Review: FRAMED

By Kelsey Rinella 19 Dec 2014 0
A dark alley. One of the more interesting rotations in the game. If I were a better geek, I could make a clever reference to mathematical transformations here, and those few of you who got it would feel special.

Her knock said she expected to be welcome anywhere, she didn't need to be boorish about it. I give a doll a thorough once-over when she first walks in, but she was short enough it was more like a half-over. Not a real deep thinker, but if I looked and moved like she did, maybe I wouldn't bother so much about my brain, either. Guess it's good for my work I look like I do.

FRAMED looks like a graphic novel adaptation of a Dashiell Hammett yarn, with motion that looks just uncanny enough to seem like brilliant animation rather than merely adequate motion capture. You rearrange (and, occasionally, rotate) the frames of each page, altering the story in order to escape with a briefcase. There's a touch of variety to the plot and gameplay injected by introducing different playable characters, but the MacGuffin remains the same throughout. Also, developers Loveshack credit the Australian government during the opening. That's not really relevant, I just thought it was groovy.

He's got a gun! Don't mess with Mustache, or he'll scare your hair into some sort of tentacle/Medusa behavior.

It's hard to decide what I like most about FRAMED. I'm pretty big on the whole film noir style, and the slightly funky influence on the soundtrack tickles me, especially when it accompanies the character that I can only call "Mustache" and his whiskered swagger. The female protagonist was a welcome departure from noir tropes without departing from the theme, and kept the fedora overload in check. The fact that the MacGuffin was a seemingly normal briefcase with the awkwardly soporific power of knocking out anyone tapped by it gave the game a gentleness which doesn't entirely suit the noir grit it seems to be shooting for, but it reflects the central tension of any attempt to make that style appeal to a wide audience. FRAMED is agreeable noir.

Whatever I liked best, it wasn't the frame-rearrangement gameplay. As a way of solving puzzles, it's clever and fresh, but an awful lot of the pages had only a few possible arrangements. So when the puzzle seemed at all obscure, it was easy to just brute-force your way out, like a Rubik's cube with only two colors. Still, the frames were pleasingly tactile, and simply watching the scenes play out (with just a touch of real-time interaction, eventually) was a treat. Sadly, it was also totally linear, which means that there's no replay value to help extend the life of a game which is almost as brief as Aldo Nadi's lines in To Have and Have Not.

Climbing on the outside of the train. What do you get when you combine negative space with Chekhov's gun? The sense that the absence of a doughnut from a table must be important to the plot.

Essentially, FRAMED is even more Monument Valley than Monument Valley. It's stylishly attractive and milks its central mechanic, but there isn't all that much to milk. Rather than getting repetitive or losing focus, both games just end gracefully after a relatively brief, not very challenging, but unique and thoroughly enjoyable experience.

FRAMED was played on an iPad Air for this review.

Review: FRAMED

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