Tales From The Borderlands: Episode 3 – Catch a Ride
Telltale has made a name for itself by weaving unpredictable, choice-driven narratives. So far, Tales From The Borderlands has only delivered on half of that formula – the series is certainly full of surprises, but the decisions players make feel largely superficial. The third episode does little to change this. Instead, Catch A Ride drives straight into the mid-season slumps with a detour episode that mostly goes nowhere.
Last episode ended on the biggest cliffhanger of the series so far, with the lives of all four main characters in peril. Telltale wastes no time piddling on that powder keg, conveniently shaking off your huge, life-or-death decision from the previous episode and throwing you into a lackluster escape sequence. Parts of this sequence – and other interactions throughout the episode – feel disjointed and confusing. Perhaps other choices would have made the exchanges between characters more cohesive, but overall the experience feels rough, in no small part due to the animations that don't convey emotion well. Some interactions are just plain odd, like Rhys investigating a series of plants, which just causes the protagonist to stare at them for a few seconds, silent and expressionless.
For better and worse, the crew is quickly diverted this episode by a new robot pal named Gortys. The cute new addition to the team has the playful and optimistic personality of a child, which makes your interactions with her amusing. However, the rest of the episode is spent looking for a MacGuffin-esque upgrade for Gortys, a sidetrack that doesn't offer much of a payoff.
The musical montage during the opening credits is the most entertaining part of Catch A Ride, showing our crew of misfits traveling across Pandora like a dysfunctional-yet-endearing family road trip. Beyond that stylish sequence, it's beginning to feel like we've seen everything the series has to offer. The unreliable-narrative angle – once the most intriguing aspect of the series – is only trotted out for another over-the-top fantasy kill, the same gag that felt novel in the first episode. Telltale also clearly doesn't have any ideas for how to meaningfully incorporate the once-vaunted loot mechanic, which was supposed to make the series feel more like Borderlands. Instead, your cash can only be spent on a bunch of trivial costume changes this episode, like a different pair of glasses for Vaughn or a new coat of paint for your friendly Loader Bot. Your choices are equally superficial, and many of the dialogue options feel forced; no matter what decisions you make, the characters who are destined to die will die, and you butt heads with your predetermined enemies. Telltale continues to trot out old vault hunters to maintain interest, but their cameos add little to the story.
Catch A Ride effectively sets up a new villain, the appropriately detestable bandit leader Vallory, who provides a little intrigue for the next episode – provided Telltale doesn't just randomly brush the current predicament under the carpet again. As for the main characters, their development stalls this episode. Fiona and Athena's bonding moment feels forced and falls flat; Telltale is trying hard to transform Fiona into a vault-hunting badass, but her personality is all over the place – she oscillates between being star struck and snarky towards Athena's unsolicited mentorship, and flips out at an old man in an another scene without warning. Telltale's attempt to set up a budding romance between Rhys and Sasha is downright groan-inducing – I'm hoping it's purely to set up a joke in a future episode.
Tales From The Borderlands continues to rattle off jokes with all the accuracy of a Vladof assault rifle. Only a few gags hit the mark, including a moment of false heroism and an awkwardly slow chase sequence. Vaughn continues to be the source of the biggest laughs, despite being inanimate for most of the episode.
While Gortys is a fun new addition to the cast, most of the episode feels stale. The action continues to shove annoying quicktime events down your throat, with more chase and combat sequences with no consequences – in fact, at this point I don't I feel like I've made a single significant choice in the series. A few intriguing threads still hang on the horizon, but wherever this adventure is going, it needs to get there.
Catch A Ride drives straight into the mid-season slumps with a detour episode that mostly goes nowhere.