Puzzle Agent is the interactive reliving of Graham Annable’s Grickle. A surreal comic world of weird and unique stylised characters. Telltale have done a great job of brining Grickle to point and click – on a visual level. But does the game itself match up? Let’s see.

Our hero in his overlooked office full of weird puzzles, toys and devices that promote the presence of a logical mind silently greets us in a small sequence that involves a crossword, a hallucination and a phone call. The chief has sent Nelson Tethers, head of the FBI Puzzle Research Division to the snowy town of Scoggins.

This opening cutscene was a little long and initially had me thinking I was playing what would be a silent game. But it was nicely stylised, creepy and plain awesome.

You're off to Scoggins, Nelson.

That’s what wins points here: The unique Annable style. It’s great and atmospheric, Nelson’s constant “what?” expression exemplifying his reluctance to be on the case and his confusion with the town. This itself puts a lot of ideas into your head, even making you feel that you don’t know what to do or to expect.

Something odd is happening in Scoggins. The people are strange, they make little sense and goodness knows what’s troubling them so much, if anything is troubling them. The atmosphere here is fantastic and simply odd. There’s few words that will describe the feeling because it’s so unique. The closest thing I can come up with Curse of Monkey Island’s Blood Island; it’s magnificent desolation, I guess.

Unfortunately, the game loses points in the gameplay aspect. I’ll say right off the bat that this is Professor Layton with a mouse. The puzzles are linearly presented with few ‘optional’ puzzles and no reward or incentive for performing them. The puzzles only unlock new sequences of events and do nothing for the story aspect at all. Grickle is, essentially, a book that gives you a puzzle to solve before you can turn the page.

Puzzles can be brainteasers like this, jigsaws, mazes and other such logic problems

The fact that this is part of Telltale’s “Pilot Program” tells us that this is an experiment. Maybe they need to touch up on the gameplay or try something else, because Grickle isn’t an adventure game. It’s a terrible shame that the puzzles do so little for the game.

The puzzles themselves are nauseating, frustrating and clever for the most part. Some are impossible to solve, some are illogical, some are genius. During the reviewing season one puzzle even got updated because it was too easy and is now impossible (for me, anyway). After finishing each puzzle, the FBI rates you on your performance, telling you how much taxpayer dollars you spent and how well you did. The scoring system is awfully punishing in that simply using 3 hints and getting 2 wrong answers will give you a single star. To add to this, a photograph of Nelson is shown with a different expression on his face to show how proud he is of the score. A “Top Agent” score will show him with a cheesy grin, “Borderline” will show him shrinking away in shame. As such, the only incentive for doing well in a puzzle is seeing the hero’s happy face.

Good stuff, Nelson.

As for the residents of Scoggins… They’re interesting smalltown characters, some with hidden agendas, some are just purely odd. All are troubled. All but one character (who is an optimist) show signs of deep stress, some more noticeable than others. Very few characters don’t have bags under their eyes or voices that shrink away. One memorable scene is when Nelson enters the diner and everyone stops what they’re doing to look around at him as if to say, “outsider!”. Another good point about the characters is the great voice acting. The fidelity of the audio has improved greatly since Sam and Max Season One and so has the acting quality. Each actor conveys his role perfectly, my favourites are Bjorn and Nelson, as well as a man in the diner who is much more nervous than most other characters.

An odd Scoggins resident

So – what do we rate the game as a whole? Well if I could rate individual areas, I’d say the psychological horror atmosphere wins 5 starks, but unfortunately I can’t. The fantastic atmosphere and setting are certainly let down by Telltale trying something different with the gameplay, and that’s a terrible shame because the studio has always been great at developing gameplay that really push the story forward. This game just hasn’t done that so well. Other than that snag – wonderful game, wonderful story, wonderful people. Masterpiece. I think I need to order myself Further Grickle now.

I certainly look forward to any improvements Telltale might make to a future Puzzle Agent game.

Joe’s Score: 3/5 starks