Review: Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 2 – Atlas Mugged (Sony PlayStation 3)

talesborderlandscoverTales from the Borderlands: Episode 2 – Atlas Mugged
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Genre: Interactive Drama
Release Date: 03/19/2015

(Note: As with all episodic games, certain parts of this review will be carried over from my review of the first episode. Those copied bits will be italicized. Feel free to skip them if you wish.)

It’s been awhile since episode one. Even the game acknowledges this. Here we are though, finally getting to continue the misadventures of
Rhys and Fiona.

Last time, we got introduced to the principal characters. There’s Rhys and Vaughn, two Hyperion employees looking to move up the corporate ladder by snagging a vault key. Then there’s sisters Fiona and Sasha. They attempted to sell said vault key, which was very fake. After the fallout from the failed deal, the two pairs are forced to work together to find a real vault key in order to score big. Of course, they’ll have to deal with several factions outs from their heads. There’s the corporate monsters named Vasquez, the scorned partner named August, and of course various bounty hunters. Let’s not forget the ghost/hologram of Handsome Jack that only Rhys can see.

tborderlands21Atlas Mugged picks up right where the last episode left off. There’s plenty of action and comedy, and the game shines in both aspects. More characters from the Borderlands universe get in on the fun too. Most notably, Scooter plays a large role in this episode. The game switches frequently between the point of view of Fiona and Rhys, but it really shines when the two are together. It creates a chaotic sense of teamwork that provides the games funniest and most exciting moments.

It’s also interesting to note that several decisions from the first episode had interesting consequences for the second. While nothing major resulted from these decisions, it was great to see how the characters reacted. It felt like the journey was at least meaningfully altered. This is something that TT games have struggled with in the past.

Visually, the game works great. The cell-shaded art style of Borderlands lends itself well to the Telltale look. You could even be forgiven for thinking you were just watching a cutscene from one of the FPS games. That being said, the animations are a bit stiff and there’s an issue with words not syncing up with lips. The game also has the typical TT technical issues. It will pause frequently to load up variations of speech, words will be cut off, and sometimes the sound will go on without the video. These problems are constant, but the fantastic art style makes up for it.

The audio department is where the game really shines though. Featuring the voices of Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, Chris Hardwick, and Patrick Warburton, the cast is truly top notch. Add in the crazed rants of the psychos, the ethereal effects of Zero’s abilities, and the rocking soundtrack, and it’s a recipe for success. The only problem I had was sometimes the voices got drowned out by the music. Still, I can honestly say this is one of the best sounding games I’ve played all year.

Speaking of “game”, let’s talk about how this thing works.

tborderlands22When it comes to mechanics, the game is lacking. For the most part, you’re a spectator. When you do get to chime in, you have two primary methods. During conversations, you’ll be presented with four different options. You can pick any of them or remain silent, but you only have a brief window to choose. The conversations will differ slightly based on your choices, but the overall plot is largely unaffected. During action sequences, you’ll have to rotate the analog stick or press buttons as they pop onto the screen. Failing these doesn’t always lead to death, but death can happen. It will just send you back a few seconds though. It’s kind of like a two hour quick time event.

There are some big choices to be made. These pop up during big moments in the story, and pause the game to let you carefully choose how you wish to proceed. When this happens, there are only a couple of choices. For example, Fiona carries a small pistol with just one bullet. A couple of these big choices ask you whether or not you want to use that bullet. Again, these choices don’t seem to affect the story at large, but do allow you to roleplay a bit.

tborderlands23Occasionally, you’ll be allowed to move around and explore a bit. Don’t get too excited though. When this happens, you have maybe a hallway you can walk down or something. When playing as Rhys, you can press L1 to use his cybernetic eye. This allows you to scan various items for flavor text. When using Fiona, she can keep track of her bank account. There are points in the story when you can spend money to equip different accessories. It’s not much, but it is nice.

As usual with any Telltale game, part of the fun in making your big choices is comparing these choices with others. The game keeps track of what you did, and at the end of the episode you can see how many people went the same way you did. It’s certainly interesting, but at this point it would be great to get even more complex. I wouldn’t mind seeing how many people took the exact same path as me.

Short Attention Span Summary

diehardjack1-150x150Episode 2 is an unusually strong follow up. It’s typical for episodic games to take it easy on the second episode, but it’s clear the extra wait was worth it this time around. While the technical issues are still bothersome, they can be largely forgiven due to the colorful characters and strong writing. I have a lot of hopes for the next episode. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait as long this time.

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