Frank and Drake by Appnormals is an interesting blend of narration, rotoscoping animations, and puzzles. Without giving itself away, the story quickly takes unexpected turns. Based on the choices you make, will you be able to achieve the best possible ending?
Frank and Drake takes multiple playthroughs to get the full experience. While this kind of game tactic is fine and has worked for other games, seeing it as a warning as the game boots up still makes me hesitant. How long is each playthrough? Are playthroughs really worth the full investment? Luckily a playthrough doesn’t take more than an hour or so, and only requires two or three runs to get the full content experience. By the first run you will get a sense of what is happening, but there are a lot of hidden details that can leave the ending scenario quite confusing. Only by exploring more locations and finding more details will the story make sense.
The pacing of the dialog feels unnaturally quick and forced. With two strangers who have never met, they both come to fast conclusions about each other. There is a bond meter that tracks their connection throughout the game, having effects on choices you can make at the end of the story. The reactions are triggered by both actions you do (like cleaning up the place), or leaving helpful notes on the fridge. It isn’t directly apparent what emotion you’re giving off in the note (and what the note actually consists of), but through context you can glean what vibe you’re giving off.
As mentioned earlier, however, the story in Frank and Drake feels forced. With only a couple of days and interactions for the game to reach its climax, the story doesn’t have time to slowly reveal emotional pacing. If the character is sad, they say “I’m sad.” Or even worse, the narration breaks the fourth wall and says “Isn’t it strange how this story is?” The writing needs to be cleaned up in parts. I understand that Frank and Drake needs to be played multiple times to find all the secrets, but no matter if it’s your first or fifth time playing, the story should still make sense.
Frank and Drake’s gameplay feels haphazard with no fundamental mechanic. A lot of the game involves selecting an item to comment on. There are also journal entries that enlighten us on the character’s thoughts. The simple act of clicking through text and items does not feel enough to solidify impactful gameplay. Because of this lack of clarity, the puzzles can be difficult to understand because each one involves a new mechanic. The puzzles are almost barely puzzles and can be brute-forced your way through most of the time. To make a good puzzle game, there should be only a few mechanics that are standard within each that the game explores the limits of. Frank and Drake’s puzzles are soggy window dressing to its otherwise luke-warm story.
The selling factor in Frank and Drake is definitely its art. The rotoscoping style of the animations and art give an interesting vibe and gives the game a more human feeling, almost like you’re watching videos of people acting and playing the game through their actions. The one problem with rotoscoping is that details are lost, so small expressions and other important features are missed, losing contextual storytelling. There are also glitches and interesting game effects that are added to make some interactions pop, but because the story is confusing the reason to have these effects are lost. While I understand and appreciate the work that went into rotoscoping full animations and involving them into a videogame, part of me wishes there was some kind of reason why the developers chose to make the art rotoscoped. The super quick cutscene animations aren’t impactful and ultimately confusing because they feel randomly placed within the pacing of the actual game. Each choice in the branching story is cut-off near the end, usually dogeared by a cutscene. In writing this pacing makes sense, but since there doesn’t appear to be a build up to the climatic end of the day, the video isn’t as enjoyable. Sometimes more buttons have to be pressed to move the video along, which almost feels like a chore to nudge the character to perform the action. It was like trying to get your lazy friend to hang out with you.
The music in Frank and Drake is well mixed and fits the theme, albeit it’s a little repetitive. Much like the puzzles, it feels like another layer slapped onto the game without much thought on mood. The music isn’t dynamic, so it doesn’t change to fit the building of the story. Some of the sounds are strange choices and can get annoying, like when guiding the parrot or being in the room with the delusional apartment tenant (actually the same room as the parrot, which gets really cacophonous).
In summary: Frank and Drake has mild to bland gameplay and puzzles, confusing mechanics and a slow and confusing story paced out through multiple playthroughs.
Jordan played Frank and Drake on PC with a review code.