A crisis in the FBI! The small town of Scoggins, Minnesota has shut down its factory that produce eraserheads (the actual product, not the David Lynch film, but keep David Lynch in mind) and it’s up to Nelson Tethers, puzzle agent, to go in and get the factory back up and running
Puzzle Agent is, thanks to the laconic nomenclature of our time, a puzzle game. It’s a Prof. Layton style game, set in a David Lynch town and has this Twin Peaks vibe. The world of Scoggins is a strange place; unwelcoming to strangers inside their own town. Some of the time. Half of the time you are greeted with the warmth of Scandinavian Americans, the other half you are given the cold shoulder. A small, gated community in the middle of nowhere given the job of manufacturing erasers for the white house- A president desperate for votes.
The first impression of Scoggins is cemented in one of the first conversations you can have when you get there. A local old man more stares at you than actually tries to talk, intentionally not giving you information that the hotel you are looking for is right in front of you. But when you solve his directions puzzle and realise you were standing in front of it, you don’t know if it’s him trying to mislead you or if he just old and senile.
So this is a puzzle game, isn’t it? Well, puzzles in this game are quite varied, which I think is their strength. Whilst some puzzles can be brain taxing, some are so pathetically easy that they hardly even warrant your time. Most of these are story puzzles- one you have to get right in order to proceed with the plot. You can get logic puzzles, word puzzles, maths puzzles and some simply involve you putting the pieces back in the right order to create something.
So if you want challenge in this game, you have to search for additional puzzles. They’re easy enough to find- like Prof. Layton games, you just have to click around to find a puzzle. It can something as small as a newspaper in the alley. Also like Prof. Layton, the game has its own hint system you can find- in this case discarded chewing gum as gum helps Nelson concentrate on his puzzles back in the office.
A neat feature of the puzzles is that they will often give you some hints for free if you get the answer wrong, but you won’t be able to get the best rank. So, if you are to the challenge, you can try to complete this game in one flawless run, but some of the puzzles aren’t that easy.
Also, because Nelson does work for the FBI, working out this simple puzzle costs the US tax payer $75000 each try.
You might say that’s unrealistic, but $75k is chump change compared to what the US goes through each year. Thanks, Obama.
The actual story unfolds that the factory foreman has gone missing and nobody can find any trace of him, but there’s a lock on the front of the factory that is missing some of its pieces. Is someone trying to keep you out? Or to keep someone in? As you uncover more about the town, you find out that the older generation believes that little spirit people in the forests. There’s gnome imagery all over Scoggins, but other residents say that story is just for tourists. You start to see gnomes all over Scoggins, but nobody at the FBI or the local police force will believe you. This is about the point you start to think that either you are crazy or that there’s a conspiracy to keep the gnomes and the factory foreman away from you. It rides the line perfectly of having a David Lynch like dream status. You’re never certain of what’s quite going on, and honestly, that’s just what I like in a mystery.
This is exactly what I would like in a puzzle game. A story, varied puzzles, funny characters and a good use of pacing. This one had me stumped many times, but I didn’t have to use a guide because you are given a free hint if you get it wrong and the hints you find around Scoggins. Honestly, I wish more games were made around this idea. I’d like to see a dating sim based on this- town exploration and puzzles your dates give to you in order to succeed.
So if you want a strange puzzle solving experience with Twin Peaks meet Fargo, this game is for you. The sequel, whilst good, is just more of the same. Get to the ending and you will see why- unlike Still Life, the ending is worth it.