Agent Tethers, You've Done It Again.
Puzzle Agent 2, Telltale Games' sequel to its well-received Puzzle Agent, released last year, is an extended and entertaining continuation of the first game's story and gameplay. While it doesn't do a ton of new and exciting things with the formula, it continues where the first left off with a wildly entertaining storyline, some great mind-boggling puzzles, and an overarching mystery that will keep you going "Huh...What?!" until the end. It also improves on a handful of key elements and manages to do everything in a fresh manner, keeping players entertained throughout.
Puzzle Agent 2 opens, more or less, where the previous game left off, with Agent Tethers confused and uneasy about his last case's premature closure. Delegating the work of transcribing his evidence tapes to his coworker in the vegetable crimes department of the FBI, he takes a personal leave back to Scoggins, to finally figure out what is going on, once and for all. Many of the original cast members are back for round two, and they all seem to have different reactions to Tethers' return, setting up a great theme for the game that keeps you wondering who is actually on your side. A handful of new characters are introduced, adding personality and mystery to Scoggins, and giving some new faces for existing players to get to know. The story ends up twisting and turning in a manner tha keeps you guessing whether the town of Scoggins is going mad, or if Tethers himself is beginning to lose is grip as well. Much of the structure of the game sticks to the previous game's formula, but does so in a manner that flows much more nicely than the first game had executed it. As far as continuity goes, storyline nitpickers will probably have a hayday with the fiction, as there are plenty of plot holes and red herrings, but in the context of gameplay, it manages to focus your attention properly so much of this doesn't even seem important enough to bother questioning. It's also light hearted and goofy enough that story could be somewhat sacrificed for the overall humor and enjoyment.
This second game in the Puzzle Agent franchise does a good job of sharpening up and cleaning up many menu elements and graphics, and while the actual menu system isn't inherently changed, much of it seems smoother and cleaner in animation. The actual character animation and artstyle continues its rough layout and design, but rarely becomes something that a player could honestly complain about. It can be nitpicked as lazy art direction, but the pacing and style of the game actually lend themselves to the choppy animation style that the game employs. That said, the general look of the game does seem much cleaner and crisper than the first game, lending it a much more consistent and overall better look than its predecessor. The sound also makes a grand return, with excellent music direction and great voice acting that rarely disappoints. There continues to be a lot of faux-horror segments that would fall flat on thier own, but the sound design and musical themes put in place make them several times more tense.
The actual puzzles in Puzzle Agent 2 require some considerable praise, as I had originally expected to see a lot of replays of old puzzles from the first game. While there are obviously callbacks to the puzzles introduced there, there is both enough deviation from those source puzzles that they remain interesting, and enough brand new puzzles to make it less obvious that those puzzles are even there. The final puzzle of this sequel seems to directly pull from the style of the first game's final puzzle, but the actual theme of the puzzle is so different, some may not even notice. Overall, however, the side puzzles seem to have been increased, giving more reason to click around the areas. They still don't give any reward other than overall puzzle rating, though, but it's hard to imagine full side stories occuring in such a game. A small annoyance I had with the previous game was the perceived lack of a way to get back into the game for previously missed or completed puzzles at the end of the game. Telltale apparently got enough complaints about this to go on and add in a small hub from which you can access any puzzles of this sort, giving you no reason to regret completing the game without searching every nook and cranny.
In comparison to Telltale's previous puzzle adventure game, Puzzle Agent 2 hits a lot of high notes much more strikingly, and manages to can up the entire storyline into a pretty satisfying finale that will make you glad you went through it all. While it's hard to say that this sequel does anything outrageous compared to its roots, those roots were already doing things so well it would really be hard to top. The level of polish added this time around is well worth buying the sequel, and left me ready for a sequel with the open-ended finale.