Review: Framed (iOS)

Posted on March 21, 2015

Some games are just mindblowing, and should be shared far and wide. Framed is one such game: it deeply disrupts your sense of what is possible in a video game, it turns inside out your expectation of both puzzles and narratives, and what’s more it does it on the iPad, a platform not well known for amazing games.

Put simply, Framed is a narrative puzzler. It tells its story in comic strip format, and the story itself is somewhat formulaic: with smooth jazz, a mysterious suitcase and cat-and-mouse encounters with police and shady adversaries, this might be drawn straight from the pages of Chandler or Hammett. The comic format sits it squarely in a visual narrative and pulp fiction tradition, though.

To make it a game, though, Framed puts the player in control of the ordering of the narrative. Only one sequence of the frames allows the story to progress; the others result in the main characters meeting an untimely fate or getting caught by the police. It is a supreme test of logic : the player needs to think through a complex chain of cause-and-effect, and the puzzles can be quite challenging. It also uses the touchscreen interface of the iPad very effectively, since you can directly drag and drop the scenes into their correct positions. Some of the more advanced puzzles required you to reuse frames over and over again, and effectively create time travel paradoxes within the narrative itself. The design is just sublime.

Framed is also a wonderful example of what the independent game development scene in Australia is capable of, when it achieves some critical mass of creativity and is supported by sensible models of public funding. We’ve seen this work well in film development, and it is successful in other places too, so it is a shame to see such schemes discontinued recently. However, buying this game is not simply an example of supporting a burgeoning local industry: it is a genuine value proposition.

One of the iconic sequences in the game: don't get shot!

One of the iconic sequences in the game: don’t get shot!

This is a perfect game to be played with a partner, and is suitable for young adults and adults alike. Although is does involve ‘untimely ends’ the action is heavily stylised and not gratuitous in the slightest, but younger players may not ‘get’ what is going on. Solving the puzzles together can be great fun, and two heads are better than one when it comes to figuring out just what is going on at the end. Time for a replay, perhaps.

At $4.99, Framed (available on the App Store) is probably more expensive than you’re used to paying for a mobile title, but it is worth every cent. And it will never ask you to pay more or share with your friends for more life tokens.

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