At the conclusion of the first Puzzle Agent game, the FBIâ€™s Department of Puzzle Research declared â€˜case closedâ€™ on the eraser factory mystery, but many questions remained unanswered. For starters, the factory foreman was missing, the source of a â€˜whispering madnessâ€™ hadnâ€™t been pinned down, and what about the numerous sightings of little gnome-like creatures around town? Nelson Tethers, the departmentâ€™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 â€“ helpfully marked out on a familiar looking tourist map - have also been recycled. Unlike many puzzle games, thereâ€™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 itâ€™s at the risk of missing valuable clues. Plot-wise, both titles play like consecutive TV episodes, which is Telltale Gamesâ€™ modus operandi. The tale is delivered with a touch of tongue-in-cheek humour, which manages to poke a fun at some American stereotypes along the way. In order to fully appreciate the gameâ€™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 2â€¦ so why wouldnâ€™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, thereâ€™s a selection of visual, logic, 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 thatâ€™s under another layer. A hint system is available for those occasions when youâ€™re truly stumped. Hints can be purchased with wads of pre-chewed gum (eww!), which the citizens of Scoggins have thoughtlessly â€“ and creatively - discarded around the town.
Once youâ€™ve solved a puzzle it is submitted for approval (or rejection) by the FBIâ€™s Department of Puzzle Research. You are then awarded a â€˜report cardâ€™ grade depending on how many hints were used and how many attempts it took to nail the solution. Unfortunately, some of the puzzle instructions arenâ€™t worded particularly well, which leaves room for confusion and unnecessary errors. This was really the only downside for usâ€¦ it was also an issue in the first game.
When it comes to music and sound effects, a â€˜less is moreâ€™ approach has been taken here. Loud, discordant strains accompany the more suspenseful moments, and thereâ€™s the odd bit of background noise or a few barsâ€™ worth 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 heâ€™s interrogating townsfolk or screaming like a terrified girl.
At first glance, the graphics donâ€™t make a huge impression, but it does kinda grow on you. The limited colour 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 gameâ€™s surreal dream sequences. Those familiar with cartoonist/animator Graham Annableâ€™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 youâ€™ve completed the game (which we easily did within a day - taking into account the usual food, comfort and sanity breaks). With the freebie game factored in â€“ and we do recommend you play it first to get a feel for the second one - youâ€™re probably looking at a weekendâ€™s worth of entertainment for just under US$10, or a weekâ€™s worth of casual gaming. If puzzles are your thing, itâ€™s worth a look.