Tales From The Borderlands: Episode 3 - Catch A Ride makes a worrying first impression.
An attempt at rendering an all-out battle spotlights the clunky limitations of the engine, the voice acting is surprisingly unconvincing and badly mixed during the opening section, while a limp instant-fail action sequence crawls out of the woodwork. The first few minutes feel oddly rushed and to be honest I was concerned.
Was Tales From The Borderlands about to bottom out after two great episodes? Was this the tipping point? Thankfully, as it turns out, the shaky start is just a blip in another exceptional piece of interactive storytelling. All is forgiven as a choice, a death, a road trip and some fantastic new characters propel Rhys and Fiona into one of Telltale's best adventures yet.
Catch A Ride kicks off directly after your major decision in Episode 2, which plays out over the aforementioned lacklustre introduction before opening up into one of the biggest decisions in the series yet. What you say can and will have shocking ramifications for one of the cast as Rhys and Fiona find themselves at the mercy of the brutal Queenpin, a sensational and deeply menacing new character who slots into the canon perfectly.
She's just the first of a series of shock new cast members, some of whom are original while others are familiar faces, who you'll get to know throughout the episode.
Hilariously unreliable narration aside, the merry band of reprobates eventually escape her clutches and head off in search of a new objective, accompanied by none other than Athena (the de facto star of The Pre-Sequel). They eventually find themselves in a brand new environment on a brand new adventure, covering more ground and reveals than many episodic series do in their entire runtime.
There are some effective QTE action sequences and fun exploration segments that make the most of Rhys' Echo Eye, but what makes Episode 3 so effective is that it slows down and splits up the cast. This gives the characters time to interact in meaningful, hilarious and disarmingly touching ways. Rhys and Sasha finally get to spend some quality time together, which can become romantic, awkward or gut-bustingly funny depending on your choices -- likely all three if my two playthroughs were anything to go by! It's by far my personal highlight of the season thus far.
Meanwhile Fiona and Athena bond over an adventure of their own, which helps to develop the con artist as an even more determined and interesting character. However, Catch A Ride also does a fantastic job of fleshing out Athena and filling in some backstory blanks, showing a more interesting and relateable side to her otherwise extraordinarily badass persona. There are plenty of optional tender or hilarious moments to enjoy or even miss completely, naturally involving Loader Bot (who is, as ever, indescribably awesome), Handsome Jack (who views the fourth wall as entirely optional), Vaughan and a new robotic companion too.
Of course, this being Pandora, everything eventually goes straight to hell and the gang face off against a posse of new and old faces. Some of the cameos will make you gasp, some of them will make you fist pump and all of them lead up to a final conflagration that's brilliantly arranged and full of pulse-pounding action. It's another tour de force that delivers enough content to leave you feeling satisfied yet desperate for the next episode.
Praising a Telltale title for excellent writing feels a little redundant, but we have to do it, since the superb dialogue carries Catch A Ride and elevates it into something very special indeed. It manages to be both fun, humorous, tense, irreverent and heartfelt, a hard balance to strike, but one that works perfectly. Beautifully observed facial expressions hammer it home, though admittedly Telltale's engine could use an upgrade when it comes to movement and a few rough edges.
Just as importantly, though, our choices still feel important, whether they're life-or-death decisions or optional dialogue choices that just define Rhys or Sasha's personality to your specifications. We'll see how many characters really do "remember that" when it comes to episode 4 and 5, but I'm not convinced that it's necessarily all that important. The story is so compelling, the jokes are so pacey and the characters are so brilliantly memorable that, frankly, just the illusion of agency will suit me down to the ground at this point.
- Characters have time to interact in heartfelt and hilarious ways
- Superb dialogue, writing, pacing and facial expressions (as per usual)
- Compelling plot moves ahead in surprising and exciting directions
- Satisfying length and runtime
- First ten minutes are unconvincingly animated and voiced; limp action sequence
- Engine is showing its age
The Short Version: Tales From The Borderlands goes from strength to strength with another sensational episode. Catch A Ride brings revelations and gags aplenty, but more importantly it gives the characters quality time and room to grow without bogging down.
We do not score episodic titles unless they can be purchased separately as standalone games, or at the reviewer's discretion. A score will be assigned to the entire season once complete.
Platforms: PC (reviewed) | PS3 | PS4 | Xbox 360 | Xbox One | iOS | Android
Developer: Telltale Games