At just ninety minutes Atlas Mugged is one of Telltale Games’ briefest adventures yet, but one that shifts between intense action, laugh out loud comedy and poignant character moments with such fluency that, despite its brevity, makes every second count.
After an invaluable and wonderfully tongue-in-cheek recap, the episode picks up where its predecessor left off as we rejoin our band of misfits in the fallout of Zer0 Sum’s dramatic conclusion.
As Fiona, Vaughn and Sasha are forced to go to disgusting lengths to explore the Atlas bunker – in a grotesque scene that involves a retinal scanner, a corpse and a spork – Rhys comes face to face with the latest addition to an already excellent cast of characters.
Jack is back. Well, as an AI hologram at least.
Because of the mechanical implants in his eye, Handsome Jack is only visible to Rhys and his hilarious interactions with this show-stealing apparition are only a glimpse of the sublime humour that runs through Atlas Mugged. The same simultaneously deplorable and loveable villain from Borderlands 2 has been perfectly recaptured and his cameo appearances are the standout moments of the episode. Eventually, the player is left to choose whether Rhys should reveal the existence of this ghost/hallucination to the rest of the group in an opening scene where Telltale have once again delivered in making their original content feel every part of a thriving, pre-existing world.
It isn’t long in the narrative before Rhys and Fiona are separated once again after a run in with a giant monster leaves the former stranded in the wastes and the other hurtling towards Hollowpoint in what remains of a caravan. Much like with Zer0 Sum, it’s in these moments of separation where Telltale’s storytelling prowess truly thrives. The narrative splits into two individual storylines that run parallel to each other, but are entirely different in tone. Where Fiona’s is a reserved exploration of her coming to terms with the betrayal by (and death of) her mentor, Rhys’ story is a comedy without doubt, but even then each joke peels back another layer of his personality.
It’s a testament to their storytelling that two such contrasting perspectives can be woven together without ever once jarring. Their handle on this narrative style is so effective that even replaying the same scene from a different point of view is entertaining each time. In fact, seeing the different sides of the same adventure and how one effects the other not only generates a terrific sense of forward momentum, but also gives the whole episode a replayability value.
Despite being another adaptation, Tales from the Borderlands is a comedy and therefore something of a departure for Telltale Games. If Zer0 Sum established their acerbic wit, Atlas Mugged perfected it. Yet, it isn’t only the writing where Telltale’s adventures in the Borderlands succeeds as a comedy, but also with creative gameplay mechanics. From the self-referential fun-poking to fourth-wall-breaking, Telltale’s latest comedy is far more than superficial humour, it’s funny to the core.
However, the gameplay is also where the flaws arise. At an early point in the game the developers abandon the unique QTE mechanic that sets them apart and opt instead for the easy entertainment of a third person shooter sequence, but it’s just as grating here as it did in The Walking Dead. Another issue that has lingered from Zer0 Sum is the inventory and currency system that may yet come to fruition later in the series, but without a substantial payoff in either episode, taking the time to collect hidden items only feels like a chore.
It’s still too early to predict where this adventure is heading, but after two superb episodes it’s sure to be somewhere entertaining.