Available on iOS
It's just as well you're reading this review now and not the state it was in sat blinking at me on my laptop screen a couple of hours ago.
You won't know it but, whole chunks of this review have been wiped from history. Sloppy spelling mistakes that I missed the first time, a few grammatical errors that slipped through to my second and third drafts and, right here, a needlessly showy anecdote I dropped in about a recent trip abroad that the editor (rightly) thought made absolutely no sense in the context of the review.
Every article you read, whether online or on print, is a product of multiple edits, or – if you prefer – benefits from a writer and an editor's ability to time travel. History has been re-written multiple times within these very words, and you don't even know it. So how about a game that attempts to do the same?
Framed is, if you like, a pictorial version of the very same process websites go through every day. Via a series of comic book like panels, you're shown a short scenario where, in almost every encounter, the game's leads ends up dead. Your job is to rearrange said panels to change the course of history.
Sound exciting? Well, as a premise at least, Framed delivers. Set in a Dick Tracy style world, the game initially follows a shady like character – literally shady, with all sprites depicted by silhouettes – on the run from the police, equipped with a briefcase. Each level initially shows him (or, later, a female assailant) running into trouble. Play then pauses and it's your job to rearrange the cells so that he makes it to the end of the stage in one piece.
Sometimes this is a case of paying attention to the illustrations themselves. Is there a guard in the next cell on the ground floor? Well, see if you can find panel that features a set of stairs that your character can run up. Is there a cop lurking around a corner? Find the cell that features a coloured wall that matches the one the policeman is lent up against and, chances are, you'll be able to take him out from behind.
Once you've rearranged the cells in a way you think makes sense, it's then time to press play and see if the stage plays out as you hoped. As you'd expect, initial stages are fairly easy to master, though as you play on, some of the levels become increasingly complex and, sadly, often a touch random.
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There are moments where Framed gets things very, very right: levels where, with multiple panels on offer, there is only one possible way the story can come together, but a lot of red herrings to navigate along the way. For instance, just because the game's lead takes out a cop with the cells in the order you initial set them out in doesn't mean that piece is in the right place. What if, in fact, he's meant to sneak past unnoticed?
Sometimes finding the solution feels entirely logical – even if it takes many a wrong try to get there. But, on other occasions, it's simply a process of elimination. In particular, one of the early levels shows our shady lead attempting to escape from a series of guards patrolling alleyways depicted in 3D. You'd expect, therefore, for the right order to require the cells to match up – if Framed's lead leaves one panel on the right hand side, he should appear from the left in the next one.
You can allow a certain amount of artistic license in cases such as these – the game's 1950s US TV show like delivery allowing the action to be captured from many different angles – but there are a couple of times when the cells simply don't appear to tally, yet this is the order the game deems the 'solution'.
One other annoyance is a succession of levels where there are only two cells to swap around, making your interaction entirely perfunctory.
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And this is where Framed strays from an absorbing puzzler into a glorified picture book territory. At a guess, it feels like Framed has been pulled in two different directions by the developer – either that, or the studio drifted towards focusing on style over substance. Using your finger to tip the lighter to light the lead's cigarette is cool the first time, for instance, but having a series of levels where your only input is to move the story along with a simple tap or swipe is not especially engaging.
This is Framed’s big problem as a result. The concept of turning back time and rewriting history is a solid one, as are the levels where the puzzle-style play it's built around comes to the fore. However, somewhere along the line, developer Loveshack appears to have become fixated with how Framed delivers it's (undeniably slick) story, rather than your role in it, delivering a game that's a few cells short of a comic strip.
The ability to re-write history is an alluring selling point and, at times, Framed's comic strip world delivers some puzzling brilliance, but some sloppy set ups and over-indulgence in its method of delivery leave Loveshack's latest feeling a little half-baked.
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