With the original receiving decidedly mixed reviews, does Puzzle Agent 2 correct the mistakes of the past or is this an example of a game too puzzling for its own good?
Puzzle Agent 2
Publisher: Telltale Games
Genres: Adventure, Casual
Developer: Telltale Games
Equal satisfying this time around are the puzzles from which Puzzle Agent 2 draws its name. While the ratio of good to bad puzzles still titled more towards the good as opposed to the bad in the first Puzzle Agent, there is no denying that the game still produced some real clunkers. Thankfully the minds behind Puzzle Agent 2 have clearly learned from their mistakes, and while PA2 has a smaller number of overall puzzles than the original (33 to PA’s 37), these puzzles do not include, in my opinion at least, a single example that I can point to as an example of a bad or uninteresting puzzle. Gone are the many puzzles filled with repetitive and tedious busy work, such as the multiple box making/line drawing puzzles of NT:PA, and in their place stands challenges that feature both more diversity and overall cleverness in design.
A good number of the puzzles in Puzzle Agent 2 also feature multiple solutions, a choice which severs to both helps prevent player frustration and give further replay value to the game by allowing those inclined to try and find every possible solution to previously completed challenges. Perhaps the difference in quality in the puzzles of both games can be best expressed thusly: in the first Puzzle Agent, I more often found myself impatiently wading through a puzzle, with my focus always being towards getting back to the far more interesting story and setting of the game. In short, the puzzles of Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent at times felt more like an obstacle to the fun than part of it. In Puzzle Agent 2, by way of comparison, I found myself actually anticipating when I would encounter another puzzle and looking forward as much to next chance to test my wits as I was the next amusing cutscene or moment of character interaction.
Puzzle Agent 2′s puzzles tend to be more visually interesting and humorous in their overall execution this time around as well, which in turn should help further endear them to players. One example of this that stood out for me personally was the game’s take on the classic ‘move a bunch of animals from one side of a river to another’ puzzle. Instead of just telling players they are wrong when they make a mistake, the game visually illustrates the unfortunate fate about to occur to the animals by way of a wonderfully drawn Graham Annable illustration (which leads, among other things, to the memorable image of a snake having swallowed a bear whole). In general, the puzzles in Puzzle Agent 2 tend feature more animations and greater amounts of visual pizzazz than examples from the first game. Telltale has definitely brought the overall quality of their puzzle design, both from a visual and gameplay perspective, in PA2 up to the level of the game’s other elements, thus allowing the puzzles to now feel more like a cohesive part of the overall game.
Nor is the game a slouch in the visual department outside of its puzzles. While the game does reuse several locations from the first game, it also adds a good number of new ones, most which are every bit as memorable as the originals. The setting of Scoggins truly comes to life, with the stylized character designs complementing the generally vaguely menacing or off-putting environments nicely. Graham Annable’s art style fits perfectly with the kind of stories that the Puzzle Agent series is trying to tell and really allows the game to stand out, both from other Telltale releases and the gaming industry as a whole. Puzzle Agent 2, again like the first game, also deserves especial credit for its sound design. Without the expertly composed music and sound effects featured in PA2, many of the more intense scenes in the game would likely fall flat or come across more silly than scary or disturbing. The voice acting in PA2, whether from newcomers to the series or the game’s returning players, remains excellent across the board as well, with Doug Boyd, the voice of Tethers, particularly deserving credit since it is his character that must anchor the entire affair. I have commented time and again on the atmosphere created by both games, and there can be no doubt that a larger portion of said atmosphere is owed to the aural strength the game brings to the table.
Overall, Puzzle Agent 2 is a substantial improvement over the original title on almost every level. If the first game left many in doubt over the viability of the Puzzle Agent brand as an ongoing franchise, PA2 should silence most, if not all, of these doubters. While the game does not stand on its own particularly well, since those who did not play the first game will likely find themselves lost in regards to the game’s twisty and twisted narrative, this fact that does nothing to take away from quality of this sequel. At around four to five hours in length (depending on how many of the optional puzzles a player chooses to tackle), PA2 is a short but very sweet experience that more than justifies its ten dollar (on PC/Mac at least, the game currently is 4.99 on iPhone and 6.99 on iPad) price tag. Fans of adventures games, particularly the Professor Layton series, lovers of brain teasers, or those just looking for something off the beaten path will find plenty to love in this superior sequel. Puzzle Agent 2′s ending clearly hints at where the series will likely go should there be a Puzzle Agent 3 and I for one hope we get to see just such a game somewhere down the line. After playing through Puzzle Agent 2, I am all in for more puzzling escapades with one Agent Nelson Tethers, Puzzle Agent extraordinaire.
