Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Puzzle Agent

We all know about pilots for Television programmes: some take off massively, some get a couple of series, some never again see the light of day. With computer games arguably being higher ‘risk' than a TV show, it's somewhat surprising that this concept hasn't been applied to them...until now.

Telltale Games, known predominantly for episodic titles like Sam & Max, have launched a Pilot Programme "as a means of cultivating fresh creative ideas and fostering innovation" Or to put it simply, to introduce tasters of new titles and see if they have the potential to become full episodic games. The first pilot is Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent. Is it good enough to warrant follow up titles? or will it be consigned to the dustbin of history? Let's find out...



First of all, what is Puzzle Agent? Well, with Telltale Games being involved it's not surprising that it's a point and click adventure. This time however, you won't be finding the fruit basket, combining it with the telescope then using it to distract the clown so you can grab the spanner. No, Puzzle Agent does exactly what it says on the tin, well box, well...digital distribution download description. Nelson Tethers - for he is our puzzle agent - advances through the story by solving brainteasers such as mazes, puzzles, logic and riddles. The game has quite obviously been inspired by the Nintendo DS Professor Layton series.

These puzzles range from the easy to the positively perplexing. The really tough ones can get quite frustrating... it isn't a game you want to play while tired. The game will offer hints if you're stuck but using them will reduce your score. Yes, score. Each puzzle is marked out of ten, with the score depending on how well you do. All of the puzzles you solve can be solved again but there isn't much point really. Why do back and solve a brainteaser when you already know the answer? However, on the whole the puzzles are enjoyable even if they can be very taxing on the brain.

But Puzzle Agent isn't just about brainteasers - after all if it was it'd be a puzzle book! - it's a computer game and it has a plot that is both comic and, in places, rather creepy. You play as Nelson Tethers, the lead...and er, only...agent in the FBI Department of Puzzles. You're sent to the small Minnesota town of Scroggins to find out why the factory has stopped producing Erasers. This sounds unimportant, but these particular eraser are used by The President of the USA! So you're on the case and fast.




The story is genuinely mysterious and engaging as Nelson Tethers travels round the town, investigating what's happened. The rather odd townsfolk love puzzles so while questioning them you'll be solving puzzles in order to get answers. Graphically Puzzle Agent is drawn in a distinctive 2D style which, while the most part looks good, can look very rough in cut scene close ups...the again Puzzle Agent probably wasn't designed to be played on a monitor with a 1920 x 1080 resolution! This is even more evident when iPhone and iPad releases are on the way.

So does Puzzle Agent have enough to become a fully fledged episodic series of games? Yes, it does. The puzzles may need a little work first, but the visual style, the voice work and the engaging nature of the three to four hour story shows a lot of promise so it'd be surprising if we don't see Nelson Tether again.

That, and the fact it has a totally open ending that leaves many questions unanswered. Don't leave us hanging Telltale!

(Originally written for Game-Debate)

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