In Puzzle Agent 2, our favorite member of the FBI’s Puzzle Research Division, Nelson Tethers, returns to Scoggins, Minnesota to further explore the strange little town’s mysteries. He may have helped out in Scoggins during episode one of the series, but he didn’t solve the missing person’s case and, as with any good puzzle agent, that bothers Tethers.
The new game features a whole lot more of the same – weird characters, a distinctive hand-drawn fuzzy cartoon look, and a whole bunch of puzzles. The journey is moderately amusing and we’re in love with the concept behind it all, but unfortunately the actual results simply are not all that great.
Starting off with the unfolding of the story, one can see problems in Puzzle Agent 2. What Telltale has done here is create a mystery that requires you go from point A to point B to point C in order to hear the story properly (which, with mysteries, is not all that unusual). However, the game doesn’t actually force you to do things in order. Instead, it will allow you to go to point C before point B and then things end up out of place when you finally get to B.
There is certainly something to be said for creating a wonderful open world adventure, but if you’re telling a mystery story which requires you to go plot point by plot point, what sense is there in allowing you to do part of the story out of order? It is nothing but frustrating and disappointing. You are never really allowed to stray too far from the correct order, but you’re allowed to go far enough away from it so as to have Nelson act surprised to hear information when he has in fact already pursued actions based upon that information.
The majority of the puzzles themselves are enjoyable and they range in difficulty from the absurdly easy to the ludicrously difficult. You will encounter everything from running Nelson through a maze to working out the next number in a sequence to cutting locks on doors. The biggest problem with these puzzles is that instructions about what you’re supposed to do to solve some of the puzzles are can be obtuse – you’ll occasionally spend more time figuring out what the puzzle is asking of you than working out the answer. While you will find a couple of puzzles which feel completely different from others, eventually most of the puzzles seem to fall within a few different larger categories (number sequences, mazes, etc.).
Upon coming up with a solution to the puzzle, even if you’re obviously right, Nelson mails his answer back to the FBI who inform him whether or not he’s hit on the correct solution. You’ll also see the cost in taxpayer dollars of your solution and be given a ranking depending upon how many clues you used and how many wrong answers you submitted. It is an amusing little system the first half-dozen times, but it would be great if Telltale provided an option to skip these tallies as they start to eat up a lot of time and begin to hurt the flow of the game (which is already weak if you’ve been doing things accidentally out of order).
Flow is further hurt by Nelson’s incessant talking to himself with his tape recorder. The story is narrated via Nelson’s meticulous audio note taking, but when you simply want to go and do things, the sheer length of Nelson’s ramblings becomes an annoyance.
The installation of the game also has an issue or two. Puzzle Agent 2 (as with other Telltale titles), has a slot for you to be able to click on the earlier episode in the series should it be installed on your computer or which will take you to the Telltale website if it isn’t. On our Mac, while we have the original Puzzle Agent installed, Puzzle Agent 2 fails to find it and still brings us to the Telltale website rather than loading the original title. The issue may be a minor one, but it is still frustrating.
There is, in short, just a lot about Puzzle Agent 2 which mars an otherwise fun game. There is a bizarre store about gnomes and disappearances and there’s chewing gum lying all over the place which you can grab (chewing some provides hints in the puzzles). There is a lot to like about the title, but it finds itself hampered by the above shortcomings and said shortcomings really stop the game from being all that it most certainly should be.
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