As might be expected with a second installment of a game, Framed 2 is earning a lot of its praise or criticism based on its relationship to the original. However, I’m glad to be bringing a fresh perspective, never having played Framed. While I might be like that person who loved a movie because they never read the book on which it was based, my enchantment with Framed 2 actually inspired me to download the original as well.
Framed 2 is the type of mobile game experience I can’t get enough of: a shrewd combination of a unique-but-intuitive mechanic, satisfying problem-solving, and genuine world-building artistry; then add a comic book noir aesthetic and some jazzy riffs and I’m all in.
We enter the world of Framed 2 in medias res, joining our suit-wearing hero (or anti-hero?) with a very important suitcase that must clearly be delivered to a very important person. Unbeknownst to our protagonist, he is also being followed by a tireless and resourceful woman who does whatever it takes to keep up with him. We shift between their perspectives slowly learning about their motivations and goals simply by their actions; there is no text in the game.
The game progresses through a series of puzzles and cutscenes. Puzzle scenes are presented as comic-style panels through which one of our characters must advance. Depending on the order of the panels, they may encounter a game-stopping obstacle, or, if negotiated properly, they may avoid that obstacle entirely. To solve a scene, you must change the order or position of the panels by dragging or rotating. In particularly challenging scenes, you might even need to reuse a panel or two.
I would be remiss not to call out the distinct art style. The high contrast silhouettes are striking against the bright, saturated backgrounds, with each frame engaging enough to stand on its own. The environments, consistently urban, are surprising in their beauty. A variety of perspectives (head on, bird’s eye, three quarter, etc.) are employed to keep scenes and their respective puzzles feeling new each time. Additionally, the nimble animation is noteworthy; consider that each panel can result in a different point of entry or exit, or that different obstacles may have different results. This requires animation sequences for a variety possible outcomes and they all work together seamlessly. It’s impressive to watch.
There is one point of frustration that if improved upon, could make this an exceptional experience. As it stands now, every time I move around my panels I have to wait through the entire animation sequence for each one. This is particularly irksome if there are a lot of panels and I have to work out the unique mechanics of each, such as entry and exit points. In some areas, I could progressively determine what needed to happen, but those last panels might still be a surprise; and waiting through each sequence is horribly tedious. If I could tap on a panel and have the animation start there instead, I could move faster with far less annoyance.
Framed 2 is a brilliant study in hybrid genres. It has the feeling of an action game, with bad guys and cops and gun pulling and attack dogs. But it also has the cerebral engagement of interactive narrative and puzzle-based problem solving. The smooth, detailed animation evokes character without dialogue, while also maintaining a distinct graphic novel feel. The ability to play in short sessions or for the long haul will also appeal to a variety of players. The dark, beautiful world of Framed 2 has much to offer, and it’s an offer you shouldn’t refuse.