Rotoscoping has impressed viewers since Max Fleischer pioneered in 1915. It’s been used to amazing effect in some games, like the excellent Hotel Dusk: Room 215 and the original Prince of Persia, but it remains quite rare. The latest game to use rotoscope animation is a point-and-click adventure called Frank and Drake. While the animation and art are gorgeous, the story it tells isn’t as captivating as the on-screen spectacle.
As far as adventure games go, Frank and Drake is on the limited, more cinematic side. This isn’t like the classic LucasArts games where you can freely explore. Instead, the supernatural locale of Oriole City is shown in a specific order. You’re often only able to look at certain objects in a room rather, than explore every nook and cranny that catches your interest. The story branches via choices you make each day, which at least makes multiple playthroughs simple as it’s easy to avoid seeing the same paths.
While the exploration is underwhelming, there is at least a unique story structure in place. The two titular playable characters live together, yet never directly see each other for most of the game since their schedules differ. Instead, you develop a relationship between the two via sticky notes left on a fridge. It’s an interesting way to have them converse and learn information from each other as they both try to unravel their own mysteries.
Unfortunately, the mysteries at play wind up being the game’s biggest disappointment. A lot of the twists and turns are obvious early on, but go unaddressed until later in the game. While a single playthrough only reveals some of what Oriole City has to offer, the characters aren’t interesting or likable enough to actually want to learn more of their backstory. It also makes it so that a single playthrough isn’t very satisfying. Frank and Drake tries to thread the needle of leaving the player wanting more, but it’s not compelling enough to achieve that.
The quality of in-game puzzles also hampers the experience. One particularly annoying example is when a gate is locked. Drake says he could simply jump over it, but the player still has to travel through an annoying maze and figure it out instead. A lot of the puzzles feel arbitrary — as if the developer felt they had to put some sort of gameplay in the experience to justify it as a video game, rather than feeling like an actual part of Oriole City.
While much of the experience is underwhelming, it’s not a bad game. The art design is on point, and the rotoscoped animation is quite impressive. Oriole City itself is the real highlight. The stranger elements, like graffiti that subtly moves and watches the player walk past, are a particular highlight. Moments like this make you question if the characters are losing their mind — or if there’s really something otherworldly going on.
There’s another issue that holds this console port back, though. The in-game text, particularly the handwritten notes, was clearly designed to be read on a monitor over a television screen. The text is way too small as a result, and unreadable if you’re not sitting close to the television. Some objects will allow you to hit an info box for a typed-out, more legible version of the text. However, that feature isn’t available for the in-game diaries the playable characters keep.
Frank and Drake Review: The final verdict
Frank and Drake has a few interesting story beats, but they never culminate in a truly compelling mystery. It doesn’t help that the puzzles often feel out of place rather than part of the world. Despite the gorgeous art, it just doesn’t fully come together as a complete experience. Hopefully, the development team will be able to deliver on its promise in another game in the future.
Disclaimer: Our Frank and Drake review is based on a PS5 copy provided by the publisher. Reviewed on version 2.001.000.