GAME REVIEW – Puzzle Agent 2

By Marty Mulrooney

Puzzle Agent 2

A direct sequel to last year’s superb Puzzle Agent by Telltale Games, Puzzle Agent 2 once again sees players taking control of FBI Agent Nelson Tethers (Department of Puzzle Research) as he investigates a series of mysterious disappearances in the sleepy town of Scoggins, Minnesota. Featuring the stunning artwork of Graham Annable, Puzzle Agent 2 is certainly a winner in the looks department. But, does it have the puzzles to match?

Puzzle Agent 2 begins with Nelson Tethers struggling to forget the events of the previous game. Although he supposedly ‘cracked’ the case of the closed Scoggins eraser factory, he has since had unshakeable feelings of doubt, coupled with numerous unanswered questions that he simply cannot dismiss. Determined to solve the mystery whatever the cost – he is a Puzzle Agent after all – he uses his remaining annual holiday leave to escape from his desk at the FBI and return to the snowy town of Scoggins, Minnesota, this time for a ‘vacation’…

2010′s Puzzle Agent was a gorgeous looking game and Puzzle Agent 2 is no different. The artwork has a rough, hand drawn style that positively oozes charm. When shown from a distance the artwork is sharp and crisp, whilst up-close you get a completely different perspective, the once sharp outlines now showing telltale signs of pencil scribblings and shadings. I have become a huge fan of Graham Annable’s artwork recently – the Puzzle Agent games are based on the cartoonist’s hillarious Grickle universe – and Puzzle Agent 2 is literally like watching his drawings come to life. I truly believe that the visual aspect of this game and its predecessor have been bizarrely downplayed by the mainstream media: Puzzle Agent 2 is quite simply beautiful in motion.

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Nelson hasn’t been in Scoggins for long before he picks up the trail where he left off. More and more of the townspeople are going missing in the nearby Sasimy Woods and the whispers of ‘the Hidden People’ can still be heard. The storyline is certainly an intriguing one, following on very well from the somewhat confusing ending of the first game. Nelson is a hero that it is easy to get behind, determined to solve the case whether the FBI will help him or not.

The gameplay itself has changed little, with simple point-and-click controls used to search for gum within the environment – usable as clues during puzzles but far too readily available to really matter – and converse with other characters dotted around the town. Again, I really loved the idea of using the left mouse button as a ‘sonar’ of sorts, whereby clicking anywhere on screen creates a ripple effect that spreads out in a generous circle to show all nearby points of interaction. Why can’t more point-and-click games utilise this feature? It rocks!

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Of course, talking and collecting gum are merely distractions. The real gameplay comes in the form of puzzles. As in the original Puzzle Agent, some of these puzzles have tenuous links to the game world, but most are merely an excuse to shoehorn a brainteaser into the unravelling narrative regardless of whether its placement really makes sense or not.

However, this isn’t necessarily a complaint. The Puzzle Agent games are by no means traditional adventure games and anyone trying to play them as such will undoubtedly be disappointed. Puzzle Agent 2 is a puzzle game through and through, the high production values and gripping storyline offered almost as rewards for solving the multiple brainteasers, rather than as inseparable and integrated elements.

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Sadly, where Puzzle Agent 2 does somewhat fall down is that the puzzles themselves aren’t very difficult. They are for the most part better explained than they were in the first game and there have been some improvements to the puzzle screens so players can quickly recall what their goal is at any given time. However, many puzzles are simply recycled in slightly different ways throughout the game and this really damages the overall enjoyment of solving them. Some puzzles involving the movement of tiles also feel slightly cheap, generally solved through trail-and-error rather than due to any real level of skill from the player.

Thankfully, the puzzles do improve as the game progresses and the storyline is still a delightfully creepy mix of Fargo and The X-Files meets David Lynch.  Although the threat of ‘the Hidden People’ no longer feels quite as strong, the introduction of fully suited-up astronauts roaming the moonlit woods feels very creepy indeed! In terms of story, perhaps Puzzle Agent 2 doesn’t take as many risks as its predecessor, but the payoff is that it manages to offer a much more coherent, enjoyable experience.

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In many ways, Puzzle Agent 2 feels very much like the second half of the original game rather than a standalone experience in its own right. Some things it does better – there are hardly any technical issues and the storyline is certainly easier to follow – however the puzzles themselves, although much better designed, are too frequently reused at times. Thankfully, Doug Boyd as Nelson Tethers is the glue that holds all of these disparate elements together: Nelson is such a great character that he manages to hold your interest in the game even when a puzzle disappoints. Improved in some areas but slightly downgraded in others, Puzzle Agent 2 is still a great game that I thoroughly enjoyed playing and would recommend to fans of the original Puzzle Agent, with which this sequel is roughly on a par.

8 OUT OF 10

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