Those looking for the smoky monologue-driven introspection of noir may want to look elsewhere. Noodlecake Studios’ Framed is a game of chase, of conked-out cops and mysterious briefcases, and most notably… Of sliding puzzles? It’s not an inherently exciting combo. What’s more, that makes its chic inclinations surprising once you give it a glance. Though the game is more parkour than noir, the near trademark aesthetic of the latter will undoubtedly satisfy a jaded detective or two.
Framed revolves around vignettes segmented into panels like a storyboard or comic. The protagonist runs through said panels. Where he quickly enters a scenario that will leave him either dead or arrested.
It is your job to re-arrange the panels so that the scene turns out in the fedora-clad character’s favor. For instance, say our hero runs through a hallway and finds himself on the wrong end of a cop’s gun. By moving a panel where he enters a doorway to the left of his lead buffet, he’ll enter it and exit from another. The latter panel leads to a sneaky escape behind the cop’s back. Soon, rotating panels and ones you’ll have to move repeatedly enter the fray. However, Framed doesn’t slow down with its implementation of intriguing mechanics and scenarios. If you like it enough to beat it, the game will essentially reset with marginal differences in the puzzles you solved before.
The art style is crisp and simplified. In a stylized way, however, with the backgrounds contrasting the pitch-black characters. The sum which is so fluidly animated they look roto-scoped at times. The art direction ends up resurrecting memories of old FMV games, where the death scenes could be more entertaining than success. It’s such a blast watching the multitude of ways Framed anticipates you messing up. A mechanic that keeps failure from being repetitively frustrating. This is especially important once real-time involvement becomes necessary from the player in the later stages. A point at which taking one’s time is more difficult.
Puzzle Game Noir
The story, while vague, flows well by integrating two-panel, impossible to fail puzzles into cutscenes, so important or dramatic plot points don’t overstay their welcome amidst the sluggish completion of a more difficult puzzle. I kind of wish Noodlecake had not relied on this mechanic as much as they did, since its inclusion means that Framed’s smooth difficulty curve is segmented by laughably easy portions. Further speed bumps exist in the flow between panels when vertical, double-tall panels get introduced, and in the finicky panel switching, where moving one to another’s spot can shuffle the scene around like mad. Oh, and there’s no undo button.
A jazzy soundtrack clacks, thumps, trumpets, and most importantly synergizes with the gameplay, adaptively rising in tempo or complexity during action scenes, and mellowing out during sneaking parts, of which there are so many that one could describe Framed as a stealth game in spirit if not in practice.
One part of me sees Framed as a classier version of Comix-Zone, but another sees it as the continuation to Little Wheel that I forgot I needed, both titles being superb and similar in flair and nuance. Sure enough, Framed is sporting motifs uncommon in puzzle games. Those who identify the genre with the Bejeweleds and the Tetris’ of years past need to re-evaluate their assumptions before giving Framed a pass. Buy it if you want a game part brain teaser and part graphic novel.
Sleekly animated eye-candy distracts you from a few design hiccups in this stylized and stealthy puzzle game.