Imagine if David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick and the Cohen Brothers all went to the same elementary school. As they were sitting at the lunch table, they’d come up with an idea for an adventure puzzle game, and get the fifth kid at the table to draw it with his crayons.
That fifth kid in my totally bizarre scenario is Graham Annable, who was a founding member of Telltale and has worked throughout the video game, film, television, and comic book industries. He has been labeled the "Creative Instigator" of this game, and his influence and artwork is prominent throughout.
Puzzle Agent introduces the character of Nelson Tethers, who works in the Department of Puzzle Research at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It’s a lonely job, but it gives him plenty of time to work on crosswords. One day, an eraser factory in Scoggins, Minnesota shuts down and stops supplying the White House with its erasers. Inquiries only return these weird puzzle-messages, which is why Nelson Tethers is put on the case.
Nelson bundles up and heads out to Scoggins, to find that the people there are obsessed with solving puzzles. Everyone, from the hotel clerk lady to the Sheriff, loves puzzles to the point that they tend to express all of their regular life obstacles in a puzzle format. In fact, many won’t answer questions or be very helpful until you help them solve a problem or two.
After the opening movie (which is way creepy and funny at the same time), you are on the main street of Scoggins in front of the hotel you will be using as your base of operations. The cursor will change as you move it around for people to talk to, puzzles to solve, or other places (scenes) to go to. Dialogue is the adventure game standard – pick from a list of things to talk about. Sometimes a puzzle comes up in conversation, at which point trying to solve it becomes a dialogue option. Other puzzles stand off by themselves, and you start them by just clicking in that area of the scene.
The puzzle interface is pretty easy to manipulate, which is a good thing, because you will be in there an awful lot. It comes up as a file box where unsolved and solved puzzles are file folders alphabetized by puzzle title. At the top of each folder are indications as to whether the puzzle is solved, and how good the score was. Each puzzle has its own set of rules which can be brought up on the rules tab.
You can get up to two hints at the cost of a piece of gum each. See, Nelson finds chewing gum helps him think. Don’t worry about running out though, because there is ABC gum scattered throughout Scoggins (ew!), which refreshes each and every time you enter a scene. The hints can be verbal clues, or for the more visual puzzles, might actually show a small part of the solution.
When you think you have a solution, submit it to find out if it is right. Hints and wrong answers detract from your score for that puzzle, but low scores don’t seem to affect your ability to finish the game in any way.
For a game pilot the story is pretty rich and in-depth. You can see homages to/influences from "Fargo," "Twin Peaks," "The X-Files," and even "Northern Exposure." Trying to figure out what is going on is a puzzle unto itself.
The voice acting is top-notch. The dialects are pretty awesome, right down to the hotel lady’s "Don’tcha know?" The music really brings out the suspense of the cut-scenes, and during gameplay it provides just enough atmosphere without being pushy.
If this game has a possible weak point, it’s the graphics. Annable’s "Grickle" style of art is something you will either love or hate, but I feel that it really suits the mood and feel of this game.
And really, for a $9.95 download, this game is really a good bargain. My major disappointment with the game was after it was over, I realized I’d have to wait for the sequel. Um, guys, there will be a sequel, right? Guys? Anyway, this fine game earned 4.5 GiN gems.