[Review] Puzzle Agent II – Puzzling (Lack of) Difficulty
Available on: iOS, Mac, PC; Publisher: Telltale Games; Developer: Telltale Games; Players: 1; Released: June 30, 2011; ESRB: Everyone; Official Site
The narrative follows a story left off in a previous Puzzle Agent game: hero Agent Tethers narrates his own story, in which he returns to solve puzzles left unsolved. This is largely the thesis of the narrative, with the gameplay concept being that the player will solve puzzles to uncover clues to an overarching mystery. The quirky narrative and animation style is interesting in a novel way, though the models and animation felt a bit unpolished. Granted, the game is based on Graham Annable’s personal work, which itself is imaginative in a sort of brooding–madness kind of way.
The game provides the player with a simple photo-gallery narrative of events previous to help new and continuing players acclimate themselves to the continuing narrative, which is actually pretty neat. Following the design of the animation designer’s work, the narrative definitely has quirk, and the plot does tend to be surprising. Towards the end of the game, however, large swaths of narrative feel skipped or unresolved. The story did not follow through with a couple of major subplots, which was disappointing. On the other hand, those subplots dealt with a fair degree of unhappiness that would not have fit in with the general goofy-awkward tone of the narrative.
Solving puzzles will obviously advance the storyline. The puzzles, which include number and shape riddles, are actually pretty easy. It may just be because I am brutal at puzzles and riddles in general, but the game has little challenge to bring to the table. The puzzles that were actually challenging were the truly inspired number puzzles which forced me to think outside the box, but in a way that was kind of annoying. I’m not sure if the annoyance comes from being chumped by brutal puzzle design or from unnecessary trickery, but my friends from whom I asked for help on these particularly tricky puzzles felt more of the latter brand of annoyance than the former.
I tended to enjoy the design of the puzzles in that they relate to a problem within the story, though having the puzzle sequence in a separate scene away from the narrative screen felt a bit graceless. Certainly the puzzles were often designed to fit thematically in with the narrative at hand, such as figuring out the correct angle to slice a series of locks, ostensibly with Agent Tether’s FBI-style karate chop (I find this concept incredibly hilarious). But often the fruit of my puzzle solving, in addition to suddenly being swept away to some distant office where I am consistently rewarded with “Top-Agent” rank Puzzle Solver, was to simply watch Agent Tethers walk stone-faced into the next scene.
A thing which bothered me a lot was the low fidelity of the voice acting, which is kind of a big deal for a game filled primarily with voice spoken narration. Additionally, the character models, which are 2D sprites rendered in 3D, appeared to be low resolution; this looks especially bad when the camera zooms in on characters’ faces, allowing players to see all the fuzz.
I’m not entirely sure how to feel about this game. On one hand, the story is tight and focused on expressing the quirky animation and narrative style of Graham Annable, which I enjoyed a lot. On the other hand, the story often feels rushed, with puzzles cutting out segments of narrative, hastening the player to a dramatic, yet unsatisfying conclusion. Additionally, talking to characters offers pure narrative information which holds no bearing on the player’s puzzle solving, which is perhaps the greatest gracelessness of all in the game. A player can pound through this game and find themselves mostly naked at a frozen lake, and only the absurdity of the situation can relieve the sense of dissatisfaction.
Note: A promotional code was provided to Denkiphile for review purposes by the publisher.