When last I spoke about Tales from the Borderlands, I was pretty darn excited.
Telltale’s iconic treatment of one of my favorite franchises was sure to be a lot of fun (and it definitely was), and once completed I eagerly awaited the coming of future episodes. While Zer0 Sum brought Borderlands into a new storybook realm throwing the same witty punches we’re used to seeing from the franchise, Atlas Mugged has left me disappointed. Not only is Episode 2 shockingly short – even when compared to the relatively little time it takes to play any Telltale episode (about 2 hours, typically), but it just doesn’t have the same “oomph” that came with Episode 1.
Sure, Atlas Mugged has its funny bits and pieces; but it failed grab me by the balls (or pseduo-balls in my case, given the presence of certain vaginal parts in my personal anatomy), and was more akin to opening a present only to discover Season 7 of <Insert Show Here> – just more of the same, really.
Which is fine, if your show is Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sunnydale is about to be swallowed by the Hellmouth in a spectacular finale. But Atlas Mugged ends up feeling more like a show on the verge of being cancelled by the network after a pilot episode. Telltale’s pacing of its episodic series’ has long been spotty, but Atlas Mugged sees the developer’s take on Gearbox’s popular franchise floundering, precisely when it needs to be building on the initial setup.
To recap, Tales from the Borderlands follows two distinct characters, Rhys and Fiona, as they relay the story of their exploits to their masked captor. The story is told from both points of view, highlighting slightly different angles with each telling in order to make one look like the hero while the other just looks like a fool. We find out in Episode 1 that Vault Hunter Zer0 is searching for something called the Gortys Project, which we know absolutely nothing about. At the end, a hologram Handsome Jack appears, but only to Rhys. We were left with many more questions than we started with, which I’m sure is exactly what Telltale intended, given the presence of not one, but two unreliable narrators.
Episode 2 starts immediately where Episode 1 left off (no “3 weeks later” shenanigans), and unfortunately Telltale makes me do the one thing I wish they wouldn’t – forcing me to move around a tiny space which takes just a few short steps to navigate in its entirety. I’ve said it a bunch of times already, but I’ll say it again: just get rid of it. I’d rather have a large tableaux to have to mouse-look around, click, then have the character walk over to interact with the object, than be confronted with a situation where the solution to my predicament is conveniently placed right in front me. It’s like James Bond being placed in a death trap, only to be conveniently handed the remote control to switch off the laser threatening to sever his manhood in half. Forcing odd and awkward-angle walking for a few seconds so than I can have the object I need to interact with appear on the screen is maddening.
Overall, though, Episode 2 progresses steadily, giving a little more information about holo-Jack and his connection to Rhys while also divulging a bit more about the Gortys Project. Well, sort of. There are more episodes to come, but some glaring gaps in exposition mean that I still don’t even know what the Gortys Project is; I only know that Rhys and Fiona have managed to activate it somehow, and even then I’m not wholly sure of my assessment of what actually happened at the end of the Episode.
Additionally, while Zer0 made his appearance in the first Episode, he is nowhere to be found in the second, and instead Vault Hunter Athena takes his place – though she seems demonically twisted for no particular reason that anyone has cared to explain (yet). I can understand Telltale’s desire to tie this game into the overarching fiction of the franchise, but it seems a bit odd – and overly convenient – that established characters swim in and out of the narrative, as though their presence is merely there to tick a box.
While the first installment managed to move through a lot of story in a short amount of time, the second lacks substance. We don’t learn anything else about the aforementioned Gortys, only that it was apparently manufactured by the now defunct Atlas Corporation. We don’t learn anything about the mysterious masked man who captures our hero and heroine. More importantly, Episode 2 lacks the emotional investment of the first episode. When you’re experiencing a game that is 98% narrative, that’s a big problem.
That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy my time with this episode. Atlas Mugged is sprinkled with the humor and wit I’ve come to expect from the Borderlands franchise, despite the story itself lacking any progressive substance. While I’m not sure that the reference to Rand’s novel correlates well to the images and themes presented in the telling, it’s possible that Telltale is trying to appeal to the literary audience by referring to her title work about dystopian industrialists obliterating industry and literary objectivism. Or they just wanted to muck around and have a lengthy conversation about how physically ripped Rhys’ bro-mance buddy Vaughn got after he installed an exercise bike in his office. I’m not 100% sure what the writers were really going for there.
Atlas Mugged feels more like a mid-season pick-me-up than a full episode from Telltale. It’s a brief and not terribly informative stopgap, which ended prematurely and left me surprised by its brevity, wondering why it was designated as its own separate episode. Frankly, I’d love to see Telltale create an epic magnus opus rather than releasing piece-mail episodes that either completely meet my expectations or do nothing of the sort.
Atlus Mugged didn’t really give me the shot in the arm that I’ve been waiting for since the conclusion of Episode 1. Admittedly I’m invested enough to play further episodes to sate my curiosity, but I’m definitely not interested in playing another mid-season “fluff” episode.