Episodic “slumps” are nothing new to Telltale’s games and other adventure titles using this format. Tales from the Borderlands’ previous installment — Episode 3 — was that valley in quality. Get ready to ride the steep incline at accelerated speeds as Telltale returns to old form with laugh-out-loud funny antics and witty exchanges. Also, expect to see more Handsome Jack.
Statisticians eagerly point out (constantly) that correlation is not causation. While that’s true, I’m here to tell you that Handsome Jack not only brings an attractive mask, but also the funny. Episode 4 will make you do one of the most disgusting things you’ve ever had to do in a game, but you’ll smile while doing it — possibly with one eye open and facing away from the screen. I still had a nasty taste in my mouth from the previous episode, so I assumed this quest was a one-time deal for this installment, but rest assured that most of Episode 4 brings absurdity and laughs.
After playing this chapter, I began wondering if TftB is bite-sized morsels of funny or if it lives and breathes humor in its essence, keeping players on the edge of their seats in anticipation. This sort of sensation occurs in Telltale’s dramatic titles, only a looming feeling of dread or tension is the sensation. I concluded that TftB has brief spurts of eager anticipation after a hilarious scene, and if the writers don’t keep the comedy coming, that feeling peters out within five to ten minutes. Episode 4 maintains this sugar high, threading together each grin-inducing line from its wacky cast. Though difficult to abide by, this installment kept me glued to the one-and-a-half hour adventure because it managed to drive the plot while entertaining.
Telltale seems to have leaned pretty heavily on Handsome Jack this episode, which produced results, but it calls into question what TftB is. Is it the sum of its parts or a stage provided to show off Handsome Jack? While not using Handsome Jack would surely be a missed opportunity, the rest of the cast seems like they’re desperately trying to fulfill a drama while funny things happen to them. Secondary and tertiary characters inspire laughter and characterize TftB, but the central cast lacks the powerful personalities we’ve come to expect from Telltale and Borderlands. That said, the episode is entertaining, but don’t expect to root for the protagonists as much as a villain we all love to hate.
Unlike Episode 3, which suffered from boring dialogue choices and options due to where it fell in the narrative, Episode 4 produces some thought-provoking decisions. Some. “Combat” continues to serve its purpose as a driving force of immersion rather than challenge. The nasty dialogue timer speeds by during a few important and involved dialogue decisions, which Telltale still can’t seem to get a good handle on, but presents without issues most of the time. Traversing Pandora with Rhys’ eye continues to provide internal guffaws, taking the edge off of having to root around for clickables. In these ways, TftB isn’t much of a departure from its previous installments in terms of gameplay, still enduring the occasional speedbump. Graphics, sound, and controls maintain their consistency, as well.
Tales from the Borderlands’ fourth episode shows much improvement over the previous chapter, but calls into question the substance of this series, though I smiled, laughed, and always kept at least one eye on the screen. Perhaps TftB is intended to be a light departure from the morose and dense, like a Sam & Max title. Perhaps Telltale isn’t expecting TftB to win awards the way The Walking Dead has. Perhaps if one approaches TftB the way one might an acquaintance, then the experience might be sweeter. After all, we’re not burying axes in any animated corpse heads.