TellTale Games’ Puzzle Agent is a combination of two very amazing things: A Professor Layton style adventure filled with mind-boggling puzzles, and a creepy, foreboding setting and story from Grickle creator Graham Annable. If you’re not familiar with Graham’s work, check out the video that inspired Puzzle Agent here, or below. Trust me, it’s worth a look.
A creepy and foreboding puzzle game? Those things don’t sound like they’re meant to coincide. At least, that’s what I thought until I played Puzzle Agent, and I was instantly impressed. Puzzle Agent manages to create a unique and fun experience that is both haunting and hilarious. It sounds a bit contradictory, and at points in the game it feels that way too, but in motion Puzzle Agent plays great.
While there are a few rough edges Telltale will need to smooth over before releasing another episode of Puzzle Agent, I can say confidently that this a game you should play, Ranters.
Puzzle Agent begins by introducing us to Nelson Tethers, an obviously introverted FBI officer in the US Department of Puzzle Research. Tethers soon receives a phone call assigning him to reopen a factory that is providing the White House’s pink pearl erasers. The location is the remote, snowy city of Scoggins, where nothing is as it seems.
Upon investigation Tethers find there has been an “accident” at the local eraser factory, resulting in the disappearance of the company’s foreman. The townsfolk, of course, are unwilling to discuss the topic at length. On top of that mystery, everyone seem afflicted with an unhealthy puzzle obsession, a predisposition for hearing whispers, and nibbled ears.
Without delving further into the details of Puzzle Agent‘s plot, let me clearly convey that it only gets odder. Never to the point where you’d say it’s ridiculous, but I was consistently surprised. Most impressive though, is how Puzzle Agent leaves you in a constant state of unease. Every twist and turn of the story is extremely unsettling, yet intriguing, and there were numerous times throughout the game I forced myself to take a deep breath and relax my shoulders.
It is literally a feature length, interactive Grickle adventure. Designed to jar and disturb you in curious ways, Puzzle Agent players can expect some of Graham Annable’s finest work. If you’ve watched or read any of Graham Annable’s stories then you’ll know the themes very intimately. Experienced or not, you are ill-prepared.
The natural progression of gameplay in Puzzle Agent is very intuitive. You’ll enter an area, click everything, and either discover a puzzle or talk to the area’s inhabitants.
In a genius move, TellTale minimizes the clicking by adding a sonar like zone which spreads after each click. The spreading zone with light up each interactive point on the screen, and then slowly fade away. It obliterates the point-and-click adventure aspect of the game, allowing players to skip straight to the puzzles or story elements of the game.
Discussions with the townsfolk are a bit hit-or-miss. On one side it’s nice to see that every person in Scoggins has a personality and a perspective on the events occurring in the town. The other side is that every single person is overly surreptitious. Yes, that appropriately adds to the atmosphere in Puzzle Agent, but as far as gameplay goes it feels aloof and clumsy. If Puzzle Agent gets approved for a full season, I’d like to see the characters with some more meaningful dialogue. It’s not to the extent of Professor Layton‘s characters, which are meaningless and
The heart of Puzzle Agent‘s gameplay is, naturally, the puzzles and it does deliver. You’ll encounter puzzles about gnome smuggling, puzzles about space power outages, but most puzzles extremely contextual, pertaining to the troublesome situation Tethers has managed to find himself in. Each puzzle refreshingly different from that which you’d find anywhere else, and with the completion of each you actually feel like you’ve helped Tethers perform his duties.
If you’re familiar with Professor Layton, you’ll feel right at home completing puzzles in Puzzle Agent. This means that upon discovering a puzzle you’ll transition to a puzzle mode: a fancy series of animations showing how your puzzle is being saved in a folder and then mailed back to FBI headquarters for approval. Whereupon your efforts will be graded based on the number of attempts it took you to solve the puzzle, and how many hints you required.