Puzzle Agent – The PS3 Attitude Review
Puzzle Agent is developer Telltale Game’s initial project in what they’ve deemed their ‘Pilot Program’. Essentially the program is modeled after the structure established by the television industry. The intent is to create fresh ideas that can then be expanded upon episodically so long as demand exists. Does Puzzle Agent make good on Telltale’s introductory effort?
When I initially sat down to play Puzzle Agent I did so bearing in mind that I would obsess over the game’s completion. Something about puzzle games unleashes my strongest insecurity…err competitive spirit. Games of this genre have the unique ability to make gamers feel exceedingly clever one moment and like a doorknob the next.
The game begins with the introduction of our hero in waiting: FBI Agent Nelson Tethers; a man so low on the bureau’s totem pole that his office is listed below ‘Sasquatch Research’. Agent Tethers is the sole member of the ‘Department of Puzzle Investigation’ which basically amounts to sitting alone idly solving everyday puzzles with a trusty bowl of intellect-enhancing bubble gum at his side.
Remarkably a case comes across the FBI that requires the unusual skills of the obsessive agent. Suddenly Tethers finds himself leaving the comfy confines of his climate controlled office for the barren tundra of Scoggins, Minnesota. You see, there’s been an accident at the Scoggins Eraser Factory rendering it out of commission. Without a ready supply of erasers the United States government stands on the precipice of a potential shutdown due of course to the inability to correct mistakes (whiteout be damned!).
If this all seems absurd, well it is. But the outlandish nature of the narrative is only getting started. From there it plunges in directions that might have convinced Hunter S. Thompson to take it easy for awhile.
Effectively, close to everything is out of the ordinary in Puzzle Agent, an element that serves the game well.
Like many games in the genre, the plot of Puzzle Agent is a secondary element to the various brain teasers, logic problems and manipulative queries; sort of an extravagent device that gives Nelson Tethers reason to solve an inordinate amount of puzzles. The narrative isn’t necessarily lacking in any particular way, it serves its purpose and provides the necessary incentive to carry on, but it’s apparent that the game is predicated on the riddles and not the plot. The story is crafted to make some sense of it all. Nelson Tether’s adventure does not break the mold in this respect.
Telltale notes the Professor Layton series as an influence as well as the theatrical work of directors Stanley Kubrick and the Coen brothers. In Scoggins players will see a definite relation to Fargo.
The world of Puzzle Agent is born from the mind of Graham Annable and specifically his successful indie-comic series, Grickle. Anyone familiar with the series will immediately recognize the unique juxtaposition of simple animations and poignant circumstance. Pregnant pauses, awkward interactions and ultra-natural occurrences color the otherwise bland environment.
The gameplay is typical of a basic point-and-click adventure. As Agent Tethers explores the scenery of Scoggins, holding down R1 will bring up points of interest which can then be selected. Jigsaw pieces represent puzzles, magnifying glasses mark clues and thought bubbles spark conversations. Additionally, the previously chewed pieces of gum that dot the landscape (the entire town of Scoggins is sold out of gum) serve as hint currency which can be collected and spent as needed.
The meat of Puzzle Agent lies in the 37 conundrums that one will inevitably encounter. The variety of puzzles will have you manipulating objects to fit a desired design, retracing haphazard tracks, counting crows, solving word problems, boxing up bugs, etc.
Any given puzzle allows for ABC gum to be redeemed for up to three hints. The first hint provides a gentle nudging in the right direction, the second allows for a glance at the solution and the third hint all but solves the puzzle for you. The choice to utilize a hint as well as the number of attempts one needs to solve a puzzle factor into a rating compiled at each puzzle’s conclusion. Ten stars denote a perfect go-around while a single star probably means you had no idea what you were doing.
The difficulty of the puzzles ranges from suspiciously simple to frustrating but most of the time a clear understanding of the parameters and a clear mind will be enough to see your way through. ABC gum is more than plentiful meaning that players will never be without a repulsive crutch to help them solve the more difficult quandaries.
Basically individuals will get out of Puzzle Agent what they want. You can absolutely breeze through the game using the abundant hints in lieu of story or challenge (what would be the point?). Alternatively for those looking for a test, Puzzle Agent provides a solid selection of puzzles that will satisfy the majority of players.
The conclusion of the game leaves something to be desired which is due most likely to the episodic strategy that Telltale has grown accustomed to in Sam & Max as well as the more recent Back To The Future series. Although the plot is largely instituted to ferry players from puzzle to puzzle the conclusion of Puzzle Agent disappointingly leaves the majority of loose ends untouched. Much like an episode of Lost we’re left with more question than answers.
For fans of cognitive analysis Puzzle Agent is a worthwhile venture. However the game suffers from the same pricing affliction that we often see with downloadable titles. Value wise, it’s probably a little closer to a $5 asking price than the $10 (£7.99/€9.99) mark it currently carries. The decision whether or not to download should ultimately come down to how much you enjoy the genre. If you do, Puzzle Agent will be a satisfying experience and if you don’t it won’t convince you otherwise.