Quick Review: Framed

Screenshot-1The first time I heard of Framed was early last year, when it was just a game under development by Australian-based Loveshack Entertainment, a company by three designers and developers from Firemonkeys who had decided they wanted to do their own thing. The first time I played the game was at the inaugural PAX Australia, and from that point on, I knew Framed was something pretty special.

The premise of Framed is simple. The game presents you with a particular scene — presented not unlike a page from a comic book, with multiple panels — in which your character is expected to escape and progress to the next scene. You’ll run into policemen, armed with pistols and the ability to stop you in your tracks. By re-arranging panels in the scene, you can change the order of events — this lets you sneak past policemen, take them out with a quick swing of your briefcase, or at one point, a disguise.

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Framed is a puzzle game, but as someone who’s played their fair share of puzzle games over the years (especially on iOS devices, where the genre seems particularly prevalent), Framed is particularly innovative. The “re-arranging panels” mechanic is cool and all, but if you thought that was all there was to it, Framed keeps you on your toes by introducing new ways to play. Later levels have panels which can only be pivoted, potentially changing the orientation and order of other panels in the scene, and a little further on, you’ll see an almost-maddening re-use of panels that will be sure to drive you insane.

And as much as I praise Framed for bringing something new to the table, problems with core gameplay mechanics tarnish an otherwise innovative title. Sometimes, panels don’t happen in the order you expect — I came across one level in particular where I should have cleared the level, but the main protagonist jumped over a ladder at the second-to-last panel which would have taken him to the end of the scene. The game also plays fairly inconsistently — sometimes there are hints to help you decide how to progress from panel to panel, but often you’ll just have to guess your way through using trial and error to figure out the correct sequence of events.

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That being said, it’s hard to ignore Framed for what is is. And what it is is a beautiful puzzler: there’s only about two two hours of gameplay in Framed, but every minute is a challenge as you figure out how to avoid policemen, scale ladders and stairs in the right order, and get the hell out of dodge. It’s light on story, preferring to let the black silhouettes act out their own silent pantomime, but it’s filled with a wonderfully ambient soundtrack that suits the mood perfectly.

Framed is $6.49 on the Australian App Store, and falls into the category of must-haves, if only because it’s unlike any other puzzle game I’ve ever played. Being an awesome little game kinda helps, too.

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