Making a follow-up to a beloved, multi-award winning game like 2014’s Framed has got be a daunting task. I mean, picture the dilemma. If you go the easy route and keep everything more or less the same, people will be quick to label it as a lazy retread. And on the flipside, if you chop and change things up too much, you run the risk of diluting what those same people liked the first time around and alienating your fanbase. Striking that perfect balance between familiar and fresh is no mean feat, I imagine. But to their credit, Loveshack have done it in style with Framed 2 (out now, $4.99) — a game that retains all the original’s most clever and novel elements, while also introducing new characters, a new setting, and tons of new ideas.

I’m going to hazard a guess that the majority of people reading this review will have already played the first Framed (if not, get on that) — and this prequel doesn’t deviate massively from the winning formula established there — so I won’t spend too much time explaining how stuff like the puzzle and stealth mechanics in Framed 2 work. For newbies, the gist of the game is simple: Your job is to help a nattily-suited, briefcase-carrying gentleman spy outfox and evade enemies as he skulks his way through a series of noirish (mis)adventures. This involves reshuffling pages of comic book-style panels to change the outcome of the scenarios they portray, so as our hero can get from point A to point B unscathed. The best way I can think to describe Framed 2’s gameplay is as a cross between a ‘choose your own adventure’ comic and a sliding tile puzzle.

Framed 2 opens with a few relatively tame puzzle scenarios to ease you into the game’s delightfully warped, cartoonish sense of logic and set its plot in motion. But as you progress, the puzzles rapidly grow in intricacy and their solutions become less obvious and more difficult to pull off. They’re also nicely varied, ranging from short-and-sweet problem solving segments to hugely elaborate, multifaceted levels that task you with engineering and triggering Rube Goldberg-esque domino effects of events in order to evade enemies and other hazards. The sheer amount of fastidious experimentation and trial-and-error style gameplay that’s required to clear certain levels may test some players’ patience, but personally I never got so annoyed with the game that I didn’t feel like persevering to see where the story would take the characters next.

On that note, it’s hard to talk about Framed 2’s sprawling story without getting into spoiler territory, but suffice to say it’s a very compelling tale, filled with mystery, intrigue, suspense, action, and plenty of laughs. Yes, laughs. The game is much more of an out-and-out caper than its hard-boiled predecessor, and features a number of genuinely funny slapstick and situational comedy-fueled sequences, as well as a sprinkling of winking references and homages to the Metal Gear franchise (Hideo Kojima is a huge Framed fan, doncha know) and classic silent era/noir genre movies like Safety Last! and Vertigo.

In addition to boasting satisfyingly brain-teasing gameplay and an engaging story, Framed 2 knocks it out of the park in the looks department. The game’s shadowy, comic-book world is wonderfully realized, and the attention to detail that’s been lavished on each artfully crumbling location you visit over the course of your adventure through it is nothing short of striking. The cast of perpetually silhouetted characters are also very slickly animated and genuinely feel alive (so much so that it’s hard not to feel a twinge of guilt whenever the protagonist tumbles headfirst off a tall building or gets mauled to death by guard dogs due to you screwing up). You’ll be pleased to hear the game sounds as good as it looks too, thanks to another addictively slinky soft jazz soundtrack from Adrian Moore.

All in all, Loveshack have outdone themselves with Framed 2. Many prequels fall short of their originals because they’re bland retreads or try too hard to be different, but that’s certainly not the case here. Framed 2 is an expertly and intelligently crafted follow-up to the masterpiece that was Framed 1, and it should delight series fans and newcomers alike.

Verdict

Whoever said “you can’t improve on a masterpiece,” obviously hasn’t played Framed 2. This game cleverly and artfully builds on its predecessor’s most celebrated features — the innovative panel-switching mechanic, elaborate puzzle designs and comic book-inspired look and feel — while also going in its own direction with new characters and a more playful, caperish tone.

Positives
Gameplay feels more refined and polished this time around
Hugely imaginative puzzles and level designs
Suspenseful, exciting story with engaging characters
Ultra-stylish visuals and addictively jazzy tunes
Negatives
Puzzles can get fairly convoluted and abstruse and may leave some players frustrated
5
Exceptional
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