Friday, May 17, 2024

Rotoscoped Frank and Drake is a Satisfying Gothic Mystery

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From Appnormals Team (known for Stay), arrives a gothic supernatural mystery with nonlinear branching paths, mini-games and puzzles, all with rotoscoped art. Featuring six endings, Frank and Drake challenges you to make the right decisions and solve the conspiracy following its titular characters.

In Franke and Drake, you play as two different characters over the course of a week. Frank, the super of a run-down apartment block in Oriole City, is worried that he’s losing his mind because of his now year long amnesia. In the course of returning home with groceries, he finds out from his landlord and boss that he’s got a new roommate, Drake who is allergic to sunlight (one guess for what that’s all about).

Their split existence means they must communicate via sticky notes left around the apartment. Despite this separation, they must forge a relationship, uncover the truth and survive. Their closeness or lack thereof impacts the options that the characters both have as the game nears its end.

Drake reading the post-it early on at night in the game.

What they do during the day and night respectively impacts each other and what might occur later. For example as shown in the demo for the first day and night of the game, if Frank chooses to work then his relationship with Drake will start off negative since Drake needed the window in his room prepared.

Even though they must work separately, their fate will depend on the trust and friendship they forge based on their actions and communications.

The game uses traditional 2D art combined with over 8000 hand-drawn frames of animation overlaid over filmed footage. This gives the game an uncanny feel reflecting Frank and Drake’s realities: two extraordinary characters trying to blend into an ordinary world.

Frank's journal open with the Bookstore and Library as locations to choose between.
An example of having to choose what location to go to next.

Both Frank and Drake have journals in which they write down their observations and collect post it notes from one another. In the journal too, what they write in the diary sections provide options for what to communicate to one another and each message has a consequence in the game. The different handwriting fonts and fonts broadly throughout the game add another layer to the depth of the worldbuilding.

Once Frank either finishes his day of work or setting up Drake’s room, he retrieves an envelope that you grab earlier in the game and in it is an orange capsule that opens and lets out orange smoke. When Drake arrives, it’s blanketing the apartment but doesn’t seem terrible since it isn’t hurting Frank’s dog, Underdog.

Except…when Frank wakes up, he starts having flashes of his memory return. And Drake? He gets incredibly tired and needs to find a blood bank stat.

Through each day and night, there’s a number of puzzles and mini-games to play to progress in the game. While the puzzles are unique and there’s a lot of really interesting aspects to how the puzzles are integrated into the game, they were actually the most frustrating part for me.

For example, the puzzle below is pretty easy! Drake needs to get to the zoo’s prized pig and must navigate around the animals who are active in the day or territorial because they’ll make noise and attract the two security guards.

A map of the Zoo in Frank and Drake
The different animal areas make the proper sounds too when Drake walks by! It’s great!

So while it took a couple tries to make a path safely, I easily finished the puzzle and Drake got his blood. However, there were at least three puzzles that I was absolutely stuck on, and still have not made it past forcing me to restart the game completely to try different branches of the story.

The minigames and puzzles that I got stuck on had some direction on how to succeed but no way of knowing if I was close or getting parts of it correct. On the first night, if Drake chooses to take the night off instead of going to work, he can go to the theater and look at some old items. One is a zoetrope and while there are some hints in the zoetrope on what slides go where, even after ten different tries, I was seriously struggling and gave up.

One puzzle included synchronizing gears for a puzzle and there was no way for me to know if I was close or not so it never worked and the other had no hints whatsoever. Fortunately, on my fourth start I was able to pick the different locations so I could get new puzzles and got to one of the six endings of the game!

Thankfully the game does tell you what choices you’ve made and thus should try a different time so you can keep track of all the locations that you don’t get to in each playthrough.

My only other criticism is that I wish once you’ve finished the first playthrough you can use the branching mechanic to jump back to different parts of the game, instead of having to start over from the start. With so many narrative games allowing this type of play, I won’t lie. I’m an impatient person and want to get to the choice points in the game quickly, haha.

Besides the lack of help in the puzzles (which I hope will change in an update), I really enjoyed Frank and Drake.

Appnormals Team put so much love and labor into creating a game that’s entirely rotoscoped! A truly painstaking process of hand drawing frames over filmed footage, the end result further immerses the player in Frank and Drake’s life and their realities.

Similarly, the over 50 (!) locations in Oriole City are all beautifully detailed and all of them hide secrets and information that when found explain more of the mystery. While based on a real city, Oriole City is completely fictional and each playthrough unveils more of the universe depending on if you play as Frank or Drake.

While Frank is trying to figure out why his memory is gone, Drake is still processing his mother’s death and the changes after inhaling the orange smoke. Why is he seeing random hobos (the game’s term for spirits in the sky) around the city? How are he and Frank connected, or are they?

The mystery isn’t just about them either! Something’s going on in the apartment building. One of the units is empty and will never have a tenant? What’s that about. Another has a pair living in it and may or may not have a hand in what Frank’s going through. Uh oh.

Though the game is a gothic mystery, there’s lovely moments of light and the connections that spread out from Frank and Drake feel very realistic and so does the ultimate reveal with the story as you finish the first playthrough.

Obviously Drake is totally a vampire, or something akin to it and the game itself has a number of silent movie cards to find throughout which are all monster movies. There’s of course a big bad but how they are involved with Frank and Drake respectively is really intriguing. The collectibles actually show every postcard, poster, and ending that you’ve found at the end of each playthrough which is really nice.

The reveals about how Frank and Drake are related, and how they’ve been ensnared in the conspiracy are really satisfying and I am excited to try again on those puzzles (hopefully with help) and get to the remaining endings which should fill out the remaining pieces of the larger story.

Frank and Drake releases tomorrow!

Frank and Drake
9.1 Reviewer
Mechanics8
Narrative10
Performance8.5
Visual Appeal10
Summary
Frank and Drake is an engrossing gothic mystery where you must find out what conspiracy is following the titular characters, and while the puzzles are at times really befuddling, the game overall is gorgeous and really entertaining.
Images and review copy courtesy of Appnormals Team

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