Tales from the Borderlands Episode 2: 'Atlas Mugged' review: make 'em laugh

Game Info
Platform 360, PS3, Win, Mac, iOS, Android, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher Telltale Games
Developer Telltale Games
Release Date Mar 17, 2015

Who do you trust, and why do you trust them? These are the questions I wrestled with in the second episode of Telltale's Tales from the Borderlands episodic series, "Atlas Mugged," set in the violent world of Gearbox's Borderlands series.

The story jumped around with gleeful abandon, and the jokes almost always made me laugh. But whatever the distractions, I was always left with two uncomfortable questions as I played: Who do you trust? Why?

"Atlas Mugged" is a story about questionable people doing terrible things, and the opening segment's focus on an eyeball is cringe-inducing. The story is narrated by Hyperion company man Rhys and conwoman Fiona as they walk a masked third-party through a con that has gone terribly wrong, which means the point of view jumps from character to character.

Atlas Mugged is about questionable people doing terrible things
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The perspective shifts are important, because they mean that every narrator is unreliable. This adds an extra layer of flexibility to the story; what you're seeing isn't how things happened, it's how someone remembers it. The story is often told in very specific ways to mock one character or to make another look good.

"Atlas Mugged" is also very much aware that it's a game, and that you're in on the joke. It doesn't break the fourth wall, but it's certainly comfortable tapping on it from time to time to make sure you're paying attention.

This is a world where death is cheap and suffering is common, but the game goes out of its way to show you a fun, sometimes joyful time. The voice actors, from Troy Baker to Patrick Warburton, approach the script with gusto, and the writing crackles with the sort of life and energy that drives the best comedy.

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One of my favorite extended jokes deals with a character's shirtless appearance. It's a diversion that doesn't do anything in terms of narrative. It doesn't move the story along, nor does it do much to teach us about the characters. But it's funny as hell, and the humor is delivered bone dry. The game is not afraid to go out on a limb for even silly jokes, and luckily almost all of them land.

The humor works in spite of Tales from the Borderlands using a familiar formula of walking around and making decisions that impact the story from time to time. As it turns out, Telltale is very good at that formula by now. Even the music is expertly handled; both the credits sequences at the beginning and the final scene are vastly improved by how the sound is edited. The episode snaps together in a satisfying way, even if there are few major reveals or taxing challenges.

I made many decisions on faith; I'll have to live with the consequences

That lack of tension, even in the face of such a well-written story, is one of the only weak parts of this episode, in fact. If you're looking for hard decisions or scrappy heroes, you've come to the wrong place. A gun may jam in a crucial moment to get someone out of a tight spot. A loader bot is often employed as a sort of deus ex machina when the odds seemed stacked against our heroes. And since said heroes are telling the story, we already know they're going to somehow survive whatever situations they find themselves in. They might as well have fun with it.

There are a few moments of actual emotion in "Atlus Mugged," although they're rare. You're often asked to choose who to trust based off incomplete information. I made many decisions in this episode on faith; I'll have to live with the consequences as those choices play out in future episodes.

Wrap Up:

Tales from the Borderlands Episode 2 goes out of its way to entertain

You can feel the creators of some games in certain details or plot twists, but Tales from the Borderlands Episode 2 goes further. It's as if everyone is dancing as hard as they can behind the scenes to put on a show, and you're experiencing the sweat as it drips from their brow. It's the sort of game that feels like a puppy dog desperate to be liked, and you can't help but pet it.

Tales from the Borderlands Episode 2 was reviewed using early final PC review code provided by Telltale. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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