Puzzle Agent 2 is last week's meatloaf. Telltale Games didn't cook up much of a new game here and instead warmed up a second helping of last year's cult hit about a nerdy FBI agent plumbing the mysteries of a small iced-over town by solving logic problems. This is a total retread, slavishly following the original Puzzle Agent when it comes to plot, setting, story, and puzzles. If you thought that last year's game ended too soon, you will be right at home here. But if you got your fill in 2010, the biggest challenge here will be avoiding a sense of deja vu.
The story in Puzzle Agent 2 mirrors that in Puzzle Agent. The game picks up where its predecessor left off, with FBI Puzzle Research Division agent Nelson Tethers still wondering what the heck is going on with all of the mysterious disappearances in tiny Scoggins, Minnesota. Although the FBI closes the case, Nelson isn't satisfied, so he heads back to Scoggins to do some further investigating. The town hasn't changed much. All of the locations from the first game are back for a second go-round, as is the extensive cast of eccentric characters who act like refugees from Twin Peaks and talk like the cop in Fargo. It's all still charming, offbeat, and weird enough to make you constantly wonder what's going to happen next. Voice acting is a highlight again, as is the spooky muzak on the soundtrack and the charcoal-and-colored-pencil art of cartoonist Graham Annable.
There are some interesting additions to the mix here, including a totally bonkers conspiracy nut and a professor who has the same fetish for talking into a tape recorder as Nelson. Still, you mostly go over the same old ground and deal with the same core characters from the last game. These include the chubby hotel owner, the gruff sheriff, the nervous waitress, and the scruffy guy who's always fixing things. In addition to this repetition, another annoyance is the basic structure of the plot. Like its predecessor, Puzzle Agent 2 is laid out like a point-and-click adventure, complete with wordy dialogue that stretches well beyond the "Get on with it!" point in many conversations. It's also hard to follow what's going on at times because everything is so unrelentingly bizarre. The one good thing about the plot is that it constantly teases you with the promise of finally revealing what is going on in Scoggins. Answers always seem to be around the next corner, so you are compelled to keep playing through all the repetition and the deja vu, even if only to try to find out what the deal is with the astronauts in the woods.
Game mechanics also remain the same. Nelson is still called upon to solve puzzles wherever he goes, and he still has access to a hint system powered by finding scraps of concentration-assisting gum stuck randomly to the scenery. Many of the puzzles follow the same general lines as those in the first game. So Nelson moves tiles, plugs in electrical hardware, rotates dials, cracks codes, mashes together misfiring circuitry, and so forth. Most of the puzzles are involving, and all of them make you think. Everything does seem easier than in the first game, however, save a couple of math-oriented puzzles that require knowing things like a fair number of the digits in pi. Instructions are more straightforward now, too. Last year's game forced you to guess at what you were supposed to be doing on a regular basis; this year, the instructions are laid out in a more sensible manner. The gum-chewing hints are as obtuse as ever, though. You can pick up to four or so per puzzle, but they generally tell you nothing but the absolute basics that you likely figured out for yourself five minutes ago.
If you enjoyed Nelson Tethers' first visit to scenic Scoggins, Minnesota, chances are good that you will like this one as well. Puzzle Agent 2 isn't an adventurous sequel, but it colors in the numbers pretty well. Still, the plot and puzzles are awfully similar to those in its predecessor. Though it's nice to get a bit of closure on the weirdness of Scoggins, the overwhelming familiarity is disappointing.