At the conclusion of the first Puzzle Agent game, the FBI’s Department of Puzzle Research declared a ‘case closed’ on the eraser factory mystery, but many questions remained unanswered. For starters, the factory foreman was missing, the source of a ‘whispering madness’ hadn’t been pinned down, and what about the numerous sightings of little gnome-like creatures around town? Nelson Tethers, the department’s sole agent and puzzle solver extraordinaire, returns to the bleak, snowbound town of Scoggins, Minnesota, to tie up the loose ends.
Characters from the previous game reprise their roles, and several key locations – helpfully marked out on a familiar-looking tourist map – have also been recycled. Unlike many puzzle games, there’s actually an entertaining storyline accompanying the brain-bending bits, although the pace is often pedestrian and some of the dialogue is a bit tedious to sit through. You can skip the boring bits; however, it’s at the risk of missing valuable clues. Plot-wise, both titles play like consecutive TV episodes, which is Telltale Games’ modus operandi. The tale is delivered with a touch of tongue-in-cheek humor, which manages to poke fun at some American stereotypes along the way. In order to fully appreciate the game’s characters, setting and story, you really need to have played the original. Thankfully, it is free to download with the purchase of Puzzle Agent 2… so why wouldn’t you?
The puzzles themselves are untimed and generally easy, with a few gnarly ones thrown in to tax the grey matter. Just like the first game, there’s a selection of visual, logical, and mathematical puzzles to solve via a simple point-and-click interface. This works well for the most part, with the exception of some visual puzzles, where you are required to assemble an object or picture from various fragments, and you need to shift a piece that’s under another layer. A hint system is available for those occasions when you’re truly stumped. Hints can be purchased with wads of pre-chewed gum (eww!), which the citizens of Scoggins have thoughtlessly – and creatively – discarded around the town.
Once you’ve solved a puzzle it is submitted for approval (or rejection) by the FBI’s Department of Puzzle Research. You are then awarded a ‘report card’ grade depending on how many hints were used and how many attempts it took to nail the solution. Unfortunately, some of the puzzle instructions aren’t worded particularly well, which leaves room for confusion and unnecessary errors. This was really the only downside for us… it was also an issue in the first game.
When it comes to music and sound effects, a ‘less is more approach has been taken here. Loud, discordant strains accompany the more suspenseful moments, and there’s the odd bit of background noise or a few bars’ worths of music. Otherwise, the aural landscape is as bleak and sparsely populated as Scoggins itself. Industry veteran Doug Boyd again gives voice to the nerdy-but-tenacious Agent Tethers, and he does a good job of it, whether he’s interrogating townsfolk or screaming like a terrified girl.
At first glance, the graphics don’t make a huge impression, but it does kinda grow on you. The limited color palette with its minimal shading has a cool retro vibe, which is a good fit for the setting and characters – and particularly effective during the game’s surreal dream sequences. Those familiar with cartoonist/animator Graham Annable’s Grickle books will appreciate his trademark simplistic style. The animation is (deliberately) jerky and outlines are pretty basic; nonetheless, facial expressions and mannerisms are conveyed well.
Replay value? Not a lot, even with a few bonus puzzles being unlocked after you’ve completed the game (which we easily did within a day – taking into account the usual food, comfort, and sanity breaks). With the freebie, the game factored in – and we do recommend you play it first to get a feel for the second one – you’re probably looking at a weekend’s worth of entertainment for just under US$10, or a week’s worth of casual gaming. If puzzles are your thing, it’s worth a look.