goodness coming from this notorious villain. Sure, Tales from the Borderlands is an homage to fans of Gearbox Software’s famous shoot-and-loot franchise, but there’s a certain level of character and series elevation that is coming from Telltale that simply cannot be ignored any longer.

So yeah, the third episode of Tales from the Borderlands has a wonderful, hilarious self-contained story that not only ties well into the overall plot (one that could still take a number of twists and turns), but its the cartoon-like final action sequence that sets this apart from Telltale episodes we’ve seen in the past. Yes, the general gameplay structure is the same, but the high octane dueling chase and battle scenes that play out over the course of the final twenty minutes make Telltale’s traditional light gameplay truly shine. Every action that you take causes another ridiculous sequence of events to unfold, from chasing down a car on the back of a legless Loader Bot to watching little Gortys roll as fast as its tiny wheel will allow it to. Telltale games will occasionally feel like they’ve had gameplay shoehorned into the experience to justify the fact that the player is holding a controller or a mouse, but this final series of events shows that this tried-and-true formula can still have legs.

rhys-sasha-on-loaderbotClosing Comments:

Not only is Episode 3 of Tales from the Borderlands a fantastic entry into a fantastic series, but it sets the stage for a thrilling final two episodes. Everything seems to come together perfectly, from the introduction of the most endearing character to grace the Borderlands universe, even more so than the hysterical Claptrap (who is totally going to show up in some capacity, let’s be real), to the fact that the storytelling sequences might just reveal something insane. Telltale has shown that it can create a hysterical story that leaves us on the edges of our seats, which is nothing short of an accomplishment. There were a fair amount of doubters shouting to the heavens when it was announced that Telltale was going to make a Borderlands title, but it’s clear that this universe has given this team the ability to make something that’s, so far, unforgettable.