The intro montage of the fourth episode of Tales From the Borderlands, “Escape Plan Bravo,” is a special one. It’s the moment I realized that I would die for every single one of these stupid, self-sabotaging fictional characters.
I haven’t stopped thinking about it since the company’s layoffs were announced. In the wake of what seems to be the implosion of a company with a long and beloved back catalog, many fans have shared their favorite Telltale game moments, as a way of thanking the newly out-of-work creators who made them.
And, sure, I’ve dabbled in The Wolf Among Us, and I’ve played a bunch of Telltale’s Batman and thought it was very good. But the moment I think of when I think of the best of Telltale is the opening of “Escape Plan Bravo.”
Tales is a story no less compelling for its familiarity. It’s about a group of untrustworthy characters who are thrown together by the whims of fate and are forced to trust each other, even to learn to care about each other. The story of the game even has a framing device that lets us know, definitively, that Rhys and Fiona and Co. are trying to save their own skins from problems they created, but all they manage to do is make everything worse for, well, literally everyone on the planet.
Telltale takes three of the five episodes in Tales from the Borderlands just to lay out all the major players of the game have been introduced. Our protagonists, Rhys and Fiona, their allies and the forces that are allied against them, and the events (and mistakes) that have lead them to the tight corner they currently occupy.
So, naturally, the beginning of episode four, “Escape Plan Bravo,” is the first point that our rag-tag group of grifters, fuck-ups and corporate stooges truly band together, planning to stick a finger in the eye of the capitalist monster that keeps them down. Sure, they’re mostly doing it because they fucked up so badly that the only way to get out of their current predicament is to fire themselves into space with a couple of mafia babysitters — but the fragility of their alliance just makes you more invested.
Every episode of Tales from the Borderlands begins the same way. A little bit of gameplay to whet your appetite, and then a music montage. All of the musical choices in the game are good, but “Escape Plan Bravo” is nothing short of perfect.
Out protagonists have, with the power of elbow grease and a helpful, illicit mechanic, refitted a caravan into a spaceship. With a few deserved The Right Stuff references, they blast off to sneak into the orbital headquarters of Hyperion, corporate overlords of Pandora. The whole scene pivots easily between character-based humor and, I’ll say it, moments of the sublime awe of manned-space travel that are on par with any movie about NASA. And it’s all set to “To the Top,” an absolutely on-fire ballad by singer/songwriter Twin Shadow.
The opening of “Escape Plan Bravo” isn’t the moment the cast of Tales from the Borderlands start completely trusting each other. “To the Top” is a song is about a relationship that isn’t working but is worth working on. And, little do they know, that’s exactly the place Tales’ main characters are in. There couldn’t have been a better choice for the moment I realized I wanted — no, needed — everything to go right for these characters.
You can say that Telltale was a company that made its name on licensed content, not original IP; but you can’t say that creatives there ever rested on the player knowing the source material. Tales from the Borderlands is the only Borderlands game I’ve played in my life, and the people behind it had me fully invested in the future of its cast and their world.
Even with a framing device that had already shown me that everything went wrong. Indeed, by the end of “Escape Plan Bravo,” Tales From the Borderlands literally slaps its cast back down to “earth” in a pile of flaming wreckage. But even that just makes this single, fragile moment of awe in the vastness of corporate-owned space more perfect.