Tales From The Borderlands is on track to be developer Telltale Games best series. It might lack the emotional punches of The Walking Dead or Wolf Among us, but it’s sharp writing and incredible humour makes it the most immediately enjoyable of all Telltale’s creations thus far. There may have been a three month gap between Episode 2: Atlas Mugged and the first episode Zer0 Sum, but if every episode retains their level quality, then I’d quite happily wait three months between them all. Atlas Mugged not only matches the heights of the début episode, but in many ways exceeds them. Most importantly though Atlus Mugged is home to many more laugh out loud moments that it’s already funny predecessor.
Most of those laughs are delivered by the arrival of a new dynamic in the established group. Picking up exactly where Zer0 Sum finished Atlas Mugged rejoins con-artist Fiona, naive corporate guy Rhys and friends in the heart of a top secret Atlas corporation facility. The group has discovered a huge hologram teasing the location of one of planet Pandora’s hidden limitless treasure vaults. Standing in awe of their priceless discovery silence is shattered when the cybernetically enhanced Rhys lets out a terrified squeal, it’s like he’s seen a ghost, and he has. It would seem that deceased Borderlands 2 Hyperion boss/ egotistical mad man Handsome Jack is now living as an independent AI inside Rhys’s head.
Before Rhys Jack appears a holographic version of himself, but no one else can see him. Jack and Rhys are both fantastically funny characters in their own right, both capable of delivering genuinely laugh out loud lines. Together the two share a dynamic that keeps on giving gold. Jack sits as a devil on Rhys’s shoulder offering dangerous, insane and often funny advice. Whether or not Rhys should act on the advice is up to the player, though in my experience genocidal maniacs aren’t exactly full of top notch suggestions. Jack’s advice though is regularly the most hilarious option; it’s genuinely difficult to not listen – he is the perfect shoulder devil. Jacks running commentary on the rest of the cast is equally great. It’s great to see him spew sarcastic remarks at targets who can’t even hear him.
Jack’s influence is a huge win for series, but the already established relationships continue to cultivate laughs too. Rhys and best friend Vaughan are easily the funnier pairing between themselves and Fiona and sister Sasha. The two share a ‘bro’ relationship, they’ve a chemistry between that Tales plays on for laughs with near constant success. Watching them naively stumble through Pandora’s deadly wastes never fails to disappoint. Watching them wing their way through every encounter is thoroughly enjoyable – they’re alien to Pandora, and it shows in their every move. There’s nothing better than seeing Rhys try to take control of a situation only for the wind to be immediately taken out of his sails.
Of the two playable characters last time around Rhys was the stronger by a slither. But this time Rhys portions of gameplay are noticeably more enjoyable than counterpart Fiona. Her sections are just less fun to be in, and that’s not Fiona’s fault. Fiona herself is a funny, charming and strong character, but being paired with the dull sibling Sasha for most the episode is to the con-woman’s detriment. With Rhys, Vaughan or in her small section with mechanic Scooter she’s got loads of great moments. Sadly her sister Sasha is the most unexciting member of the core group, when Fiona and her are together the humour seems to dissipate. Hopefully future episodes will see Fiona partnered with other group members more frequently.
The inclusion of Borderlands veterans Scooter and Athena is a nice touch to Atlas Mugged’s arc, but ultimately the Tales created cast continue to outperform them. Dick of a boss Vasquez returns feeding in funnier lines than last time and is the butt of the games best joke.
Tales From The Borderlands money and newly added inventory system remain as the only bizarre elements of the design. Not necessarily bad both systems instead feel redundant. Cash buys cosmetic upgrades that are on screen about five seconds each, and since I never needed to go in to the inventory having it seemed utterly pointless. Neither detract from anything, but don’t add anything either, content to simply exist.
Funny might be Tales strongest suit but the action segments too are some of Telltale’s best. From shoot outs to car chases Tales action sequences are quick paced, and failure feels tangible. The way Telltale works in the introductory credits into the end of one set-piece oozes cool, and once again they picked an awesome soundtrack. It’s almost as good as Zer0 Sum’s use of Jungles ‘Busy Earning’.
By the time Atlas Mugged concluded I was on the edge of my seat. I can’t wait to play episode three; that’s a good sign. Atlas Mugged took the promise of episode one, matched it and then exceeded it. I called Zer0 Sum my favourite Telltale Games episode ever, now it’s number two. Atlas Mugged is consistently funny and sharply written. Jack and Rhys steal the scene when together, whilst the bro relationship of Rhys and Vaughan continues to deliver. Fiona is great, but really needs time with any other team member but Sasha, who’s unfortunately something of a dud. With two brilliant episodes under it’s belt, now would be a great time to try out Tales From The Borderlands.