Framed reminds me of logic puzzles I used to do when I was young where I had to put pieces of a storyboard in order so that they made sense. A simple one of these would be putting a picture of the person standing up, before having them boiling a kettle, making tea, and finally sitting down to enjoy it.
In these scenarios, however, there was only one solution; what Framed manages to do is provide multiple stories to each of its single screen puzzles - though only one equates to success.
Set in a perfectly themed film noir world, you are on the run from the police after being framed. Your private detective styled hero has to sprint through the world, avoiding the fuzz and an enigmatic mustached pursuer, in order to deliver the suitcase-shaped McGuffin to the dame, broad, or other similarly appropriate film noir female-moniker.
Framed is wonderfully simple in its execution. All you have to do is place the frames in order to let the scene play out in a manner that allows your hero to evade capture; mess up and he will be caught (or worse).
The various frames can be manipulated by tapping and dragging them to the desired place in the timeline. What is so effective is how elegantly Framed teaches you this base mechanic. Rather than any kind of tutorial, a simple two frame "puzzle" begins the action. One panel pulses, inviting you to touch it, then simply dragging the images into reverse order allows the trilby-wearing, pulp fiction-styled hero to light his cigarette. This tiny success quickly leads you to far greater things, as you are soon navigating your hero across ledges on the sides of skyscrapers and leaping between train carriages.
Though the controls may seem a little remedial at first, it doesn’t take long before the true ingenuity of the system appears. Even in the first few puzzles you have to reorder the images to evade police who are storming your apartment and repurpose images to change their meaning from being shot to diving through a window.
And that is just the first stage where all you can do is shift the order of images before the action kicks off. As the game progresses the true deviousness of its puzzles begin to appear, with additional mechanics like rotating panels and shifting them mid-scene being added to the mix. This adds some interesting action to the puzzle solving, as you must think about the paneled-world’s layout and flow of time to remain effectively hidden from your pursuers.
The only problem with all of this is that it can be hard to work out exactly what is about to happen in a scene before you begin. Some puzzles use the geometry of the comic panels to order events as you move through some levels, while others have you looking at the environment for colors, elevation, and other cues in the world. The trial and error this necessitates would be fine, except that watching each frame play out takes a little longer than is forgivable after the fourth failure, a fact that regularly left me wishing for a fast-forward button.
The silhouetted, comic-pane world of Framed does a stupendous job establishing the game's tone. Every color is vibrant, but plucked from a palate that feels seeped in grime. Smokey blues, pinks, and purples make up the vivid skyline, with characters and buildings set against them in stark blacks and whites.
Each character is animated beautifully, and seeing each frame spring to life independently as the others sit static is a stunning effect. The smoothness of this motion is most striking in scenes where the escaping hero must quietly and fluidly move between areas. Here, despite size and speed, he moves in a fashion and communicates more than any audio effect that he is silent.
Not that the audio is poor, but for the most part the sound design is more focused on its steamy fifty’s jazz music, than its gunshots and environmental effects.
Style and puzzles
Framed's "story" is just two or three hours long, but its puzzles and look are incredibly crafted and incredibly engaging. I heartily recommend it, if only to play something different, but don't expect any lasting challenge.