November 25, 2012 6:00 AM | Staff
[Guest reviewer Colin Brown profiles each of the games in the latest bundle from IndieGames' co-created site, Indie Royale.]
Puzzle Agent (which I took a look at during its Indie Royale appearance) was a terrific little narrative that ended as inconclusively as you would expect from a game taking its notes from Twin Peaks and such; Special Agent Nelson Tethers "solved" the case, but we certainly didn't get any answers or closure for the town of Scoggins, Minnesota and the disappearance of Isaac Davner. Plus there was that astronaut, the wacky cult and what exactly was up with the Hidden People? Fortunately, Tethers has taken vacation time from his position at the FBI Puzzle Research division to return to Scoggins. Now, he's attempting to uncover the conspiracy that goes all the way to the top in this sequel to Graham Annable's collaboration with a small team within Telltale Games.
The thing about making a mysterious narrative is that eventually you need to provide answers. If you keep introducing new mythology without explaining things, you end up with an unwieldy and frustrating Lost situation. But a big reveal of the central mystery can utterly tank audience interest, as the reveal of who killed Laura Palmer did to Twin Peaks. With that in mind, the conclusion to the Scoggins conspiracy has some high expectations. We get explanations for most of the outstanding plot threads, but even then the explanations are often so sublimely weird that the game manages to sidestep those aforementioned issues and keep its initial bizarre atmosphere. Even when we learn what causes the disappearances or why Nelson keeps dreaming about an astronaut, it's delivered in such a way that keeps the momentum going. If you enjoyed the delightful, quirky narrative of the first game, Puzzle Agent 2 keeps delivering the same sort of weird, comedic brand of mystery with a tiny bit of horror.
In terms of actual gameplay, Puzzle Agent 2 remains mostly the same. As you probably know from the first game, Puzzle Agent 2 is a point and click adventure that removes the object clicking in favour of distinct,tangentially related brainteasers much in the vein of Professor Layton and such. The first game handled the premise well, but the puzzles varied a bit in quality; they were a bit too easy and the game was fond of repeating them without really changing anything significant. Puzzle Agent 2, on the other hand, handles the puzzle side of things quite a bit better. There are less repeats overall and those that do repeat are usually expanded in interesting ways, while the puzzles themselves generally require a bit more thought and, well, puzzle solving. The balance isn't entirely perfect, but it is a step above the first game and leaves me with high hopes for the theoretical Puzzle Agent 3.
Indeed, the only real downside to Puzzle Agent 2 is that there isn't another instalment on the horizon just yet. Each episodic series from Telltale usually takes an installment or two to really hit its stride, and Puzzle Agent 2 shows that the world of Nelson Tethers is poised to follow the same pattern. It's rare to see a game capture that quirky Midwest Americana that has long been the domain of cult classic television and film; seeing as that setting is a personal favourite of mine, Puzzle Agent 2 definitely hits all the right chords. If the developers keep nailing the entertaining style, then bring on the puzzles.
[Anomaly: Warzone Earth, Puzzle Agent 2, The Dream Machine: Chapters 1-3, Children of the Nile: Enhanced Edition, and Adventure Apes and the Mayan Mystery are available in the Stuffing Bundle on Indie Royale.]