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Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Tales From The Borderlands Episode 2: Atlas Mugged.

Tales From The Borderlands
Episode 2: Atlas Mugged.

I was quite effusive in my praise of the first episode of this series, and I think with good reason. It has, however, been an oddly long time for this second episode to come around, at three and a half months - the episode even acknowledges as much in its prologue. The name recognition of the company attached to it alone means that a lengthier wait isn't going to run the risk of people forgetting about this game, but it's still a bit vexing for a consumer.

(But not as vexing as, say, Broken Age. Fourteen months and counting, guys. That's a poor showing if I ever heard of one.)

In this episode, having acquired a mysterious Gortys Project device, Rhys, Fiona, Vaughn, Sasha, and Loader Bot set off for Old Haven, where they hope to find vast and untold treasures. Along the way, they come under fire from Rhys' boss Vasquez, fend off bounty hunters in the town of Hollow Point, and are taunted by the newest member of their group: A computerised version of the psychotic, deceased leader of Hyperion, Handsome Jack, who only Rhys can see or hear.

Also, droids.

In all honesty, this second episode doesn't quite live up to the first one. The story is a little less wacky, the gameplay is a little less varied, the length is a little shorter (which makes one squint a little, given how much longer than usual it took to come out). It's a near thing, though, and falling a few feet short of the first episode still puts it head and shoulders above most of Telltale's work.

As far as gameplay goes, this episode is much closer to the standard Telltale formula than the previous one. You are, by and large, talking, making choices, and quicktime-eventing, with the point-and-click elements mostly left by the wayside. You do get some brief puzzle gameplay with Rhys, as he has to identify power breakers around Old Haven, and while it makes a welcome break, it's very short-lived indeed.

The story was a lot of fun, too, but I think the principle issue is that it was, in a way, more of the same. Episode one made me laugh out loud several times, not least because its humour caught me off guard, and because the zany hijinks were switched up enough that you never really grew used to any of them. Episode two, meanwhile, mostly covers the same ground - sarcasm between Rhys and Fiona, unreliable narrators. It's good ground to cover, and it's never boring or un-entertaining, but since Tales thrives so much on the unexpected, it may have to push the envelope a bit more come the third episode.

Okay, this bit was quite unexpected.

The best moments in this game come, not surprisingly, from the new story elements introduced - namely Handsome Jack and the fallout of Felix's betrayal. 

On Rhys and Vaughn's side, the far and away best parts of their story is when Jack suddenly appears to ramble and monologue. He's a bit like a happy orca, Jack is: Murderous, but very affable about it, and his burgeoning ability to take control of Rhys adds a nicely sinister element to the storyline. They also get some very brief hints that Vaughn might have been planning to betray Rhys, but so far that seems like it'd be at odds with the entire tone of the story. 

On Fiona and Sasha's side, we get a short scene in Felix's house that highlights their different ways of dealing with his betrayal and demise. It's one of the quieter moments in the whole story, but it's a very nice scene. 

The story also takes the opportunity to introduce us to several more villain characters: A bounty hunter, Athena, and an unseen but fearfully mentioned former associate of Felix's, now the shadowy power behind criminal-and-suitor-for-Sasha's-affections August. It's setting things up well for future episodes, where it seems likely that Vasquez and August will die or meet with some other kind of end, leaving the way open for a different set of villains to take centre stage for the final two episodes.

This isn't creepy at all.

(It's nice, also, to see Loader Bot return.)

The graphics are once again very nice, combining Telltale's, er, telltale style with the also very recognisable art style of Borderlands. The voice-acting is uniformly strong. The music is perfectly pitched for the setting, involving a lot of twanging string instruments to evoke that Western feel, with occasional dips into sci-fi-ish techno. Mechanically speaking, this episode is very good.

The next episode should be coming out in another two to three months, although the preview is very deliberately vague on what's going to happen in it, instead mostly showing shots of various bounty hunters, including Athena, who seems to have some connection to the Gortys Project. I'm very much looking forward to it, though, so I'll be keeping my eyes peeled. 

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