Please note that since each episode of Tales from the Borderlands features the same graphics engine and control setup, those elements will not be repeated in our reviews for the final four episodes. To read our thoughts on that, refer to our review of Zer0 Sum.
When looking at most of TellTale Games’ recent offerings — The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, Game of Thrones — they all have one thing in common: they’re dark. Relentlessly, oppressively dark. Bad things just keep happening to you and those around you; no matter how much you want everything to be OK, it never is.
Perhaps more than anything, it’s Tales from the Borderlands‘ whimsy that has allowed it to stand out from its TellTale brethren, and it’s what currently has it on a trajectory to be my favorite series to date. As good as those others are, it’s nonetheless refreshing to see TellTale’s signature excellence in storytelling and voice acting used for laughs.
Our third trip to Pandora, entitled Catch A Ride, picks up with Rhys and Fiona trying to escape with the Gortys core. It’s an intense piece of action, but maybe too much so for the engine, which struggles to keep pace with the frequent transitions from one element of the escape to another. It’s an issue that’s repeated to an even greater degree in the episode’s closing moments as well.
While the world of Borderlands is grounded in senseless violence and balls-to-the-wall action, the engine just isn’t up to the task of such sprawling, choreographed combat. The result is that the episode begins and ends with its weakest showings — like a sandwich made up of delicious meats and cheeses served on two slices of generic bread. Thankfully, the majority of the episode focuses on the series’ most enjoyable elements: humor and storytelling.
At the center of everything is the newest member of the group, Gortys, who immediately vaults into the conversation for most endearing video game robot alongside luminaries like Claptrap, GLaDOS and HK-47. Her naivety and innocence are infectious in a world known for its violence and a group that’s long on sarcasm, and it leads to some legitimately funny moments. Her best stuff is probably the conversations with Loader Bot (AKA “LB”), but every scene she appears in is well done.
Outside of the introduction of Gortys, we also get some serious individual growth for both Rhys and Fiona, who spend much of the episode paired with other characters. For Rhys, we get to see a softer, more genuine side to a character that’s largely been portrayed as the dashing antihero. His budding relationship with Sasha produces the kind of tender, understated moments that rarely exist in big-budget titles that offer no pretense of subtlety.
Meanwhile, Fiona is given a chance to spend some quality time with Athena, a vault hunter hired by Fiona and Sasha’s former mentor, Felix. This causes an awakening of sorts as Fiona starts to believe in her strength and resolve, which portends bigger things than just being a con artist. Instead, the seeds of becoming a vault hunter herself are planted, though it’s unclear whether or not that’s the kind of life she wants even if she has the makeup for it.
Relationships aren’t the only thing that moves forward, either, as the story really starts gaining momentum here with the jumps between past and present creating some interesting questions — not the least of which is who is actually under the mask of your captor. Catch A Ride concludes with things looking pretty bleak for our group, creating another cliffhanger that already has me itching for the fourth episode.
Great storytelling, excellent humor and touching moments easily outweigh the overly fast-paced action that bookends Catch A Ride, making it the current highpoint of Tales from the Borderlands. The series is so good, in fact, that we’ve already begun internally discussing what other gaming IPs we’d like to see get the TellTale treatment — BioShock, Dead Space, Fallout, Mass Effect…