I’m a huge fan of Telltale Games. It began when I found out that they were releasing a new Sam & Max: Freelance Police game. I was a fan of the original LucasArts point-and-click game of Sam & Max Hit the Road and had been looking forward to more Sam and Max goodness from LucasArts, who canned the project.
Telltale took up the IP (Intellectual Property) some time later and produced a wonderful episodic based series of games. They had previously done Bone and Wallace & Grommit games, but I think Sam & Max was where they really hit their stride. They followed that up with a Strong Bad series, and then a Monkey Island series (the original was again from LucasArts), both of which were excellent.
When they announced a “new type of puzzle game” I was intrigued, but not so much as to actually pre-order Puzzle Agent, or even buy it when it first came out. Despite my love of the old Infocom text adventures, and then the Lucasarts and Telltale style of point-and-click adventure games, I’m not really that much of a puzzle freak. Mostly I’m too impatient with them. That and I usually suck at them. I should also insert the lame excuse that I solve puzzles all day for a living (it’s called “programming”) and therefore avoid it in my spare time. Mostly though, I suck at them.
The “Adventure Bundle” (now sadly ended), a bundle of adventure games, with proceeds going to charities, came out with a few adventure games I hadn’t heard of – and Puzzle Agent was included. I now wish I’d bought it earlier.
Now lets be clear, I still don’t much like puzzles, and didn’t really enjoy most of those in the game. These puzzles range from simple “spot the difference” through to “rotating tiles to match edges” through even further to “make this object with these pieces”. When I hit a puzzle I either breezed through it, spent a bit of time puzzling it out, or ran for a Walkthrough. Mostly the latter. This isn’t to say that the puzzles aren’t fun, if you’re into that kind of thing. They’re certainly varied, and graphically interesting.
If you’ve played Telltale games before, you may be wondering why I’d go to a walkthrough when they usually include a hint system (with hints usually buried in dialogue, rather than an obvious “give me a hint” button). The hint system in Puzzle Agent deserves a mention as it’s slightly more classic hint system is included. Being Telltale, they’ve added a slight twist: Agent Tether’s needs chewing gum to help him focus, and he needs to focus to give a hint. Therefore hints are dependent upon how much chewing gum he has on him. He starts with a small amount of gum, but needs to find more later as the game progresses. And the stores are all out…
So why did I go to a Walkthrough? I think the hints are “appropriate”, if you’re into puzzles. Did I mention I’m not? I thought I had.
If I didn’t enjoy the puzzles that much, what kept me playing the game through to the end? The story. I don’t think I’d be giving too much away to say that the atmosphere reminded me a bit of Twin Peaks, a bit of the X-Files and a bit of Fargo.
It begins with Nelson Tethers, the FBIs only Puzzle Agent, at his desk where he spends most of his time. A visitor – then a phone call – sends him to the Alaskan town of Scoggins where the puzzles, and mysteries, start immediately. There’s a collection of oddball characters, and the situation seems to just keep getting stranger and stranger. There’s also a large enough number of locations, which helps the atmosphere, and keeps things interesting if you’re a bit stuck.
The art style is very cartoony, with a very loose ‘sketch’ feel to a lot of it. Not that this is surprising, given that it’s based on the art of the guy who does Grickle. I wasn’t really a fan of his work. I didn’t hate it either, but it didn’t enthuse me. It really works for Puzzle Agent though, and I’m glad they didn’t do the game in their usual ‘3D’ style.
In the end, Puzzle Agent isn’t the sort of game I’d normally buy, but I’m glad I did. Make of that what you will.