Review: FRAMED228 Jul 2017 1
Released 14 Jun 2017
Taking place before the events of the original game, FRAMED2 is the latest comic strip puzzle game from Loveshack. The first game was awarded a Pocket Tactics four-star review back in December 2014. Again, you take on the role of the nameless, smartly attired, two-tone agent who featured in the first game. This time the setting has shifted to a more evocative East Asian location. Our agent, complete with his trusty briefcase must sneak from scene to scene in true spy film style. Throughout the game you will have to contend with perilous pursuits and double crosses, indeed the briefcase often changes hands faster than a parcel at a children’s birthday party.
FRAMED2 presents each level as a single-page comic strip, the idea is to rearrange the individual panels so that the story pans out in the correct order. The overall concept is easy enough to understand but the solutions can be very devious. The levels start off simple enough, at first you just have to swap around two panels in order to avoid a rickety bridge. However, the game wastes little time in throwing ever more complicated puzzles at you.
The more difficult levels in the first game tended to focus on rotating panels, whilst this time around the spotlight is on reusing panels, often more than once. To further complicate matters an event will sometimes occur when passing through a panel that will alter how it can be used next time. For example, a crane may break when it attempts to lift a heavy box from a conveyor belt. The female character from the first game also makes several reappearances. She can make things more difficult as sometimes you will have to figure out how to get both characters to the exit instead of just one. Added into the mix is the fact that both characters have their own unique characteristics. The female character is lighter and very agile, whilst the male agent is heavier and stronger. The result is that they both interact with the scenery in different ways – sending the man across a thin plank is probably not a good idea.
Although the excellently animated central characters give a fast moving and dynamic impression, grabbing a panel brings everything to a halt, allowing for some valuable thinking time. You can actually go back and retry any level, which is particularly useful if you want to take on the added challenge of collecting the hidden Polaroid photographs that are scattered across the levels. The solution to grabbing these is often obscure and can even involve having to deliberately fail a level. This isn’t as bad as it might sound since the comic outcomes of a failed attempt are often just as entertaining as working out the solution itself. In this sense, the game does encourage you to experiment, which gives proceedings some much-needed replay value.
Undeniably, FRAMED2 really needs all the help it can get to expand its lifespan. There are a mere 23 levels, which includes a couple of undemanding introduction levels and a few very slight combination-solving mini-levels. The result is a game that can be finished in less than two hours. Particular levels definitely work better than others. Some just require the planning of a route, whilst others have a more narrative slant that works really well and are the most satisfying ones to solve. Most levels introduce new ideas and fresh concepts, so it certainly packs a lot of imagination into a small space.
A marvellously cool and slinky Pink Panther style jazz soundtrack that sets the tone perfectly accompanies the action. The lack of dialogue and minimal use of sound effects actually serve to emphasise the comic book feel. Also, the smartly presented cut scenes do a fine job of advancing the story but whilst still maintaining an air of intrigue. The overall style reminds me of the classic Spy Vs Spy, a Mad magazine monochrome and wordless comic strip of warring agents engaging in crazy espionage activities. FRAMED2 even features Spy Vs Spy style off-the-wall deaths, such as getting covered in quick drying cement.
FRAMED2 actively encourages the player to experiment, yet, sometimes it feels like there is too much reliance on trial and error.There is no doubt that some of the puzzles are ingenious, with the happy consequence that the player feels like a genius when they come up with the solution. However, it is just as likely that you will feel like you have stumbled upon a solution more by luck than judgment. This is not helped by the fact that there are a few inconsistencies. It is not always clear where a path is going to lead, and sometimes the agent will overcome a myopic guard whilst another guard approached from the same direction will arrest him.
I did encounter a couple of difficulty spikes, and the linear nature of the game means that there is no respite from trying the same puzzle over and over again. In these situations, switching and re-switching panels presents infinite possibilities, and just remembering what you did on a previous try can be very challenging. Having to keep reorganising the panels from scratch and watching the same animations play out time and time again soon becomes frustrating. Perhaps a rewind and fast forward feature would have helped ease the frustration?
The Pocket Tactics review concluded that the original FRAMED was a stylishly attractive game that milked its central theme, although there was not much to milk. Thankfully, the developers have managed to save the cream until last by taking a wonderfully original yet limited concept to the limits. Since the original game appeared to have pushed the idea as far as it could go it is especially impressive that this follow-up still has so much to offer. FRAMED2 feels like it is over before it has really begun, but the journey is unique and satisfying enough to warrant a purchase, especially if you were a fan of the original.