One sock in the grave
Coming in the wake of one of the more explosive finales in any release in Telltale’s stable of adventure titles, Tales from the Borderlands Episode 2: Atlas Mugged has some pretty big shoes to fill. The introductory episode Zer0 Sum’s explosive death race segment combined with the chunky shenanigans of Rhys’ reliable Loader Bot companion made for some jaw-dropping and intense moments that kicked the series’ debut into overdrive, all while fleshing out Tales From the Borderlands’ loveable motley crew of wannabe crooks. Atlas Mugged may lack some of the visceral impact and tough decisions that came with Zer0 Sum, but it nevertheless maintains its impressive stride by introducing a number of fascinating new players into fold, including none other than Pandora’s undead tyrant Handsome Jack. The tension builds as Rhys and his companions begin to uncover the motivations behind the 10 million credit double-cross they’ve been dealt as they jump out of the frying pan and into the fire on a quest to uncover a forgotten piece of Atlas tech in hopes of striking it rich.
Atlas Mugged picks up right where Zer0 Sum left off, with Rhys, Fiona, Vaughn, and Sasha having just discovered the secret Atlas facility buried beneath the death race arena’s floor. Of course, it doesn’t take long before things go awry and the team is forced to take matters into their own (bloody) hands as they attempt to find a creative way to get past a retinal scanner so they can escape the facility, which is about to be reduced to a heap of rubble from an orbital bombardment. If you’ve already played the previous chapter, you’ll be well aware that Tales certainly isn’t for the squeamish, as the team’s best course of action almost always seems to be the bloodiest. Telltale certainly seems to revel in the gore in this chapter, often with hilariously macabre results.
While newly introduced characters such as series favorite Scooter (catch a riiiiiide) and Borderlands: The Pre-sequel’s hot-blooded femme fatale Athena are welcome additions to the story, Handsome Jack’s holographic resurrection steals the show as he delivers superb line after another. As he’s been implanted solely into Rhys’ head, only he can see Jack’s psychotic specter. Rhys is left to fend for himself against the delightfully detached despot and his hilariously futile attempts to slaughter our protagonist. The banter between Rhys and the reborn Jack are absolutely hilarious, as players choose whether to stand up to the helpless Hyperion head honcho or cower in fear. Hyperion executive Hugo Vasquez returns as well, and the exchanges Jack and Rhys’ equally murderous and oblivious boss are simply priceless.
Just as before, the story in Atlas Mugged is split roughly down the middle as Rhys and Fiona recall their parts in the story to their shotgun-toting captor. Rhys’ chapter is a bit more visceral than Fiona’s, concentrating more on moment-to-moment action as he and Vaughn attempt to uncover the secrets of the Gortys Project, while Fiona and Sasha’s segment delves deeper into the behind-the-scenes events that caused their mentor Felix to betray them in the first place. The story hits an emotional high note as Sasha attempts to reconcile with Felix’s betrayal, leaving the player to choose how to best console her. Do you choose to stoke the flames of revenge by agreeing with Sasha, or try to talk her down while risking her trust in you? While the impact on the story may not seem as weighty as whether or not you plugged Felix in the previous chapter, they still make you weigh your decisions carefully at the risk of driving a wedge between the pair.
Of course, none of these choices would make much of a difference if the narrative didn’t deliver, and as always, Telltale Games is more than up to the task when it comes to spinning a yarn. Atlas Mugged is a refreshingly self-aware experience, readily breaking the fourth wall as characters strike poses for the camera, or deliver a snarky remark during the umpteenth slow-motion game of catch the chapter threw their way. While it gets the humor right, this chapter also does a great deal to develop the characters, as its gripping writing bores through the thick layers of sarcasm that comprise the game’s cast, delving into their true intentions. A surprising revelation threatens to shatter Rhys and Vaughn’s trust, and watching a heartfelt fist bump during a rocket-powered ride into the sunset hits surprisingly hard as the pair strengthen their bonds as the series’ dynamic duo.
While still not perfect, Telltale seems to have smoothed out some of the glaring performance issues that impacted the previous chapter. Zer0 Sum suffered in terms of frequent hiccups and audio synching issues that seemed to happen at the worst possible times. Though it’s not entirely free of these immersion-breaking gremlins, Atlas Mugged fares much better than its predecessor, with most of the episodes action sequences running silky smooth. Additionally, we didn’t experience a single audio stutter in our playthrough, which was a welcome change from our time with Zero Sum.
When all is said and done, Tales from the Borderlands Episode 2: Atlas Mugged is yet another exceptional chapter in Telltale Games’ and Gearbox Software’s unlikely adventure alliance. While it doesn’t quite reach the breakneck momentum of the first chapter, it does a great job of fleshing out the characters and their motivations, while setting the stage for big things to come. Newly introduced characters like Handsome Jack and Athena round out the game’s cast nicely, and will undeniably have a major impact on the direction the story ends up taking. The chapter caps off with a major choice as well, leaving a cliffhanger that will have you counting the months until episode 3 lands on your digital distribution platform of choice. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another 4 and a half months to pick up where Atlas Mugged leaves off.
Final Verdict 4.5 / 5
Available on: PC (Reviewed), Mac, iOS, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Vita; Publisher: Telltale Games; Developer: Telltale Games; Players: 1 ; Released: March 17, 2015; Genre: Adventure; MSRP: $4.99
Note: This review was based on Xbox One retail code provided by the game’s publisher, Telltale Games.