If there’s something iOS is becoming very good at, it’s blurring the boundaries between media, especially when it comes to narrative gaming experiences.
We’ve seen picture-book Scandinavian horror with Simogo’s Year Walk, and the same developer’s techno-thriller Device 6. Then Inkle reimagined multi-threaded storybooks as you accompanied Phileas Fogg around the world in futuristic steampunk adventure 80 Days. Now, Framed fuses a silent noir spy movie with a comic book, peppers it with path-finding puzzles, and serves up the result on your iPad and iPhone.
All that jazz
The result is intoxicating. Visually, the game is all expressive silhouette figures above subtly animated hand-drawn backgrounds, kind of like Sin City reimagined as a 1950s pulp comic. A jazzy tune — all head-nodding beats and smokey saxophones — meanders away in the background, springing into life when action occurs.
The game itself largely revolves around moving page panels, in order to affect the spy’s fortunes, and any more advanced mechanics and concepts are gently revealed over time. Thus, the first scene contains just two moving panels. Hit play and the spy is captured; switch them and hit play and the spy escapes. Next, there are six panels full of doors, and you realise the world is one in which all doors and windows are seemingly connected, and that what happens between the panels is as important as what occurs within.
A farce to be reckoned with
Over time, Framed continues to open up, dramatically shifting scenes, pace and tone. Thriller occasionally becomes comedic farce in a suitably old-school manner, with the spy sneaking about, avoiding the dumb flatfoots attempting to capture him. Some pages play out as frantic chase sequences, where you must rapidly figure out how to move panels while the scene is in motion, in order for the spy to cleanly get away; occasionally, you get something more like a cut-scene, a temporary breather where you merely swap a couple of panels that propel the story on.
And it’s that story that really makes Framed come alive. Perhaps a few too many puzzles (especially later on) rely a bit much on complex path-finding rather than narrative smarts, but underneath the puzzle capers and escape larks, there’s a story of intrigue and double-cross, set in a dark and seedy underworld. That’s not to say Framed takes itself *too* seriously, though; failure often results in slapstick disaster, and there are great absurdist moments waiting for discovery, such as when you switch a hardened enemy in a waiting car with a drugged foe slumped in a diner window. Naturally, the car then drives off with the unconscious agent at the wheel, oblivious to what’s going on, so the protagonist can make a break for it.
Short but sweet
If there’s any criticism of Framed, it’s that the game is short — the sort of title you can blaze through in a single sitting, or savour and yet still find yourself staring at the credits after a few hours. But any time spent with Framed — whether sneaking in and out of windows, hundreds of feet above extremely solid tarmac; or bounding across rooftops, briefcase tightly in your grasp — are such a joy that it’s easy to forgive the game’s brevity and instead congratulate it for being tight, focussed, witty, entertaining, and something a little bit different.