A review copy on PC of this game was provided for the reviewer by the developer. The reviewer spent approximately five hours playing the game and completed the game.
The original Puzzle Agent was something a little different from the popular purveyor of adventure titles, Telltale Games. While nominally still an adventure game, Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent (the actual full title of the original Puzzle Agent game) drew more inspiration from the Professor Layton series than any Sierra or LucasArts title. While the game received mixed reviews from critics, its unusual setting and story (clearly drawing heavy inspiration from such works as the popular 90s TV show Twin Peaks) and unique visuals (which drew upon the talents of popular indie cartoonist/animator Graham Annable and his infamous Grickle series) helped to ensure the game struck enough of cord with gamers to warrant a sequel. Does Puzzle Agent 2 correct the mistakes of the past or is this an example of a game to puzzling for its own good?
|PROS||Terrific story and atmosphere, dramatically improved puzzle design, memorable visuals, excellent aural design, brings story of Scoggins to an effective close|
|CONS||Playing the first game is essential, length and replay value may turn some off|
|WTF?!||The terrible, troubling secret of Korka.|
While NT: PA had enough personality and character to make up for most of its shortcomings, there is no denying that the game had some serious problems holding it back. Chief among these was an incredibly abrupt ending that came so out of left field, it left many players stunned and open mouthed in disbelief. The game’s ending felt less like an appropriate conclusion and more like an arbitrary stopping point foisted upon the game’s creators by someone higher up. Whether true or not, Puzzle Agent 2 does little to dissuade gamers of this idea; the last few minutes of NT:PA and the first few minutes of PA2 could easily be removed and the two games would seamlessly, aside from a few lines of dialogue here or there, fir together as a single whole. At least, from a story point view… Because the reality is, for all the similarities that the two games share, Puzzle Agent 2 does feature a number of (admittedly often subtle) refinements and changes that serve to take what was a good game and turn it into a great one.
Picking up a few months after the events of the original game, Nelson Tethers, the FBI’s chief (and only) Puzzle Research Division agent, finds himself still haunted by the events that occurred in Scoggins, Minnesota. While he succeeded in getting the eraser factory that is the town’s only real claim to fame open again, questions linger. These include what really happened to the still missing factory foreman Isaac Davner (last seen being carted away by the frightening and mysterious so-called Hidden People), what was the meaning of the many strange dreams of astronauts haunting Tethers during his time in Scoggins, and, most importantly, just who or what are the Hidden People? Finally reaching his wits end, Tethers decides to return to Scoggins, this time nominally under the guise of a vacation, to settle the score and solve the ultimate puzzle that is this seemingly normal town…
Easily the best part of the original Puzzle Agent (badly blown ending aside) was its setting and story, filled with the kind of atmosphere and intrigue that many have come to be expect from the works of say the Cohen Brothers or David Lynch, and this is indeed one area where Puzzle Agent 2 does not drop the baton. PA2 does a great job of taking returning characters, who range from a demented cult leader who worships the seemingly omnipresent Hidden People to a corrupt sheriff with more than his fair share of secrets to the Hidden People themselves, and give them greater depth and personality. The game also introduces a handful of memorable new players, from a femme fatale whose love of puzzles every bit matches Tethers’ own to a anthropologist whose has spent nearly a decade studying Scoggins and it inhabitants, into the tale as well, each of which helps to further enhance the overall story as well.
Still, it is the game’s two main characters, namely Tethers and the town of Scoggins itself, that most benefit this time around, with the former especially coming out of the proceedings well. Tethers gets some really strong character moments in PA2, and by the end of the game, fully establishes himself as a character truly interesting and engaging enough to carry the series forward, even should it (as seems likely based on PA2′s ending) leave the town of Scoggins behind in any future installments.
Best of all, on the story front at least, PA2 serves to give the saga of Scoggins the proper ending it deserves. While not every question that the game raises will have been answered by the time the credits role, this time such lingering questions feel less like the result of apparently truncated game design and more like a conscious decision on the part of the developers. Personally, I liked that PA2 did not try to wrap everything up in a neat little package with a bow on top. A series that is supposed to be all about puzzles can only benefit by presenting players with a story that itself operates as a puzzle, encouraging everyone to put the pieces together themselves and come to their own conclusions. Puzzle Agent 2′s story manages to redeem the problems of its predecessor, while also bringing the overall tale of Scoggins, for now at least, to an exciting and satisfactory close.