Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
System requirements: Windows XP/Vista/Win 7, 2 GHz Pentium IV or better CPU, 512 MB graphics card, 3 GB RAM, DirectX 9.0c, sound card
ESRB rating: Not rated at press time
Release date: Available now
Puzzles have always been a key component in point-and-click adventuring, but they usually are employed as a means to advance a game’s story. Publisher/developer Telltale has taken a different track with the Puzzle Agent games, in which puzzles don’t just move the story along, they are part of the story. Puzzle Agent 2 combines conundrum-solving and a hand-drawn-comic graphic style to continue the story of last year’s original.
Based upon Canadian animator Graham Annable’s Grickle comics, Puzzle Agent 2 returns FBI puzzle researcher Nelson Tethers to the snow-covered town of Scoggins, MN. Agent Tethers has solved the mysteries at the local eraser factory, but the factory foreman is still missing, so Tethers has come back to tie up loose ends. He finds out that the foreman is not the only local resident who’s disappeared, leading Tethers to bizarre encounters with lost astronauts, government coverups and mysterious red gnomes known as the Hidden People.
Puzzle Agent 2 is unlike almost every other point-and-click on the market. You don’t move your character from one place to another. Instead, you click on the scene to reveal items to examine, NPCs to interview and puzzles to solve (indicated by a jigsaw puzzle icon). Once a scene is cleared, you use a map of the area to select your next destination, after which Agent Tethers jumps on his snowmobile and takes you there. There are more than 20 puzzles to solve during the course of the game, with more unlocked after you complete the story. You get explicit instructions for solving them, and you get up to three hints for each one should you need them. Hints are stockpiled by finding pieces of chewing gum scattered throughout the scenes (it helps Tethers to think).
This game survives on the quirkiness of its characters and the devilishness of its puzzles. Tethers is sort of a mild-mannered nerd set loose in a Twin Peaks-style adventure story in which something odd happens at almost every turn. The puzzles are variations on common types, such as sliding tiles, math problems and number sequences, dressed up with graphics that look like they’re enlargements of newspaper comics. Telltale doesn’t waste time getting you started; you’re presented with your first puzzle about 30 seconds after you start the game. Difficulty ranges from fairly simple to maddeningly frustrating, especially if you run out of hints. Fortunately you can skip puzzles before you tear all of your hair out; story progression doesn’t depend upon your finishing all of them.
Unfortunately, the oddball story makes very little sense (Tethers at one point ends up running around in the snow in his underwear, for some inexplicable reason) and only seems to exist to give you a reason to solve the puzzles. This wouldn’t be so bad if there were more variety in the types of puzzles to solve. The unique nature of the game only keeps you interested for a short time, after which you practically forget about the story and just try to get to the end as fast as possible. Which isn’t a very long journey; experienced solvers can get to the end of Puzzle Agent 2 faster than the average person gives up on the New York Times crossword.
I really wanted to like Puzzle Agent 2. It’s a nice change from the average adventure game, with a goofy lead character, quirky NPCs and a cool visual style. But all of that has to be supported by a good story and engaging gameplay, and that’s where the game fails; unless you’re a puzzle fanatic, boredom sets in very quickly. The ending leaves room for another installment; hopefully next time Telltale can give us more to do than move furniture and do math problems.