A brilliant mixture of comedy, action propel ‘Episode 2’
Not long into the second episode of Telltale Games’ “Tales From the Borderlands,” a little exchange happens between two of the main characters. Bro, it was hilarious, bro, like, the most bro exchange you’ve ever heard, bro. Its bro-tacular message: one of perfectly timed humor expertly clashing against high-octane action.
Such is the beauty of “Atlas Mugged,” which continues the wild antics of Rhys (Troy Baker) and Fiona (Laure Bailey) as they find themselves stranded on the hostile alien world of Pandora on the search for a mystical and reward-laden Vault. One of the shortest installments in Telltale’s love of episodic releases, “Episode 2” doesn’t dive deep plot-wise, but what elements it does move forward more than make up for the 90-minute run time.
Stuck on a planet filled with murderous people and deadly creatures (to be honest, though, the fauna is the true monster of terror here), Rhys and Fiona continue their story in medias res, in the custody of a masked man with less empathy than Handsome Jack himself — if his ease with sniping random people shows anything of his true character. The two are tasked with telling their captor about the Gortys Project and their adventures up until he captured them.
Since we’re playing as multiple characters, their stories are told by each individual character separately, kicking off after the the pair discover a secret building housing important clues for their search for a Vault. As with the previous episodes, snappy snark rains down from the writers, always clever and generally scathing and/or depreciating. Oh, and gruesome body part removal, of course. Because how could you progress the story without desecrating a dead body?
It doesn’t take long, however, before the team is split up in a terrifically chaotic getaway, with the major casualty being one reptile-skinned boot. (It matters, promise.) Rhys and Vaughn (Chris Hardwick, his compatriot, find themselves on foot, being hunted by Hyperion’s Vasquez (Patrick Warburton) — and Handsome Jack (Daemon Clark). Well, not the real Jack, just a digitized, holographic ghost version of him. (Spoiler alert: You kill Handsome Jack in the most glorious way at the end of “Borderlands 2.”) Stuck in Rhys’ head, he pops up sporadically, generally degrading everyone around him while occasionally helping to save the pair from being blown apart.
In the meantime, Fiona and her sister Sasha (Erin Yvette) find their way to Hollow Point, where they try to get their vehicle fixed so they can meet up with the guys. While there, a little backstory is fleshed out for both of them, especially regarding their relation with father-figure Felix. But, of course, they find themselves in trouble rather quickly, with hired goons and the Vault hunter Athena chasing them down.
Also, Loaderbot is still the best character hands down. His attitude is still determined by how you treated him in the first episode (which, in this case, may have seen him self-destruct to save the rest of us), so it was a nice touch to see the robot wasn’t too keen on us when we met up with it.
As a whole, this episode didn’t so much mov the story forward so much as further develop and introduce characters to us. We get to know the motivations behind our heroes (if you can call them) and guide the interaction between them and the other characters. For example, Jack’s overall goal is in the dark, considering he just now realized that’s a digital copy of his living self. What he wants to do, and how he will use Rhys to accomplish it, are mysteries. (Though it can’t be good, whatever it it.) And it’s still up in the air if Rhys and Fiona will ever really learn to work together to achieve their common goals.
A stellar addition to the already vast list of excellent characters is Scooter, a stupendously idiotic mechanic whose surprising technical prowess comes in handy. Plus, his complete loyalty to the women is kind of adorable, even if it does verge on idolatry.
The score, which was phenomenal in the first episode, isn’t quite so dramatic this time around, mostly because there’s a ton of dialogue. It’s most ambiance, except during the action sequences. Then, it’s right on cue.
As in “Zer0 Sum,” you’ll collect some money and inventory items on your journey, provided you take the time to look (and get lucky enough to check those spots first — you will be forced to move on in certain sequences regardless if you’ve explored the whole area). However, other than some customization for your ride, the money is fairly useless. Some of the items seem to have their use, especially story-wise, but they don’t play a much of a part outside of cutscenes.
And it should probably go without saying that, as with most Telltale games, “Episode 2” is far from a visual masterpiece. You’ll hit framerate issues and some basic stuttering you play. It’s noticeable, but it doesn’t much detract from what you’re doing.
In the end, “Episode 2: Atlas Mugged,” while on the shorter side, is still a testament to the source material of “Borderlands” and the creative chops of Telltale. Excellent writing (especially considering the story is told from two vantage points), intense action and a truly engrossing cliffhanger will you have eager for “Episode 3.” Let’s just hope we’re bro enough to survive what comes next.
Four bro-tastic stars out of five.
Editor’s note: This version of “Tales of the Borderlands: Episode 1: Zer0 Sum” was reviewed on the PC and provided courtesy of Telltale Games.