Saturday, May 9, 2015

Tales from the Borderlands: Episode 2: Atlas Mugged review

    As anyone who knows me can tell you, I am an absolutely huge fan of the Borderlands universe. I love the planet Pandora, space station Helios, the absolutely insane characters, and the weird Space Western/Post-Apocalyspe feel of the place. There's just something about the world and its characters which appeals to me.

    Oh yes, the fact they're absolutely crazy.

    Tales from the Borderlands manages to capture all of the appeal of the original games but makes the action a little less about guns and more about not dying horribly. Indeed, the characters only possess one gun between them and Fiona is the only one who knows how to shoot it. The first episode was reviewed here and I really liked it.

    So what do I think of the second episode?

    Also, really-really good.

I love parodying the Millennium Falcon's hyperdrive in a mobile home.
    Atlas Mugged is a bit shorter than Zer0 Sum but makes up for it with an excellent mix of action set-pieces and quiet character moments. We get to know a lot more about characters Rhys, Fiona, and their companions. This character development isn't limited to just the protagonists, either, as we get a bunch of insights into villains Vasquez and August.

    We get to find out Vasquez's origins, which are suspiciously similar to Rhys, and that August has a far softer side than I expected. Both of them are still pretty evil jerks but they aren't quite the cariactures they started off as. My only problem with them, really, is they're squarely Rhys and Fiona's respective villains. I'd like to see some August interaction with Rhys and Fiona with Vasquez--having them gel more into a single group. Seeing the two groups come together like Fiona's drag race with Vaughn and Rhys teaming up with Sasha in Episode One would be appreciated.

You get no less than THREE bullets this time around. WOAH.
    The premise is our anti-heroes have discovered the Gortys Project, a leftover experiment by the Atlas Corporation which can theoretically lead to a Vault. A joke is made how all things on Pandora ultimately tie to the Vaults but I didn't really think this connection was necessary. I rather liked the fact our protagonists weren't Vault Hunters. Either way, the conwoman and ambitious code-monkey are going to find it in order to make themselves filthy-stinking rich. They just have to survive the people who have put prices on their head in order to do it. Aiding them in this is, apparently, Handsome Jack.

    The episode wastes no time in reintroducing the breakout villain of Borderlands 2. I'm, honestly, suffering a little Jack fatigue since we've already had the Pre-Sequel devoted to his rise to power. Thankfully, they don't bring Jack back the dead. This is merely a computer reconstruction of his brain and memories. Despite this, Jack remains as insane as ever. One of the first interactions you have with him is the holographic reproduction try to strangle you to death. Even so, Jack is the only Vault Hunter you have at your disposal. You'll have to rely on him, as untrustworthy as he may be, in order to make it to the Vault.

Don't worry, he's STILL alive!
    There's a lot more continuity in this episode than in the prior one, which is both a good and bad thing. In addition to Jack, we also have the return of Athena and Janey Springs. I'm not the world's biggest Athena fan, so I was pleased to see her portrayed in a less-than-flattering light. The opportunity to steal her shield is also something which had me laughing aloud. We also get confirmation that Athena is a lesbian, which is good since there was still some minor controversy over this point. This, amongst other things, means that Athena is one of the few openly gay major characters in gaming.

    I also appreciated the return of Scooter, mainstay of the series. Oddly enough, my biggest complaint about Scooter is he's slightly "off" from the other Borderlands games. This version of Scooter is far too nice to be the one I remembered. The Scooter I remembered was a vulgar, half-insane, cretin of a man. This one is more of a lovable goof, which may just be Fiona's interpretation of the man.

More Janey Springs is always welcome, especially since the tragic closing of her studio.
    There's also some surprisingly touching moments in this episode too. My Fiona chose to kill Felix in retribution for his betrayal of the family. My interpretation was that Pandora doesn't produce forgiving sorts and everyone who lives there is hardened to some degree. Nevertheless, it was good to see the option to have her struggle with the act of patricide in Episode Two, even as Sasha was quick to judge Felix as worth killing. I also liked the moral dilemma born from a discovery about Vaughn.  One perfect for a Hyperion employee unused to violence.

    Bravo, Telltale.

    I will say that I regret the decision by Telltale to completely forgo puzzles this time around. I managed to get to New Haven and started fiddling around with some wiring but that wasn't so much a puzzle as simply putting item A into slot B. I think the episode could have been longer, too, but these are quibbling over details. The relatively short pace of the game is great for keeping the action flowing and enjoyable. Likewise, I never felt frustrated with the narrative either.

I'm not certain which would be worse: possession by Handsome Jack or the Devil.
    The illusion of choice was preserved this time around, too, even if they are only minor choices in the long run. For example, you can decide whether Felix dies or gets away scott free as well as whether or not you abandon your friends to go look for the treasure yourself. You can also make it clear whether or not your partner is your friend anymore.

    In conclusion, I loved this episode and can't wait for the next one. They may not have gotten Scooter "right" but if that's the biggest complaint I can come up with, they're well on their way to making a great series.


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