- Editor's Rating
- Quirky fun
- Intriguing story and some great puzzles
- At $6.99, expensive for what it offers
- Needs more puzzles
Puzzle Agent 2 has its charms, but it doesn't offer enough puzzle bang for your seven bucks.
The original Puzzle Agent, released in June of last year, was a sleeper hit from well-known developer Telltale Games, makers of the popular Back to the Future series. The game’s sequel, Puzzle Agent 2, a hybrid puzzle/adventure game that has received more attention prior to release, is now available on PC, Mac, iPhone, and iPad and is the latest title from the point-and-click kings.
The tablet version of Puzzle Agent 2 can be found in the App Store for $6.99. Ultimately, the biggest issue with this price tag is the game’s length, but Telltale fans may also be a little turned off because this is a slightly different game than what they’re used to seeing from the developer.
In Puzzle Agent 2, you play as an agent from the FBI’s Puzzle Solving Division, Agent Nelson Tethers as he continues his investigation from the first game of the bizarre happenings in the small town of Scoggins, Minnesota. The story is intriguing, but it can get a little convoluted at times (though I can’t completely fault Telltale for that, since I have not played the first game in its entirety). Basically, in the last game, you were investigating the whereabouts of vanished eraser factory foreman Isaac Davner, who apparently was carried off into the woods by forest gnomes referred to as the Hidden People. Yes, it is every bit as bizarre as it sounds.
Picking up right where the first game left off, you’re put back in Tethers’ shoes as he returns to Scoggins. Tethers is on vacation and the eraser factory is back up and running, but the Davner is still mysteriously absent and a handful of other residents have gone missing. As you talk to the various residents of Scoggins to investigate the disappearances, you’re tasked with solving various puzzles and brain teasers to progress (think something along the lines of an adventure game mixed with Professor Layton). The story takes some weird and entertaining turns, but I don’t wish to spoil any plot details, so suffice to say that the whole thing boils down to a bizarre conspiracy you probably won’t see coming.
While the story is intriguing in spite of its confusing nature, I was a little disappointed by the fact that it wasn’t nearly as clever or funny as Telltale’s other games. I usually love the writing in Telltale games, because I think it’s always very quick and sharp-witted, but Puzzle Agent 2 was a bit of a deviation from the norm. Granted, this may have been the developer’s attempt at a slightly more serious title on the whole, but there were definitely moments where the game was clearly trying to be funny and it just wasn’t.
Great voice acting is generally a hallmark of games from Telltale, but Puzzle Agent 2 does not feature their best work. A few of the characters sound genuine or entertaining (or both), like Sheriff Bahg, who amused me to no end with his gruff incompetence. But our main man Tethers and most of the people he interacts with, including the oddly-inflected Korka and the deadpan Mrs. Davner, generally sound uninspired and just plain awkward whenever they talk.
The game also suffers from the occasional bug or hiccup, be it a sound glitch or stuttering or stalling framerates. The problems were never too serious and they never resulted in a full-on crash, but it was still annoying and occasionally caused me to miss some lines of plot-related dialogue when the sound looped for a few seconds before suddenly lurching forward and skipping over some important details.
Drawn by Hand
I do appreciate the charm and uniqueness of Puzzle Agent’s literally hand-drawn art style, which is the work of the ever-talented Graham Annable. But it only looks good — and sharp, lending credence to the tablet version’s “HD” descriptor — from a distance. Zoomed-out shots look crisp, but the moment the view changes to a close-up shot of anything, it becomes apparent that there is no adjustment being made to the visuals to accommodate for the closer shot. Imagine zooming in really closely on a pencil drawing with a camera; that is exactly what is happening in Puzzle Agent with these shots and as such, you can see the graininess of actual pencil/charcoal strokes, at which point the art style kind of just looks ugly (not to mention the fact that it becomes quite pixilated and fuzzy, too).
When it comes to the gameplay itself, Puzzle Agent is hit or miss. The puzzles can be enjoyable, but they’re generally either too easy or too hard, but the latter was not because of any sort of clever design. Rather, many of the puzzles I found myself getting stuck on followed completely arbitrary logic that I would never have figured out in a hundred years had I not used the game’s three-tier hint system. For instance, one puzzle I couldn’t crack involved a sequence of four increasingly greater numbers and I had to determine the fifth number of the sequence. It turns out the numbers were the sum of the number of days of each month, starting in January, of the Gregorian calendar. How or why would my mind ever jump to that conclusion?
The puzzles that didn’t engage in those kinds of “logic” were, again, easier, but definitely more enjoyable. Many of the puzzles made good use of the touch screen interface, letting you use tap or drag gestures to do things like arrange furniture in a room to get to the exit or to create a path through the forest.
Needs More Puzzles
Given the game’s name, this may seem obvious, but Puzzle Agent 2 is more of a puzzle game than your traditional point-and-click adventure game and, as such, there are puzzles sprinkled throughout the game that can be done just for fun and are not necessary for story progression. The game even has a scoring system and an archive that allows you to redo any of the puzzles you’ve encountered so far so you can achieve a higher score, should you so desire. Of course, the challenge of many (if not all) of the puzzles is pretty much gone after doing them once, but it’s still a decent way to implement some element of replayability and extend playtime.
Speaking of value and playtime, Puzzle Agent 2 seems to have a much vaster universe to explore; when I spoke to Telltale designer Sean Vanaman at PAX East earlier this year, he said that a big part of the sequel would be offering more locales to visit in addition to many of the existing ones established in the first game. Indeed, Telltale has delivered on the front, but to little effect. The story is more or less on rails, telling you explicitly which location you need to travel to next, with many of the same locations visited multiple times while others are remain untouched during the story. You are free to visit all of the locations if you wish, but it’s not necessary to progress through the story and you will rarely find anything of interest in areas unrelated to the plot.
Now, one could argue that the existence of the seemingly superfluous locations is a means to cram more puzzles into the game, but this didn’t really turn out to be the case; just because the game’s focus is on puzzles does not mean that there is exactly a wealth of them. I took what I believed to be a relatively streamlined approach to the game in that I just tried to do what was necessary to make the story progress, figuring that if I had time I could go back and try out some of the extra puzzles later on. Despite the fact that I made my way through the story as efficiently as possible while only doing seven or eight non-story-related puzzles, by the time I beat the game, there were only five extra puzzles left for me to do. I was expecting there to be far more puzzles for me to try out given that I had only visited the locales necessary for story progression and rarely went out of my way to do puzzles that didn’t pertain to the story.
That being said, I didn’t find Puzzle Agent 2 to be a great deal; at seven dollars, there are plenty of other games you can get for the iPad that offer much more playtime and probably more of an enjoyable challenge. I made it through my entire story run in about three hours and, like I mentioned, that only left me with a handful of extra puzzles to do. If this was one of Telltale’s episodes in a multi-part series, I could understand that kind of length. But Puzzle Agent 2 is supposed to be a full-fledged game, yet I got about as much playtime — and less challenge — out of it as I did from single episodes from Telltale’s other series like Tales of Monkey Island or Back to the Future. And that’s not a good sign, seeing as those episodes were basically one-fifth of an entire game.